While men's soccer struggles in the United States, women's soccer is hot.
Saying it has raised $40 million from cable television companies and has the support of the U.S. World Cup champions, a group said Wednesday it plans to start a women's soccer league of 8-10 teams in April 2001.
Not so fast, Major League Soccer said. It wants in on women's soccer and may submit a rival plan to the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"This a breakthrough kind of deal," said John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel and the force behind the league, to be called Women's United Soccer Association.
"People feel," Hendricks said, "there is something very attractive and enduring that these women have touched deep within the fabric of American society it's not just soccer moms, it's soccer dads and soccer uncles."
Among the eight investors putting up $5 million each are Time Warner Inc., Comcast Corp., Continental Cablevision Inc. and Cox Communications. Each investor will have the right to operate one or more franchises. They also would get the local television rights.
Salaries will average $40,000 for a five-month season starting in April. The cities will be selected from among a pool of 15 the group is considering, and the projected average attendance is 6,500.
"This will be the world's premier league for women's soccer," Mia Hamm, a star with the women's World Cup champions, said. "One of the things we realized and have known for a while is how deep the player pool is. The level of competition is going to be extremely high."
The USSF probably will designate a Division I women's league within two months, spokesman Jim Moorhouse said Wednesday. MLS, the men's league that began in 1996, has been working on a plan for a women's league.
"The application from the John Hendricks group is further proof that soccer is booming in the United States," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "Major League Soccer supports women's soccer and looks forward to being part of this exciting development."
Hendricks said the most difficult task was finding suitable stadiums, a problem MLS also has had in some markets. MLS, whose growth has been slower than it originally hoped, averaged 17,406 for regular-season games in 1996, then 14,619, 14,312 and 14,282 from 1997-99.
"We would like not to see these events held in monstrous NFL stadiums," Hendricks said. "We would like to see the development of 15,000-20,000-seat stadiums for these games. In a lot of the markets, we see the opportunity to combine with the efforts of men's professional leagues and colleges and universities who want to upgrade their facilities."
Tony DiCicco, who resigned as U.S. national team coach last fall, is a WUSA adviser. The women's players, many of whom led the United States to World Cup titles in 1991 and 1999, and the Olympic gold medal in 1996, will be part owner of the league.
"There's a possibility of getting some payback at the end of the day for the success of the league," Julie Foudy, co-captain of the American World Cup team, said. "We think one of the greatest assets this team has is we love to get out in the community and promote and sell. That's what we've been doing our entire careers."
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