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New women's league is scheduled to start play in eight cities in April 2001.

By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, February 15, 2000) -- There is no league office, no teams, no stadiums, no selection of cities, but the formation of the Women's United Soccer Association was announced today behind a commitment of $40 million from some deep-pocketed media moguls.

Leading the effort is John S. Hendricks, chairman and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, the parent company of Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel among other cable-related holdings.

The proposed eight-team league, to begin play in April 2001 is also backed by an impressive group of investors with deep pockets, including the chief executive offers of cable heavyweights of Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corporation, as well as the former head of Continental Cablevision, which is now Media One.

"The women's World Cup players have demonstrated enormous drawing power," Hendricks said. "The consensus was that the ideal time to consider the launch of the league would be after the 1999 World Cup. We think this is an exciting time; we think we have the right ingredients."

Hendricks would only confirm Atlanta, home to two of the major cable operations, as a city certain to have a franchise. All told, he said 15 cities were being considered with a final decision on probably eight, but possibly as many as 10 "launch" franchises made by October 31.

Hendricks said the single-entity operation was seeking "owner-operators" who would have to pay $5 million for the privilege. Substantial cable television distribution capability and an appropriate venue, preferable one with a capacity of between 10,000-20,000 is considered ideal.

Furthermore, a contract for national broadcasts is being sought, with ESPN and Fox being mentioned as the most likely candidates.

"With any sports league, television exhibition is a key component and a lot of times, a startup league doesn't have all those television exhibition assets available to it. So, I think that's just one of the strengths of this particular initiative is we bring that in from the start," Hendricks said. "Again, we see a very balanced kind of operation here, a great festive opportunity for the community to come together on weekends to watch these women play and being able to bring in television audiences who weren't fortunate to be at the venue."

Hendricks estimated crowds of 6,500-15,000 per game during the first season. "We just want to make sure that w have all the funding in place and we want to be pleasantly surprised if the attendance is 15,000," he said, adding the initial finding is expected to carry the league through its first five years. "But we want to have the financial staying power that we have enough capital ready should the attendance be more at the 6,500 level. We're just being more prudent. On the investment side, we're a lot more optimistic.

"We wouldn't have announced unless we had at least eight $5 million investments in place that would be adequate to launch an eight-team league. That's kind of the milestone we've reached here. We've reached that minimum financial plateau to launch the league."

Seven months have passed since the United States women captured the Women's World Cup, galvanizing support for soccer as never before in this country. The final victory over China was watched by more than 91,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and a television audience of 40 million on television.

Resultantly, the team was pictured on the covers of Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated and People and eventually was named SI's "Sportswomen of the Year."

The 20 members of the U.S. women's team have all committed to the new league.

"This will really be the women's premier league," said U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy. "Already the enthusiasm has been unbelievable. This will be the world's best women's soccer league in the world." Already international stars are interested in playing here. . . . I think any new league is quite a challenge. But you have so many opportunities for promotions with the cable networks and the Internet. With that kind of backing and support, there's a lot of optimism among the players."

It is planned that each team will be allocated up to four U.S. national teamers, plus as many as international players. The average salary, Hendricks said, would be $40,000 with bonuses in the form of revenue sharing should the league be successful.

"The talent level is out there," star U.S. striker Mia Hamm said. "I don't know if people realize just how deep the player pool is. The level of competition will be extremely high. . . . This league is all about community. Kids will be able to come and see their heroes on a weekly basis and discover new heroes."

The U.S. Soccer Federation put out a statement confirming the WUSA's application to be sanctioned as a Division I league, something that has never existed for women in the U.S.

"A detailed analysis of the bid will take place," the statement read. "A number of other entities have also expressed interest in the formation of a professional women's soccer league."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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