- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

The Women's United Soccer Association yesterday announced a major restructuring aimed at cutting the estimated $10 million in losses incurred this season.

The restructuring will include four primary moves: a move of league headquarters from New York to Atlanta; a far greater use of resources belonging to league investor Cox Enterprises Inc.; a promotion of Tony DiCicco, chief operations officer, to league commissioner; and a promotion of Lynn Morgan, general manager for the San Diego and Atlanta franchises, to league president.

The WUSA began in April with a much-ballyhooed opener at RFK Stadium, and its average league attendance of 8,295 a game exceeded original estimates of 7,500 a game. But the average TV rating of 0.4, corresponding to less than 500,000 U.S. households a game, on TNT and CNN/SI failed to match league goals, and corporate sponsorships also lagged behind original budgeting.

Reducing the number of franchises in the eight-team league or an outright folding were never in the offing during a recent investors' meeting in Boston, Morgan said. But she said greater cost control was a necessity. The league originally planned to lose $8 million during the inaugural season.

"To say we would have folded or shed teams if this didn't happen would be a bit dramatic. But we were certainly challenged with working to become profitable," Morgan said. "As we wrapped up the first year [Aug. 25], it became apparent we could become much more efficient in how we were using and deploying our resources."

WUSA technically will remain a stand-alone operation, but the league will work out of Cox's Atlanta headquarters and pay the Fortune 500 company a yearly management fee to use its space and resources. By using some of Cox's sales and marketing personnel, the league will reduce its front office staff from the 35 people it employed in New York, but Morgan could not say by how many. A small office will remain in New York to serve league sponsors.

The changes also put a greater emphasis on the eight franchises being successful in their own local marketing.

"This is already a grassroots operation, so we see this as a positive," said Katy Button, general manager for the Washington Freedom. "They'll be in a better position to help us and react to what's going on in each market."

The WUSA's TV ratings exceeded those for Major League Soccer, the men's league with which WUSA holds a cooperation agreement. But they were also about half what Turner Sports, WUSA's primary television partner, anticipated given the national excitement over the 1999 U.S. team that won the Women's World Cup. All of the key personnel from that squad played in the WUSA this year.

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