Author Topic: WUSA II will do more harm than good  (Read 1153 times)

Offline David

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WUSA II will do more harm than good
« on: March 22, 2007, 01:57:29 PM »
The day I heard that people were trying to revive the WUSA, I put my head down on my desk and sighed.

This is a dreadful idea. It is almost guaranteed to fail, and when it does, it could well hurt the sport as a whole in the United States.

The sentiments behind the league are admirable, if entirely disingenuous. As with the WUSA, this new league apparently "needs" to exist for "the children."

Julie Foudy reiterated this hoary line in USA Today last week saying: "I miss (WUSA) because young girls and boys in local communities where we were playing got to see strong, confident women as good role models on a weekly basis."

If this were, in fact, what the new league would do, it would be swell. But as it isn't, this rationale is actually deeply cynical and repulsive.

Why? Well, to make a go of this league, the players are going to have be paid peanuts, or, perhaps actually in peanuts. With a reported budget (according to Women's Soccer Initiative Inc. CEO Tonya Antonucci) of $1.5-2 million per team (about 20% of what an MLS team costs to run), player salaries might be about $15,000/year. The big beneficiaries from a re-formed WUSA wouldn't be the players at all: it would be the stadium owners, who get the rent, and the bus companies that get to truck the teams about from game to lonely game.

So, I ask: how exactly does this help women athletes?

First: If MLS' players are already struggling to make ends meet, can you imagine how hard it will be for a recent college graduate, in a major city, to devote her time to a pro sport on a wage that places her under the poverty line?

I don't think that sets a good example to kids at all. In fact, I think it's flat-out exploitation.

Second: How does it help this still-small sport to form another league — there are FOUR other "pro" soccer leagues in the USA already, by the way — in a country that is oversaturated with sports as it is?

WUSA floundered even with the star power of Mia Hamm in its ranks ... who will be the poster child of WUSA II?

Third: WUSA at least had Mia Hamm, Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Kate Sobrero — names people knew from the 1999 Women's World Cup. Do you actually know who's on the women's national team right now? Do you know who the coach of the national team is? Does your neighbor? If you walked out onto the street and asked a passer-by who a major women's soccer player is, would they give you any answer other than "Mia Hamm"?

There's a hard lesson here. Some things are nice in principle, but in practice they don't work.

Women's pro soccer is one of these things.

It isn't because men won't accept female pros — Michelle Wie and Danica Patrick do pretty well at the gates, and one look at Serena Williams will disabuse you of the notion that women can't do everything that men can.

It isn't a quality issue, either. You can see some very good women's college hockey, women's hoops and even some good women's boxing pretty much on any given winter night.

The problem is, when compared to the widely available men's alternatives, women's sports don't stack up. And guess what — female sports fans overwhelmingly prefer men's sports because of that.

Is this wrong? No.

Is it somehow amoral? No.

It is what it is.

WNBA attendance has been in steady decline since 1998 even with the complete backing of the powerful NBA behind it.

MLS has struggled with a similar problem. For about $40 a month, anyone can see all the top-level soccer they'd ever want, virtually 24 hours a day. Compare that with the price of taking a family of four to see one MLS game, and you begin to see what the better deal is.

Women's pro sports are in exactly the same bind.

The most successful women's pro team sport is the WNBA, which is what WUSA II will point to as a model. But here's some reality: The WNBA's announced attendances have fallen steadily from a high of 10,864 in its first year in 1998 to an all-time low of 7,476 in 2006.

Here in Chicago, the Sky, which plays down the street from me, have trouble getting a legit 3,000 into the UIC Pavillion (the Sky's announced average is 3,390).

WNBA players are also the best-paid female team athletes. They make about $50,000 a year (according to a Sports Illustrated survey of women's sports). Many of them play in Europe or Asia in the "real"' basketball season after spending the NBA summer in the USA — when the arena owners don't mind having something to fill the building.

Now, if after all that, you don't believe the WNBA is an afterthought, ask yourself how many fans clear the early September viewing calendar for the WNBA finals. The only other people I know who seem as oblivious to the inundation that is high school football-college football-NFL football are the geniuses who stage the MLS playoffs.

WUSA drew maybe 3,000 folks to its games on average (I know, they reported 5,000 so save your emails. They lied, just as a lot of minor sports flacks do. I remember being at a game once when a high-level WUSA employee told me, wearily: "If they announce 3,500 maybe 1,800 actually paid"). I was at games where I could count the fans with ease, but there was no mistaking their passion, and no denying their ardor. Nonetheless, a few thousand a game does not make a pro sport.

So, I ask again: hasn't this effort to relaunch a women's league gone beyond wishful thinking and good intentions to flat-out delusion?

At one time, women played soccer because they enjoyed the game. Along the way, someone thought it would be a good marketing idea to position Mia and her pals as "role models". Unfortunately, the players actually started to believe this — and now women's soccer's manifest destiny is somehow about children. Women have to have a pro league, you see. For the children.

Kids need their parents to have good jobs, and they need a community with a strong social service net. They need clean water, and they need opportunity. In my school district, the kids need to have books, a working library, and beat cops patrolling the increasingly lawless park outside the doors. If any of you would like to step up and help, that would be great.

Kids, however, don't need a pro women's league. And the players, no matter how much they love the game, would probably be better off without one as well.

Offline BillyBoy

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Re: WUSA II will do more harm than good
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2007, 06:06:57 PM »
Articles like this are certainly "sobering" when you consider a women's professional league. It would have been better if they could have provided replies or a counter discussion from one of the organisers of the potential new league to attempt to address this chap's points.

If the salaries are as low as $15,000 then I don't see how anybody could have the "cheek" to call the league professional. I cannot imagine many star players, or maybe any, going for that unless they could boost their income through other means. I suppose another inconvenient factor of any league in the US would be the geographical vastness of the place. I might be wrong, but it seems that not many fans would be following their team from the east to west coast and vice versa.

I would answer his third point by saying that one of the reasons for starting in 2008 would be take advantage of the World Cup and the exposure that will provide. I wouldn't say that you would get profiles like Hamm but new stars could emerge to help fill the void. I guess the organisers for the new league must be praying for a US World Cup victory in China. An early exit, which does seem highly unlikely, might be a "death sentence" for the league.