Saturday, April 21, 2007

Response to Jamie Trecker's WUSA Bashing

After watching the US Women's National Team thrash their Mexican counterparts 5-0 Saturday night, I feel compelled to respond to Jamie Trecker's recent annihilation of the WUSA relaunch.

The premise of the article is essentially why the revival of the WUSA, which originally birthed itself in 2001 before folding 2003, is a bad idea for almost all parties involved. Throughout the article, Trecker gives rather trite objections to support his dour view of WUSA's chances of success. "This is a dreadful idea. It is almost guaranteed to fail, and when it does, it could well hurt the sport as a whole in the United States."

Wow, that's the quite a bold statement, Jamie. Of course, the same thing was said back in the early-90s about MLS, even when it was little more than a promise to FIFA for accepting the US's bid to host World Cup '94.His first objection to the relaunch is the comical assertion that it will be "flat-out exploitation" of the players because they will be "paid peanuts" while the stadium owners will reap the majority of the 1.5-2 million each team will have in estimated operating expenses.

So what defines exploitation? Trecker points to a projected annual player salary in the $15,000 range. So if WUSA's players are exploited, then maybe we should get Amnesty International to investigate collegiate athletes, many of whom play in the very stadiums that WUSA will inhabit. Are the college athletes who play in these stadiums exploited? After all, they are -gasp - not even paid at all!

It's no secret that these players will have to find second jobs to supplement their income. Hey Jamie, guess what? So do a vast majority of professional athletes! In fact, a very small percentage of professional athletes actually make enough money to bypass the second job to make a living. For every A-Rod making $25 million a year, there are thousands don’t even come close to making what he makes per at-bat - you just don’t hear about them with the same frequency. Frightening, isn't it? Does that amount to exploitation? Is a first baseman making $600 a month in A-ball exploited because the owner of his team is makes exponentially more? Maybe Amnesty should do a concurrent investigation into minor league baseball players as well.

Laughably, Trecker states that this circumstance is not a good example for kids. After all, the real beneficiaries in the relaunch of the WUSA are the stadium owners and executives who'll be making the real money from the vast majority of ticket and concession sales. But this is true in all professional sports, not just soccer. You think Peyton Manning makes alot of money? Think about how much the guy who signs Manning’s paycheck makes.

Trecker also states that the idea is a bad one due to the oversaturation of sports in this country. So because the landscape is filled with many different sports, no one else should try and start another professional league. No more leagues. Period. Jamie Trecker, newly-anointed Commissioner of the Sports Landscape has decreed that there shall be no more sports leagues created due to there already being too many.

Yes, baseball, football and basketball all dominate the American pro sports landscape. Hockey, to a lesser degree, does as well. But one need only look at the soaring costs of admission to these sporting events to realize that a family of four can no longer spend a night at the ballgame without applying for a home equity loan. There is a place for the WUSA within the landscape because other sports leagues outside of the so-called "Big Four", such as soccer and lacrosse, recognize this trend by promoting family-friendly prices. These lower prices allow the same family admission and concessions for a night out at less than $100.

Trecker also points to the fact that men's pro soccer is still struggling to find its place on the American sports scene as well. While this is true, who's to say that an attempt to establish a top-tier women's pro league shouldn't be made? At one point, there was no room for hip-hop on the American pop music scene filled to the brim with rock, disco, and regrettably, Neil Diamond. People dismissed rap as a fad, or a gimmick. Twenty-five years later, hip hop dominates much of pop culture, nevermind pop music. Good thing those in the rap game, whose total annual gross is currently in the hundreds of millions of dollars, didn't listen to the Jamie Treckers of their industry back in the day!

Another flimsy assertion to back up Trecker's prognostication of doom is the lack of recognizable names currently in women's soccer. Trecker states that since the Mia Hamms, Julie Foudys and Brandi Chastains have retired, there are no big names to draw fans at the gate.

If this logic were applicable eight years ago back in 1998 and 1999, prior to the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, then these very same players would even not be known today. There was a time when Foudy, Brian Scurry and Chastain were about as well-known among the American public as the president of Estonia. It took a sensational grass-roots campaign to pack the Rose Bowl for the 1999 Women's World Cup. How many people knew any of the players (other than Mia) when they bought their tickets to Pasadena that summer? The organizers didn't seem to have any problem selling out the Rose Bowl to the tune of 90,000-plus fans without a household name.

Now, Trecker does make some valid points. The steady attendance decrease in the only high-profile women's league - the WNBA - is certainly cause for alarm. The track records of women’s pro sports leagues are admittedly less than stellar. The numbers don't lie. But at the same time, the WUSA’s rebirth, which will employ a more conservative model more closely aligned with MLS - something it should have done during its initial launch back in 2001. Another benefit the league has is its past failure. It can look back at the mistakes made and learn from them - much like MLS did in the ‘90s by avoiding the pitfalls that doomed the NASL back in the early ‘80s.

I understand his misgivings for the success of the WUSA in light of the make up of the sports scene today. But to lambaste the effort seems rather tasteless. For if we all ceded to the status quo, there would never be progress. We'd all be waking up to roosters and riding our horses to work.

It's not about players getting paid paltry salaries. It's not about cramming one more professional sports league into an already-crowded sports landscape. It's not about having a big name help bring in the masses. It's about opportunity given to those who've worked hard to achieve it.

The US Women’s National Team is the top-ranked squad in the world. Talk to team captain Kristine Lilly about what the WUSA means to her. Tell the only player in the world with over 300 career caps that her sport – women’s soccer – doesn’t deserve its own top-flight league. Doesn't she – or the entire WNT, for that matter - deserve the opportunity to try again and restart a top-tier women’s league? Moreover, don't they deserve the respect of those within in the soccer community to applaud, rather than detract, their efforts?


Heather O said...

Great job on this!!! I've sent it to a bunch of my family members--those excited about the new league, and those who easily dismissed it.

BrianTheOC said...

Thanks Heather! I appreciate the kind words - glad you enjoyed the article!

Felicia said...

wow, this article is amazing!! I was doing some research about the WUSA's return. Can't wait til it returns, I am trying to work my way up there to play in the WUSA. I am transferring to Purdue to play soccer!! So I just wanted to say great job on this!

BrianTheOC said...

Thanks Felica! I'm glad you liked the article. Also, great to hear that you'll be playing for Purdue next year. Check in again, and let me know how your first season as a Boilermaker goes!

Good luck!