Its phone still not ringing to offer anticipated corporate
support, the Women's United Soccer Association yesterday pulled the plug on its
three-year project, just five days shy of the wildly successful event that
originally spawned the league and its high hopes of commercial success.
The suddeness of the unanimous decision to suspend operations, reached
during an afternoon meeting of the WUSA's board of governors in Manhattan, was
all the more stunning with the 2003 Women's World Cup poised for kickoff to its
three-week tournament this weekend.
For weeks, WUSA officials and players talked of World Cup synergy as a
potential boost to fading interest in the league. Because concern over the SARS
epidemic had prompted international soccer officials to hurriedly move this
expectations that the tournament's return to its 1999 site would re-energize
fans and - more importantly - sponsors.
But league founder and board chairman John Henricks yesterday pointed to a
$20-million shortfall in this year's WUSA operating budget. He said an
additional 20,000 fans per game (in a league which features only one stadium
capable of seating that many) would be needed to close that gap, "so you can't
get there by ticket sales."
More to the point, Hendricks admitted being fooled by how directly
corporate support of the '99 World Cup would translate into financial backing
of an eight-team, five-month league.
"I was intoxicated by what I witnessed in the '99 World Cup and all the
sponsorships surrounding that event," Hendricks said, "and mistakenly assuming
that that would come over to the league."
Early projections of crowds and TV ratings for the WUSA were modest and
fairly realistic following the smash '99 World Cup numbers, when an average of
38,833 attended the games - including 90,125 at the championship final in the
Still, Hendricks believed that he would be able to sign eight major
corporations to ante up roughly $2.5 million apiece to close the league's
budget gap, and instead got only two companies to pitch in a combined $2.5
League salaries were slashed this past season from an average of $46,000 to
$37,000, with a top salary of $60,000 compared to the first-year ceiling of
$80,000 for the WUSA's 20 "founding players" - U.S. veterans of the '99 World
Attendance dwindled, from a first-year average of 8,116 per game to 6,667
remained last in league attendance throughout, drawing a mere 4,249 per game
When league officials failed to hear from potential sponsors by a Sept. 1
deadline, "we decided to give it further time to develop," Hendricks said. But
the ongoing silence from corporate executives led to yesterday's meetings and
the decision to close the WUSA shop immediately.
There was overwhelming agreement that the WUSA's eight teams - Atlanta,
featured the best female soccer players in the world, representing 14 nations.
Fifty-six WUSA players are on rosters of the World Cup's 16 national teams.
Hendricks said there is a "glimmer of hope" the league could be
re-launched, though national team preparations for the 2004 Athens Olympics,
which will follow shortly after the World Cup, likely would put off any WUSA
reappearance at least until 2005.
A Brief History of Women's United Soccer Association
The United States won the 1999 Women's World Cup at the Rose Bowl before a
crowd of 90,125. All 20 players of that team became the founding players of the
Women's United Soccer Association. All played in the league, except Michelle
Akers, who retired in 2001.
The founders: Akers, Brandi Chastain, Tracy Ducar, Lorrie Fair, Joy Fawcett,
Danielle Fotopoulos, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillian,
Tiffeny Milbrett, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, Christie Pearce, Tiffany
Roberts, Briana Scurry, Kate Sobrero, Tisha Venturini-Hoch, Saskia Webber, Sara
Average attendance slipped from more than 8,000 the first season to about 6,700
a game last season.
2001: Bay Area defeated Atlanta, 4-2, in penalty kicks after tying 3-3 in
regulation, in Founders Cup I. Tiffeny Milbrett, recently of the New York
Power, was the MVP.
2002: Carolina defeated Washington, 3-2, in Founders Cup II. Marinette Pichon
of Philadelphia was the MVP.
2003: Washington defeated Atlanta, 2-1, in overtime, in Founders Cup III. Maren
Meinert of Boston was the MVP.
New York Power
The Power played home games at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale. The
Power made the playoffs in the WUSA's inaugural season but wound up with the
worst overall three-season record (19-33-11).
2001: 9-7-5, third place, lost to Bay Area CyberRays, 3-2, in semifinals
2002: 3-17-1, last place
2003: 7-9-5, fifth place
COMPILED BY MARSHALL LUBIN