A new professional softball league, called Athletes Unlimited, will debut in the United States in August, aimed at reviving the commercial fortunes of the sport.
The league is co-founded by Jon Patricof, the former president of Major League Soccer team New York City FC, and Jonathan Soros, the chief executive of investment firm JS Capital Management, LLC. Soros is the son of Hungarian-American billionaire investor George Soros.
The inaugural six-week season will be held exclusively at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois, starting on August 17. Each of the four Athletes Unlimited teams will play three games per week.
In an innovative new scoring system, players will earn points based on team victories and individual performances, giving them the chance to win financial bonuses based on the end-of-season standings. Every week will start with a new draft; the top four players on the leaderboard are selected as team captains and will pick who will play on their team for the week.
“We really believe strongly that fans are increasingly following players over teams,” Patricof told ESPN. “So there is this opportunity to really take advantage of that aspect and how you rethink a pro league where the athletes themselves are put front and center and where you give fans the opportunity to engage and track athlete performance in a new way.”
Fourteen players have currently committed to the league. They will receive a minimum base salary of $10,000, while bonuses for team and individual performances could take that sum to $35,000. The total available compensation for the 56-player pool is over $1m, while there is also the prospect for players to share in league revenues.
By contrast, the average salary in the established National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) is below $10,000 for a roughly three-month season. NPF is about to enter its 17th season, which will end before the start of the inaugural Athletes Unlimited campaign.
The leagues are not intended to be rivals. The two organizations have a formal working arrangement, with NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf acting as a senior adviser. Parkway Bank Sports Complex is also home to the NPF’s Chicago Bandits.
Athletes Unlimited does not have a formal relationship with USA Softball, while broadcast and sponsorship deals have yet to be announced. There will not be any team owners in the single-entity model.
“People look at starting new leagues, you really have to be disruptive,” Patricof added. “You really have to think differently. So our goal was not to replicate the model that’s used in other pro leagues and really think differently about how we can create something that engages younger and different fans and broadens the entry point for people into the sport.”
Athletes Unlimited plans to create additional leagues in different sports in 2021.
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Join The Unlimited Club to unlock benefits and more.
- Club Vote - Including Game MVPs
- Access to Member Only Store with limited edition Athletes Unlimited product drops
- 10% of your membership fee goes directly to The Unlimited Club Player Bonus Pool
- Receive 100 Fan Points to utilize at the Athletes Unlimited Shop
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- Exclusive Athlete Access: Team Cam and Chat
- Exclusive Member Giveaways from Athletes Unlimited sponsors
- Exclusive Partner Discounts: Athletes Unlimited Innovation Lab products
- Receive 300 Fan Points to utilize at Athletes Unlimited Shop
- Plus all Pro Benefits
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- Official Unlimited Club Captain recognition on Athletes Unlimited website post-season
- Invitation to Future Athletes Unlimited Events*
- Receive 1,000 Fan Points to utilize at Athletes Unlimited Shop
- Plus all MVP Benefits
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