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New women's soccer league has right ingredients

As my collegiate sports writ ing career comes to a close, I am constantly asked about my future plans in the sports world. My response is always the same: I don't intend to do anything.

While issues such as the dismal starting sportswriter salaries certainly contribute to my desire to enter another career field, I have another reason. Professional sports bore me these days.

Apparently, I'm not alone. The NBA All-Star game had its lowest rating ever Sunday, down over 35 percent from when Michael Jordan graced the court. The NHL also has lost popularity in recent years, partly due to the departure of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

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  • US Soccer Federation

    While some very popular players remain in each league, what professional sports need to be truly successful and popular are a couple of central figures. People watched basketball to see Jordan. People watched hockey to see Gretzky. People even will go so far as to watch the WWF to see The Rock. But without that main character, though people still will watch pro sports, the games cannot possibly be as exciting.

    That's the largest reason why the Women's United Soccer Association's time has come.

    Okay - the U.S. Soccer Federation didn't have a choice about creating the league. The wildly popular U.S. World Cup team refused to play without it. But regardless of the U.S.S.F.'s intents, the creation of the new professional league, which will feature eight teams and kick off in the spring of 2001, has come at a wonderful time for the sports world.

    Soccer may not have football's or basketball's draw, but the new league still is expected to be a success.

    "The consensus was that the ideal time to consider the launch of the league would be after the 1999 World Cup," said John Hendricks, chairman and CEO of Discovery Communications, at the league's introductory teleconference yesterday. "We think this is an exciting time; we think we have the right ingredients."

    The right ingredients? Hendricks hit on a huge point, one much more important than the sport's current draw. Women's soccer already has what is necessary to make the league a success - main characters.

    Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain became household names this summer after they led the U.S. team to victory in the 1999 Women's World Cup. Both already have been compared to Jordan. Media execs even went so far as to feature Hamm with Jordan in the "Anything you can do, I can do better" ad campaign last summer.

    While no sports league can be labeled an instant triumph, the tremendous popularity of the key figures in women's soccer at least gives the sport a chance to create a league. But much work lies ahead before the league can be labeled a financial and popular success.

    Aside from finding players, markets, stadiums and television contracts, the league also needs to find fans. But I don't believe finding fans will be too difficult, at least initially.

    The U.S. national team members who are participating in the league - Hamm, Chastain, Carla Overbeck, Julie Foudy and Lorrie Fair - already have become America's sweethearts. Over 40 million television viewers saw the 1999 Women's World Cup finale.

    The league still has to prove itself, and the tough part will come several years in the future, but for the time being the women's soccer league should have some success simply because of its high profile main characters.


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