Jon Patricof, Cat Osterman, Cheri Kempf, Jessica Mendoza, and Natasha Watley

The Three Biggest Takeaways from the AUSL Launch

Jon Patricof, Cat Osterman, Cheri Kempf, Jessica Mendoza, and Natasha Watley © Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2022 / Credit: Jenny Jeffries
Savanna Collins
Jun 12, 2024

The launch of the Athletes Unlimited Softball League (AUSL) was announced last week, marking the start of the newest traditional, professional women’s softball league in the United States.

The star-studded press conference featured league advisors Jessica Mendoza, Cat Osterman, and Natasha Watley speaking about their experience as Olympians and professional softball players and their support of the league.

In addition to the date of the league’s launch in May of 2025, details including league format, plans, player salaries, and the history of pro softball leading up to this point were discussed.

These are the three biggest takeaways from the launch of the AUSL.

1. Trust in AU Pro Sports is high

When Athletes Unlimited began in 2020, it started with a softball season in August. Sixty players traveled to Rosemont, Illinois to take a chance on AU’s unique format and scoring system. Many had questions: “How would it work? What about COVID-19?”

AU answered those questions and set the tone for how softball and, eventually, its other three professional leagues (volleyball, lacrosse, and basketball) would be handled. The league prioritized player-led decision-making with no owners. The first season operated in a bubble with restrictions, making athlete health paramount amidst the pandemic while still accomplishing being one of the only sports to watch on television at the time. Athlete care continued to have preeminence, ensuring access to quality trainers, healthcare, a comprehensive pregnancy policy, and more.

All to say, AU has a solid track record in softball, and trust at the press conference was high.

Before inaugural AU Pro Softball Champion Cat Osterman joined the league, she’d spent years competing in prior existing U.S. leagues. The quality she kept emphasizing was consistency.

“I think AU has proven that they have the consistent backing and they have the consistency and the personnel to be able to run professional softball here in the United States. I think it’s important for our sport at the pro level to have the AU ownership of it, AU running it,” Osterman said. “I think that has been some of the issues in the past…the inconsistencies among teams within a pro league. And so I think that piece of this is what’s going to make the softball landscape in this traditional model different than what has been experienced before.”

Watley echoed Osterman’s sentiment. Many athletes within the softball league choose the Natasha Watley Foundation as their Athlete Cause for the season. She has been connected with AU through the program.

“With Jon [Patricof] and Jonathan [Soros], I’ve been so impressed from afar,” Watley said. “I’ve been able to work with you guys through Athlete Causes and through the foundation and work with some of the athletes. But on this side, I’m just so excited to be able to share stories, share experiences, because I just think it’s so important if we can allow that athlete the ability to extend their careers. There’s a market for it. There’s a place for it.”

2. Player compensation is competitive

Included in the details of the announcement were the projected salaries of the athletes. AU Pro Sports CEO Jon Patricof said $45,000 would be the player average with opportunities to earn up to $75,000.

This is progress for pro softball. Athletes reported being paid as little as $3,000 for a three-month season in previous pro leagues.

These salaries allow players to consider being pro athletes year-round and not forced to take on other jobs like coaching. The wages are a competitive incentive to play at home instead of signing with the league in Japan, which offers the most lucrative contracts.

Watley, who competed eight seasons in Japan said these figures would have allowed her to explore other options.

“Going overseas, I feel like that’s comparable… Had that been an opportunity, I would’ve stayed home. Obviously, pitchers probably make a little bit more than that,” Watley laughed. “But I think it’s over time. As a position player, entry [player] that is something that would make athletes not have to travel overseas for sure.”

3. Why the traditional model works

The National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) was a traditional pro softball league that operated since 2004 but disbanded in 2021.

After launching in 2020, AU continued to expand, adding its AUX competition in 2022, another opportunity for softball athletes to play in AU’s innovative format.

As Patricof and Soros examined the state of the sport, they felt like it was time for AU Pro Softball to do something different: be traditional.

“When we thought about this fall, what the landscape looked like, we realized that there really hasn’t been a stable pro, traditional league. We know players have always wanted more opportunities to play. We know fans have wanted it. But for us, it’s really important to do things at the right time when we know we can deliver and when we are certain of the opportunity that exists,” Patricof explained.

In May 2025, the league will launch with four teams competing in 6-8 cities in a touring model. The following season it will shift to be city-based. The Champions Cup will continue to operate after the AUSL season. Players can compete in the traditional league, the AU format, or both.

The AUSL creates the opportunity to not only connect with current softball fans on a familiar basis but also tap into regional ties and the broader sports audience.

Mendoza, who currently serves as an analyst for the MLB and Los Angeles Dodgers, related it to the draw of her lifelong fandom.

“I grew up born and raised a Dodger fan, and so that has followed me throughout my whole life. It’s the bonding that I have with not only my mom and my dad who are Dodger fans, but now my boys… So when you think about that with AUSL,  the fact that there’s going to be these fans that have so much pride for the sport, but also that team, that city,” Mendoza said.

Osterman sees the potential impact on the athletes to exist within a team that builds culture in a clubhouse and strives for a championship – instead of individually climbing a leaderboard.

“Those that maybe struggle early on [in the season] will get more opportunities later and continue to grow. You have an opportunity to come back to a team and continue to develop,” Osterman said.

She thinks it could especially impact younger players like rookies who may struggle to adjust to the pro level and don’t see immediate results on the leaderboard in the Champions Cup format.

“We heard it even when Caitlin Clark was going into the WNBA. There’s going to be an adjustment period, and any athlete knows as you go to the next level, there’s always an adjustment period but we have to give them time to do that. And I think this model will allow a lot of rookies that time and then even veterans to continue to build on their skillset.”

Mendoza, Osterman, and Watley will continue to build up to the season’s inaugural season as advisors, working with league leaders towards the launch in 2025.

For fans who clamored for a viable traditional league over the past few years, Patricof clarified it was all about timing.

“We’ve been measured, we’ve delivered on everything we’ve said we were going to do, and I think that we got to the right time this year where we said, ‘Now is the time this void needs to be filled and we should be the organization to fill it.'”

For more information on the AUSL go to


Savanna Collins is the Senior Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.

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