Members of the U.S. women's national soccer team and the U.S. Soccer Federation reached a tentative agreement yesterday that will allow the players to proceed with their fall indoor tour of major U.S. arenas in exchange for participating in five USSF-arranged outdoor matches in the United States this year.
Following 10 days of negotiations during which the USSF threatened to block the indoor tour through litigation, the players and USSF officials signed off on a deal that left the players' 12-city tour intact. The tour will take place October through December, stopping at MCI Center on Nov. 20, and guarantee the 20 members of the Women's World Cup championship team a minimum of about $50,000 apiece.
The agreement represents a major victory for the players, who essentially broke away from the USSF to arrange the tour with SFX Sports Group. The players wanted to increase their visibility, capitalize financially on their Women's World Cup victory earlier this month and set the stage for acceptance of a women's pro league in the United States.
USSF Secretary General Hank Steinbrecher confirmed that an agreement was reached but was unavailable to comment. Early in the negotiations, the USSF dropped its plans to send the U.S. team on a tour of Egypt, South Africa and Australia because those dates conflicted with the indoor tour.
The federation, however, threatened to quash the indoor tour. USSF officials argued that the indoor tour was, in effect, a national team event because so many national team players were involved. As such, the USSF argued, the tour fell under the USSF's jurisdiction and required its blessing. Legal action was considered to protect the USSF's sponsors, a federation source said. Companies such as Nike pay millions of dollars for the rights to certain national team events. The players will wear national team uniforms, which display Nike's logo, for the tour games. The games also will be sanctioned by the USSF, which will not have a financial interest in the tour.
SFX Sports Group Vice President Lee Berke said the International Management Group, the USSF's licensing agent, will be involved in sponsor arrangements for the indoor tour. The players and USSF still have to work out a uniform player agreement, which will provide the financial and marketing terms for the 2000 Olympics.
The U.S. players will compete against a team of as-yet-undetermined world all-stars in the indoor games. Twelve of the 20 U.S. Olympians are scheduled to appear at each stop on the schedule. The indoor tour is scheduled to start Oct. 22 in Pittsburgh and to conclude in mid-December in Portland, Ore. It includes stops in Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Raleigh, N.C.; Anaheim, Calif.; San Jose and Tacoma, Wash.
The tour will break to accommodate the Oct. 3-10 U.S. Cup, an international event that will take place in Columbus, Ohio. The other two USSF matches have not yet been determined.
"All in all, it turned out great," said Carla Overbeck, co-captain of the U.S. women's team. "Both sides are very happy with it."