- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Goodbye, WUSA.

It was fun while it lasted, all three seasons of it.

There never was a market for a professional women’s soccer league, just a feel-good moment that supporters felt compelled to shove down the throats of America.

The WUSA was like asparagus. It was good for your humanity.



Hear the women roar. That merely amplified the contrast. There was no roar of the crowd, if a corporal’s guard qualifies as a crowd, only a belief in women on a soccer field equating to social progress.

The public was unimpressed with the sweaty proposition. In fact, the public mostly did not care. That is the lesson of the WUSA. Almost no one cared. Almost no one knew it existed.

The last game was a confirmation of the obvious.

For the record, the Washington Freedom defeated the Atlanta Beat 2-1 in overtime to claim the Founders Cup in San Diego last month.

The telling detail: 7,106 spectators.

News of the league’s demise has prompted the usual cries of sadness from the usual suspects, ever disturbed by the lack of sophistication on the part of the American public.

What happened in four years?

How did the one-time can’t-miss league end up missing by more than $100million in fiscal losses?

This just goes to show you that you can’t believe everything you read.

The WUSA investors swallowed the hype that enveloped the U.S. women’s soccer team during the World Cup in 1999 and came to regret it.

You remember the connect-the-dots thought process. The world was changed forever.

Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt in celebration, the 90,185 who jammed the Rose Bowl nearly fainted and the breathless in the press box talked of the event’s social, political and commercial significance.

The breathless were wrong, of course, no doubt because of their inability to think clearly on oxygen-depleted brains. The alleged cultural sea change turned out to be the pet rock, the Hula Hoop, Corey Feldman and the like. There was this burst of something and then there was nothing.

The buzz, however genuine at the time, was transitory instead of transcendent, as proclaimed.

The inclination to extract vast meaning from it was an act of hope wrapped in a justification.

“We’re all Title IX babies, and this shows it’s working,” U.S. defender Kate Sobrero said at the time.

Title IX works as a charity of the federal government, not as a business model, and this could not be more self-evident following the collapse of the WUSA.

The WNBA, the sister league of the WUSA, survives as the principal charity of David Stern and the NBA.

The WUSA, in being about soccer, functioned with this additional strike against it.

Soccer was the self-proclaimed sport of the ‘70s, then the ‘80s, then the ‘90s, then whatever. Soccer is bound to be the sport of one of the decades ahead.

This is not to kick the dead. It just is what it is.

America’s robust youth league market in soccer, going back decades, has not led to a sufficient number of cash-paying customers at the gate.

Baseball, the erstwhile national pastime, is starting to see hints of that circumstance on a different level. The youths today might play the game. That is not to assume they will plant their fannies in front of it for three-plus hours as adults. Watching players watch players has its limits.

The sports marketplace, aside from football, basketball, baseball, hockey and NASCAR, is crowded with this or that. Yet soccer, no matter how many leagues come and go, persists in following the business model of the well-established sports leagues. The overhead inevitably exceeds the grasp of soccer, the men as well as the women.

The soccer women gave it a realistic try. Give them that.

Unlike the WNBA players who entertained the amusing threat to walk out on their money-losing operation, the WUSA players understood their grim financial plight and accepted the belt-tightening measures going into their third season.

There was no saving a league built on a flimsy premise, however.

Even John Hendricks, the founder of the WUSA, conceded he was overcome by the moment of 1999, claiming to be “intoxicated by what I witnessed.”

As a metaphor, the WUSA departs as the most expensive display of drunken revelry ever.

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