I have been intrigued by Amy Shipley's recent articles [Sports, July 20, July 14] on the U.S. women's national soccer team within the overall media discussion of the potential for a professional women's soccer league.
Many people seem to believe that the idea is new. It is not. In the summer of 1997, the National Soccer Alliance (NSA), an organization composed of 12 members of the U.S. soccer team that won the 1996 Olympic gold medal (11 were members of the winning World Cup Team), submitted a proposal to the U.S. Soccer Federation for a women's professional soccer league. The group was backed by four individual investors and supported by various corporate sponsors and licensees, and possessed stadium contracts. The following November, the NSA revised its proposal as a series of fall All-Star tours to take place in 1998, 1999 and 2000. This series of events was to culminate in the kick-off of a full-fledged league in the spring of 2001. A negative response from the Soccer Federation contributed to the reluctance of the investors to move forward, and ultimately helped lead to the dissolution of the NSA in December 1997.
As a passionate promoter of women's soccer for a number of years, even I have been overwhelmed by the success of this summer's World Cup. Yet it has confirmed what we in the NSA knew two years ago: Women athletes can sell tickets, and a women's professional soccer league is a viable proposition. Still, most of the fans and media who have joined in for this jingoistic lovefest do not care much about the sport of soccer. While I remain convinced there is a place for a women's professional league, I caution anyone who looks to this summer's amazing attendance and television numbers as indicators of what to expect for any forthcoming league. A day-in, day-out professional league will have to rely on the dedicated fans of the sport -- who averaged just 5,000 for women's national team games in the years leading up to World Cup 1999.
While the speculation over a women's professional soccer league will rage on, I will watch with interest as SFX Entertainment (the organization marketing the World Cup team) jockeys with IMG (the organization marketing the U.S. Soccer Federation) to schedule games and capitalize on this team. I hope the players realize America has fallen in love with them and use this fact to their advantage: to reap commensurate rewards, to control their own future and to create the best possible environment for a league of their own. When that day comes, sign me up for season tickets!
-- Jennifer Rottenberg
The writer, president of New
Century Sports, was a consultant to
the National Soccer Alliance.