WOMEN'S SOCCER NEEDS TO CATCH LIGHTNING

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

If there is a group of people who are kicking themselves in July of 1999, it has to be the investors who allowed the National Soccer Alliance to die without completing its plans of creating a professionalized women's soccer league in the United States.

The surreal success of the United States women's soccer team in the 1999 World Cup was to have been the engine to allow a league like the NSA to get itself going.

But the only thing around to get a boost from the triumphs of Team USA is the United Soccer Leagues' W-1 and W-2 Divisions.

If you haven't heard of the "W" League, you aren't alone. The league is made up of 33 amateur and semipro teams, located in 18 states and two Canadian provinces (Laval, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario). They have widely varying degrees of professionalism in terms of marketing and organization.

Too, the talent level can vary widely. In 1996, the Alabama Angels team was in mid-pack until the reserve squad from the U.S. Olympic team was sent to play for them.

Other teams are comprised mostly of high-school players with a smattering of adults.

A few teams can pay players to appear: Raleigh and Tampa Bay, for example, need substantial cash outlays in order to get the likes of Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers to play for them.

For many other teams in the "W" League, the toil is long, the road trips difficult, and the rewards are indeed few.

It has not been easy being in the league for some: the Alabama franchise, along with one in Philadelphia, have folded.

Still, the grass-roots appeal for investors (cheap franchise fees, available talent) have made more teams spring up around the nation the past several years.

There are times when the same kind of crowds which have populated large stadia for the Women's World Cup have trickled down to "W"-League franchises.

Several times, for example, the New Jersey Wildcats have drawn more than 500 players to home matches -- even though the team has never finished a season above .500, and has not recorded as many as five wins in a season since its inaugural season.

The appeal is not mysterious: American women and girls are hungry for a certain kind of athletic role model that soccer is providing. Soccer has become one of the sports where the women are not only ahead of the men in development, but its appeal has caught on in age where the marketing of women's sports does not go beyond figure skating.

And, it's about time that investors get that message: the 40 million television viewers and 90,000 butts in the stands at the Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999 know something that some people do not.

Al Mattei is the public-address announcer for the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-2 division of the "W" League.

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