Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Women's Soccer Goal: Draw Cash and Crowds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Women's Soccer Goal: Draw Cash and Crowds

Article excerpt

When the US women's soccer team beat China for the gold in the '96 Olympics, it wasn't afforded live showcase TV coverage. The women's success, however, propelled them forward. In the summer of 1999, the third-ever Women's World Cup (WWC) will be held in the US for the first time, and the women are determined to be front and center this time.

The United States Soccer Federation will host the tournament, for which 70 teams will be competing to qualify for 16 slots over the next year. The US, as host, automatically qualifies. The Women's World Cup Organizing committee, led by Donna de Varona - Olympic swimming gold-medalist, sportscaster, and co-founder of the Women's Sports Foundation - hopes the tournament will be a breakthrough in the way women's sports are marketed and perceived.

Encouraged by the early successes of the Women's National Basketball Association, tournament organizers are aiming for profits and attendance. The 1994 men's World Cup held here drew an average 68,600 spectators per game. The women's team played before 76,489 fans in the final Olympic game against China. Outside the Olympics, the largest crowd for a US women's game has been 17,000. Officials are hoping for crowds averaging 25,000 for the WWC.

The US national women's soccer team has been around since 1985, but it was only in 1991 that the first WWC was held under the auspices of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The US team won that championship, then came in third at the second one in Sweden in 1995.

When the team won the Olympic gold in Athens, Ga., fans, advertisers, and the US soccer community looked at the women's team in a new light. Although NBC's coverage of the Olympic gold-medal game was limited to highlights, the platform gave those involved an opportunity to recognize they'd missed something huge, says de Varona. Because of the team's Olympic success, US Soccer expanded plans for the WWC from small northeast venues to larger stadiums.

Now there is speculation that as Olympic successes boosted the WWC, success could pave the way for a women's pro soccer league.

"Timing is critical," says de Varona. …

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