Determined to promote and pay themselves better than they believe the U.S. Soccer Federation has, the 20 members of the U.S. women's national team arranged their own 11-match tour this fall at prominent indoor venues across the United States, including MCI Center on Nov. 20, playing against an as-yet-undetermined world all-star team.
The U.S. players' indoor plans, however, conflict with recently announced plans by the USSF to send the Women's World Cup champions on a tour to South Africa, Egypt and Australia from late October through December. The schedule conflict is likely to be among a number of issues between the players and the USSF when they meet next week to negotiate a new labor agreement. The U.S. players' most recent contract with the USSF expired this month.
During a meeting Monday in New York, the players agreed unanimously to go ahead with their indoor tour -- for which tickets already have gone on sale locally and for which they are guaranteed nearly $50,000 apiece -- despite the schedule clash.
"We're committed to this tour," said John Langel, the players' Philadelphia-based attorney. "We're committed to the cities and we're going ahead with it. It's not a lark -- it's a big contract. We think it's a building block to keeping the interest going forward. We're certainly hopeful that we won't have any obstacles."
U.S. Soccer Federation Secretary General Hank Steinbrecher, who was traveling yesterday, could not be reached to comment.
The players, who defeated China on Saturday to win the Women's World Cup title, want to take advantage of their skyrocketing popularity and demonstrate that there is a market for a U.S. women's professional soccer league, which they hope will get underway after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Their efforts also show their willingness to break with the USSF -- at least in this case -- and try to make it on their own.
The tour, in conjunction with the SFX Sports Group, has been in the works since April. SFX Sports Group spokesman Stan Feig said more than 3,000 tickets have been sold for the game at MCI Center, even though only one local ad has appeared for the game.
SFX Sports Group spokeswoman Kerry Tatlock said organizers are still trying to determine who will compose the world all-star team. Twelve of the 20 U.S. Olympians are scheduled to appear at each stop on the schedule. Competitive games will be staged with similar rules and field dimensions of other indoor soccer leagues.
U.S. team members are guaranteed $41,250 each, or $3,750 for each of the 11 indoor games. Organizers say as many as five more matches may be added. The players' last contract with the USSF provided approximately $250 per player for each international match arranged by the USSF. Players received no money for losses.
The U.S. players, however, also received salaries from the USSF, a nonprofit organization. This year, the most-experienced players, such as Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, received about $17,000 for their six months of service. In 1998, they received $14,500 for the entire year and $10,750 in '97. Less-experienced players received substantially less.
"Unless they do this [tour]," Langel said, "they literally cannot afford to leave their jobs and commit to the Olympic and World Cup residency camps. The perfect example of that is Joy Fawcett."
Fawcett, a starting defender and mother of two, gave up her head-coaching position at UCLA to participate in the five-month residency camp in Orlando that led up to the June 19-July 10 Women's World Cup.
While the players believe they have long been underpaid and underpromoted, USSF officials believe the federation has been at the vanguard of elite-level women's soccer. Indeed, many nations with powerful men's national soccer teams do little or nothing to support elite-level women's soccer in their countries. The relatively small salaries the women receive would be considered generous to female soccer players in most countries.
The USSF is not subject to Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs, so it is not compelled to pay the men's and women's national teams equally. The USSF receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from FIFA, soccer's world governing body, for certain men's tournaments and virtually nothing for women's tournaments, according to Steinbrecher.
For that reason, Steinbrecher has said, there is a discrepancy in bonuses. The discrepancy is considerable. The USSF would have paid members of the U.S. men's national team $380,000 apiece in bonuses had they won the 1998 World Cup. By comparison, the USSF paid the women $12,500 each in bonuses for their title victory Saturday.
The U.S. women's team members each received surprise bonuses from other sources: $37,500 from the Women's World Cup organizers and $6,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The indoor tour is scheduled to start Oct. 22 in Pittsburgh and concludes Dec. 12 in Tacoma, Wash. It includes stops in Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Raleigh, N.C., San Jose and Anaheim, Calif. The USSF schedule recently distributed to players included a trip to South Africa and Egypt Oct. 22 through Nov. 8, and the Australia Cup in Sydney Nov. 28 through Dec. 12.
"The one thing we've learned recently is that our fans want to see more of us and more of soccer," U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy said in a statement. "We're answering their call."
CAPTION: Mia Hamm and women's national team's 11-match tour are scheduled to come to MCI Center on Nov. 20.