Think about a beautiful spring afternoon.
Clouds are wispy and intermittent, the sun shines almost unchecked, and instead of causing the wind chill to plunge, a breeze warms the grandstand.
A well-manicured field of grass lies before you, and several of the world’s greatest athletes streak across it with competitive desire and undeniable skill. The crowd rises around you in a massive clamor as the home team threatens to score.
While you’re welcome to imagine yourself down at the Vet for a Phillies game, that’s not the picture I have in mind.
I’m thinking women’s soccer.
On Monday, the inception of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was announced to the delight of sports fans of both genders everywhere. The positive outcry should be more audible in this area, however, since Philadelphia was on the list of eight cities slated to receive charter franchises.
The other cities so graced are Atlanta, Boston, New York, Orlando-Tampa, San Diego, San Fransisco and Houston.
Eight alternate cities were chosen, probably to be added in the first year or through expansion at a later time. They were Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Los Angeles, Miami, Portland, Raleigh-Durham and St. Louis. Milwaukee, Denver and Houston are also being considered possible candidates for franchises.
Each franchise will make an initial $5 million investment, and the eight chosen cities will be conditional until stadium contracts are worked out. The deadline for the contracts is Nov. 1 of this year.
There are a couple of very important — and very promising — aspects of Monday’s announcement, however.
First is the question of talent. More than 100 of the very best female soccer players from this country and countries all over the world already have signed letters of intent for the league, including every member of the 1999 World Cup champion U.S. national team.
There would appear to be no competition for the top talent at the birth of the WUSA — unlike the WNBA, which struggled with the ABL for supremacy before finally triumphing. According to widespread speculation, Major League Soccer had been considering forming a women’s league under its umbrella, much like the NBA has with the WNBA, but with all the top talent gone to the WUSA, those plans would be better off scrapped.
The road is clear for the WUSA to be the most competitive women’s league in the most popular sport in the world.
The other incredibly important factor that I see spelling success for the WUSA is the makeup of the ownership of the franchises. Most of the leading investors are cable companies or other media forces. This will make the distribution of the league incredibly easy, as far as television and the Internet goes.
The league already has agreed to a four-year cable television contract. A total of 22 games a year will be televised on cable networks TNT and CNN/SI.
Comcast Corporation will run the Philly franchise, while Time Warner Inc. heads a herd of other communications corporations involved with the financial backing of the WUSA.
One of the only things remaining to be determined before the WUSA can kick into high gear is sanctioning by the existing governing bodies of soccer.
The major sports leagues that exist today — including the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball — all came about before there were powerful governing bodies for their respective sports. But the WUSA will be looking for an official sanction on the part of U.S. Soccer to lend some credibility, as well as a built-in set of rules and officiating standards.
A nod from U.S. Soccer would also prevent any other league from gaining that distinction, giving the WUSA an almost impenetrable edge on prospective competitors.
As far as Temple goes, it will be difficult to gauge the league’s effect on campus life until the stadium deal is worked out.
The Philadelphia WUSA franchise could significantly change the complexion of the recent stadium gridlock in this city, either positively or negatively. One possibility is that the added pressure of a Nov. 1 deadline will be the catalyst for finalization of the stadium fiasco. The other possibility I see is that another set of interests will come to nothing more than another set of voices shouting into the din.
It really depends who tries to listen. Temple isn’t in much of a bargaining position, since Owls football draws barely 5,000 fans a game to the Vet, so the university might have to wait until the shouting is over and hope it didn’t get screwed.
Since games start in just one year, of course the new soccer club will have to use one of the several existing venues in the city.
I would love to see Penn rip out the turf at Franklin Field and stage soccer games there. It would likely cut down on the availability of the historic track for public use — which is one of the best-kept secrets in the city — but it might just be worth it.
In fact, I would be willing to sacrifice quite a bit in the interest of seeing the WUSA succeed. For now, though, I’m excited to have Philly in on the ground floor.