Tricia Donovan, like many officials in the Women's Professional Football League, pulls double duty to help the league survive. Not only is she the owner of a new WPFL franchise, the New England Intensity, but she also helps the league with public relations.
That's because the WPFL, which is entering its eighth year of existence, can't afford a full-time PR person --- or many other positions that a men's sports league might take for granted. The same goes for each of the league's 16 teams; Donovan says team budgets range from only $25,000 to $100,000.
Although it's the oldest women's pro football league in the country, the WPFL is still struggling to attract financing, fans, and media coverage. Not only are they competing against the larger National Women's Football Association, but the WPFL and all its teams are going up against the country's proliferation of male professional sports teams and leagues.
"We always want more fans," says Donovan. As far as media attention goes, "there's the hope that we'll get more national coverage, not only in newspapers but also on radio and even cable-access TV."
Donovan hopes that each WPFL team will reach the point where it's both making money and garnering regular media coverage. But, she says, "Not all our teams are there yet."
One WPFL team that league officials say has the potential to reach that level of success is Rochester's franchise, the Empire State Roar. Now in its second year in the league, the Roar's operational structure is much like the WPFL itself: many players also fill managerial roles for the team. Even the Roar's owner, Sandra Rogers, sometimes suits up herself to play special teams.
But such cost-effectiveness can only go so far, and Roar members realize they need to get fans in the seats through aggressive marketing and public relations. But that can be hard sell when, in many ways, women's football is still viewed as a novelty --- if it's viewed at all.
"I wish we had a lot more exposure," says Roar all-pro defensive tackle Jodie Judd. "Nobody knows about the women's football team in Rochester. It would be nice to get the word out more. It's extremely hard to compete against all the men's sports."
Rogers says her team drew between 450 and 750 fans to each home game last year, but it made barely a ripple in the Rochester media. The team is desperately looking for financial sponsors who can help pay for things like equipment and travel costs. (Rogers says many potential sponsors are scared off because some Roar players are gay.) As of now, all team members buy their own equipment, and they pay a hefty $750 joining fee to help defray travel expenses.
As a result, the Roar remains just a passionate hobby for most players. Team members drive from as far away as Oswego and Toronto to attend practices and games, and they all, for the most part, work full-time jobs.
"It really is a labor of love," says Rogers. "You have to love it."
Revenge, they say, is best served cold. But not for the Empire State Roar.
When it came from behind to beat the previously undefeated New York Dazzles last year, the Roar avenged a disappointing loss to the Dazzles earlier in the 2005 season. The 30-13 victory became perhaps the highlight of the Roar's inaugural campaign, and contrary to popular cliché, the revenge win was executed in the sweltering heat of August.
As this year's edition of the Roar practices at EastRochesterHigh School on a recent Saturday, Rogers and operations assistant Amy "Boucher" Griffen reminisce about that big win --- and the effect it had on the Dazzles.
"They were crying at the end of that game," says a gleeful Griffen, who got her nickname after her adeptness at dispensing water to thirsty players reminded the team of a certain Adam Sandler movie.
The relishing of on-field vengeance has always been a key tradition of the male-dominated sport of football. The enjoyment members of the Roar still derive from remembering their landmark win proves that some pigskin traits are universal, regardless of gender.
But that victory came last year. On this day, the team is preparing for its 2006 season opener, a road game against the Albany Ambush July 29, with the Roar won 36-0. Rain has periodically drenched the players and staff throughout the morning practice.
The team is hoping to improve on its 2-4 record from 2005, when it lost three games by a total of 11 points. This year's squad, coached again by Shawn Stauber, features a mix of talented newcomers and capable returning players, including four 2005 WPFL all-pro honorees: Judd, running back Nikia Speed, fullback/defensive end Shannon Lamie, and center Jen Dawson.
Rogers and the team's coaches hope that this year's offense will be more balanced than it was last year, when it relied heavily on Speed, who is playing this year on a damaged meniscus in her left knee. As a result, quarterbacks Jenna Herington and Kaitlin Corcoran and wideout Jane Kobos are being counted on to establish a more reliable passing game.
Defensively the Roar will be bolstered by the arrival of D-lineman April Clarcq, who jumped to Rochester from the now-defunct Dazzles. The linebacking crew will be anchored by Kobos and Speed, who are among a handful of two-way players on the squad.
With fewer than 30 players on the roster, such Ironman football is a necessity for the Roar, although the team has enough talent on the offensive and defensive lines to ensure that most linemen will only have to play one way.
The Roar also looks good on special teams, where kicker/punter Mary "GQ" Palaimo has been known to put the ball through the uprights from the 30-yard line.
While the team is loaded with potential talent, the staff and players say the Roar also has the intangibles required for a successful season. "This year they've gelled really, really well," says Rogers. "We had a lot of squabbles last year, but I think we'll have less of that this year."
Judd, the team's standout defensive tackle, says the 2006 squad has two main strengths. "One, we have a lot of returning players, which will help with or stability and teamwork," she says. "But two, we have our determination and all the hard work we've put in."
Determination, hard work --- and a love of the sport.Rogers, for example, savors playing kickoff because, she says, "You get to barrel down the field and really hit someone."
It's an awesome game," she says. "Once you put on the equipment and get out on the field, it's an addiction."
The Empire State Roar plays its season home opener Saturday, August 5, at 7:05 p.m. at EastRochesterHigh School against the Connecticut Cyclones. Adult tickets are $8. The following week the team holds a fundraiser for the Honeoye Falls Fire Department featuring actor Randolph Mantooth. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.theempirestateroar.com.