On the eve of World Cup tournament, women's professional soccer took a major hit Monday when the WUSA folded for want of deep-pocketed investors and sponsors. The league needed $20 million in sponsorships, which, in this day of multimillion-dollar shoe contracts for untested NBA rookies, would seem to be achievable.
Soccer greats Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy are gamely suggesting that the league could be revived. That would be a dream come true for every little girl who laces up the cleats for her Saturday morning game and considers members of the 1999 World Cup team to be her role models.
While Hyundai and Johnson & Johnson were loyal supporters of the WUSA, the league had difficulty attracting other major sponsors. The league needed eight sponsors to spend $2.5 million each per year, but a dwindling television audience and shrinking attendance at games made the already steep challenge of marketing the league more difficult for promoters. When the money didn't materialize, the league had to suspended operations after three seasons.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Women's World Cup play begins Saturday in Philadelphia, with the American team opening the next day against Sweden at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The tournament was to be held in China but was moved because of the SARS outbreak.
The World Cup has stirred considerable fan interest, but, unfortunately, women's soccer has not sustained ongoing support for the league. For some reason, there is a disconnect between the mass popularity of soccer as a youth and high school sport and the wavering fan support of a league that brought together the world's most talented soccer players. It's a blow to Utah, which has the nation's highest per-capita participation in soccer among its youths.
The demise of the WUSA is unfortunate on many levels. It is highly regrettable that athletic wear, fast food and sport nutrition companies that hand multimillion-dollar endorsement to individual athletes won't support a league in which players themselves had taken pay cuts and agreed to scaled-back rosters to help the struggling organization. It's unheard of in professional sports.
It's a huge loss for the athletes themselves, women who have made considerable personal sacrifices for relatively little money to make a go of a start-up league.
More so, it's huge disappointment to girls and young women who look up to Foudy, Hamm, Brandy Chastain and newcomers Aly Wagner, Angela Hucles, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach, as role models. Seemingly, in an industry that can still support multimillion-dollar product endorsement contracts for players fresh out of high school, $20 million to support the endeavors of female soccer greats shouldn't have been that much to ask.