If television is a key to the future of the North American Soccer league the outlook is less than rosy for the league.

The Cosmos-Diplomats game will be featured today in ABC-TV's third telecast of the season.

The ratings continue to be dismal in the network's second season of NASL coverage. Network executives frankly admit that they have been disappointed with soccer's ratings and, as a result, they aren't sure if ABC will renew its contract following this season.

"I don't know whether it'll be back or not," said Chet Forte, director of production creative services for the network. "All you can go by is the ratings and we haven't even seen negligible improvement this season.

"I don't think soccer's really caught on yet and I'm not sure it ever will on a large scale. I don't think Americans can associate with foreign players. We're hurting on TV but I think the league overall is hurting, too. There are a lot of franchises floundering."

To try and bolster last year's horrid ratings, ABC decided this season to run its six regular-seaon telecasts on consecutive Sundays, except for a break June 15 for golf's U.S. Open.

So far, Forte said, the new setup has produced no improvement. ABC was counting on today's game as a major attraction but the Dips' 3-6 record has taken a lot of luster off the game and the telecast.

"We just keep praying that it will get better," Forte said. "We feel like we've done all we can. We've given soccer A-1, first-class treatment for two years.

"Right now, it's leading into 'Wide World (of Sports)' on Sunday. That's our bread and butter. We just can't afford to have a show with a 1 or a 2 rating every week leading into 'Wide World.'"

The league and the network are negotiating a new contract. Reportedly they are far apart on terms. The league wants more money and more telecasts while the network isn't certain it want to continue with soccer at all.

Forte, who is not involved in the negotiations, said he has a good relationship with Commissioner Phil Woosnam and the league office, but questioned their attitude towards the sport.

"I think they're living in a test tube," Forte said. "They think they've got the best thing in the world. Woosnam thinks he's Pete Rozell and Bowie Kuhn rolled into one. Basically, they think they're more than they really are.

"I like soccer a lot," Forte continued. "This has been a terribly frustrating package because we all like the sport so much."