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Oct. 13, 2021 — Athletes Unlimited makes a curious choice

When Athletes Unlimited began sponsoring their coachless models of women’s sports leagues in softball, volleyball, and lacrosse, they stepped into situations of failing pro leagues.

In softball, the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on 2020 and 2021 leagues, plus there was the entire situation when the Scrap Yard club side walked out on their ownership during a series of exhibition games against the USSSA Pride.

In volleyball, Athletes Unlimited stepped into the void left when the United States Professional Volleyball League folded in 2001. And in lacrosse, AU came in after two women’s leagues — the WPLL and UWLX — started up in the late 2010s.

So, I find it interesting that Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros have made their next foray into a women’s sports league with a sport which has a quarter-century of professional history in America.

That sport is basketball.

Yep, Athletes Unlimited is looking to get a foothold in a sports market where the NBA and WNBA are the undisputed kings and queens of the hill. AU is planning a five-week schedule with four 11-woman teams. In a statement released by the league yesterday, former WNBA guard Natasha Cloud said that one of her reasons for playing in the league is the fact that many pros who play in the WNBA have to play in a panoply of foreign leagues during the league’s offseason in order to get by.

“I have played overseas, it’s not what I want to do,” Cloud said. “I don’t want to spend seven months away from my family. To have a competitive league and stay in shape … is new wave. I’m excited to be one of the pioneers for the basketball side of it.”

The league will take place Jan. 29 to Feb. 28 of next year in a city yet to be determined. And I think the location of that city may be a determinant as to the direction that AU will go in terms of empowering female athletes. Given the fact that the league window is right in the middle of the NCAA and NBA seasons, I think it is going to be very difficult for this league to get any attention unless it becomes a true happening in the city in which is located.

And the thing is, many places in the U.S. are pretty well saturated with live basketball during the winter months. Even top markets for the women’s game, such as eastern Tennessee and southern New England, are going to have competitors for attention.

It’s a risk, but I have a feeling this is one which the league partners believe is worth taking.

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