It Seems To Me . . .
Final Women’s World Cup thoughts.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, July 15, 1999) -- A number of you have sent e-mails asking for my thoughts about the Woman's World Cup. Except for writing some match stories, I have been rather quiet on the subject figuring I had little to add to all that was being written on the subject.
Because of your requests, however, I have decided to share a few random thoughts while the events of the last few weeks are still fresh in my mind.
As far as I am concerned Marla Messing is a marketing goddess. There is no doubt the tournament ended up a tremendous triumph. In great measure it has become Messing's personal triumph. She had a vision, and through a combination of hard work and, truthfully, an awful lot of luck, she saw that vision come true.
Messing, and her partner Donna de Varona, instinctively understood how much Americans love big events. She knew if the tournament could be sold as an Olympic-like event -- not as a soccer tournament -- she could get huge stadiums full of fan chanting "U-S-A. U-S-A."
In the end she was proven exactly right. Someday there will be doctoral dissertations and marketing textbooks written on the selling of Women's World Cup 99. Frankly, a year ago I couldn't understand the obvious lack of regard the organizers were showing (and continued to show during the tournament) towards the established soccer media, what there is of it in this country. Their only interest was the traditional mass media. They figured that one story in People Magazine was worth more to their marketing effort than a hundred on SoccerTimes, or in Soccer America.
In the end, a huge amount of credit must go to Messing. Likewise, plenty should go to de Varona. Finally, a man who has been in the background but deserves much credit is Alan Rothenberg who, as president of United States Soccer Federation bid for and won the right to host the event. He then convinced the male-dominated FIFA to let Messing and de Varona run it.
This World Cup was a significant cultural and societal happening. I will leave the question of whether or not it represents a watershed event in women's sports history to the social commentators who are much more able than I at making that kind of an evaluation.
I read a lot of Sunday newspapers -- online and in print -- and what struck me this past Sunday, and since the final match ended, is that out of dozens and dozens of stories written about the events at the Rose Bowl, few had much to do with soccer, and even fewer seemed to have any depth of understanding about the game.
This was a cultural story. This was an event story. This was not, in the final analysis, much of a soccer story. When this World Cup is remembered, I'm afraid, it will be remembered for the crowd numbers and for Brandi's bra, not for the soccer. That's a shame.
That, of course, leads to the inevitable question of whether this World Cup is going to lead to a professional league or even if, in the long run, the media success that the U.S. women's team has become is good for soccer.
About a woman's league, I don't know. One vital question is whether there are enough quality players to stock a full league. It is clear you will have to import many of the better players from the teams who played here. And that might be an expensive proposition.
The key question is how many of the 658,000 who bought tickets to the World Cup would be willing week in and week out to plunk down $20 or so to see professional league play. In a way what happened with the World Cup might end up a sort of good news\bad news scenario for a women's pro league. The success of the WWC might make investors and sponsors more willing to put up the dollars that are going to be needed to start the league. But at the same time, the crowds of the last few weeks have undoubtedly raised expectations.
What is going to happen in the first year of a woman's pro league if it starts drawing average crowds of 7,500?
Essentially, this was a three-team tournament, and one of those, Norway, underperformed badly. As Tony DiCicco kept telling us, the U.S. did not play particularly well. Yes, Brazil and Germany have improved. But the U.S. should have defeated both much more easily than it did.
I thought the final, while suspenseful, was pretty awful soccer. China packed it in, playing about as cynically as any team I have ever seen in a similar situation. Their whole plan was to deny the U.S., and to win 1-0 as the result of a counter-attack, a set piece, or just on a fluke. The U.S. sees such tactics often, but they spent most of Saturday attacking the Chinese so inexpertly you had to believe they either didn't know how to break down a packed-in defense, or they didn't have the talent.
Maybe they were simply too tired. But in 120 minutes of soccer there was only a couple plays even worth mentioning most notably. Kristine Lilly clearing the Chinese header off the line in the 100th minute.
I thought that with the exception of Canada's Sonia Denoncourt (note to MLS -- hire her today) the officiating throughout the tournament was basically awful. I watched three of the matches worked by Nicole Mouidi Petignat of Switzerland, who worked the final, and one was worse than the next.
Maybe someone will eventually tell Ms. Petignat that on a penalty kick, a goalkeeper may move laterally up and down the goal line, but may not come off the line until the ball is struck. Law 14 of the Laws of the Game says that the goalkeeper on a penalty shot "remains on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked." Is it only me, or did anyone else notice that Briana Scurry came a yard or two off the line on every shot before the shot was taken?
Frankly, I am a little tired of seeing so much made of the fact that U.S. Soccer had a contract with the women to pay a $12,500 bonus if they won the World Cup, while they had agreed to pay the men more than $300,000 each had they won in France. The plain fact is that when U.S. Soccer signed the agreement with the women, they fully expected to have had to write these checks, while not knowing if the women would actually end up playing before crowds of 7,500 or 75,000.
When they made the agreement with the men, they knew that absent a plague hitting France, one that left only Americans standing, there was absolutely no way the U.S. was going all the way.
Now that the women's tournament is a financial success, additional monies paid to the women will raise their take to more than $50,000 each. This, rightfully so, is more than the men made in France, and the amount is likely to continue rising.
What is going to be very interesting now is that U.S. Soccer has to negotiate a new contract with the women players. The last time around the negotiations with the men were acrimonious to say the least. Look for the women to band together behind their agent John Langel. There is some very hard bargaining ahead for U.S. Soccer.
Finally, all of you who think Brandi Chastain's baring of her world cups was a spontaneous action, please raise your hand. What, none of you? I'm sorry, I thought the whole thing was just a little too calculated. Why was I not surprised to hear that she was wearing the new, super sports bra from Nike to be found in a store near you in about three weeks? Why was I not surprised to learn, at a press conference being held in the New York NikeTown, that the company is now considering hiring her as their bra spokesperson?
My only hope is that Nike does not come to market with a new soccer cup for men or lord
knows what post-game celebrations in the future might become.
Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many
years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African
newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America"
column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at
Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.