Women's league groups choose cooperation over confrontation

WUSA, MSL decide joint effort makes sense

May 24, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Two estranged organizations sparring over rights to start the nation's first women's pro soccer league got engaged yesterday, veering onto a new, common course toward a marriage of, at least, convenience.

The inexperienced, but wealthy and, thus far, shrewd Women's United Soccer Association, founded by Bethesda cable TV mogul John S. Hendricks, and 5-year-old Major League Soccer, the more seasoned, but financiallystressed, media-craving men's league, announced their intended union in a national teleconference.

In essense, leaders of both groups said they have agreed to find ways to market the pro game jointly, complement one another in promotion and scheduling, expand together in the next couple of years, and, down the road, build soccer-specific stadiums together.

No money changed hands. Each league will operate separately. MLS will not apply to run a women's league. WUSA, though it lacks personnel, team names and stadium deals at the moment, intends to open play next April in eight cities, Washington among them, given now-expected sanction by the governing U.S. Soccer Federation.

WUSA, holding commitments from most of the world's best-known female players and backed by very deep financial pockets rooted in big-time cable TV firms not otherwise committed to soccer, is to announce its first player allocations today. Published reports have Mia Hamm, probably the best-known name worldwide in women's soccer, allocated to the Washington franchise.

The two groups' "comprehensive cooperation plan" followed what MLS commissioner Don Garber termed "11th-hour" counseling from the federation, which was in an uncomfortable spot of having to sanction only one group later this year.

Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel and other cable channels, said the federation "provided a healthy environment that fostered the discussion."

Garber said that "what this provides [MLS] is the relationship with a new group of investors that are making a commitment to soccer. Probably as important is the fact that these folks are in the media business."

"[But] at the end of the day ... regardless of the sex of the players, we both recognize that we have challenges ahead and that, working together, we can achieve a whole lot more than if we were to work independent of each other."

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