Women's United Soccer Association

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Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA)
Country United States
ConfederationCONCACAF (North America)
Number of teams8
Level on pyramid1
Domestic cup(s)Founders Cup
Last championsWashington Freedom (1st title)
Most championshipsBay Area CyberRays
Carolina Courage
Washington Freedom (1 title each)
TV partnersTurner Sports

The Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) was the world's first women's soccer league in which all the players were paid as professionals.[1] Founded in February 2000, the league began its first season in April 2001 with eight teams in the United States.[2] The league suspended operations on September 15, 2003, shortly after the end of its third season, after making cumulative losses of around US$100 million.[3][4]



As a result of the US women's national team's (USWNT) first-place showing in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, a seemingly viable market for the sport germinated.[5]

Feeding on the momentum of their victory, the twenty USWNT players, in partnership with John Hendricks of the Discovery Channel, sought out the investors, markets, and players necessary to form the eight-team league.[6] The twenty founding players were Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Tracy Ducar, Lorrie Fair, Joy Fawcett, Danielle Fotopoulos, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan, Tiffeny Milbrett, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, Christie Pearce, Tiffany Roberts, Briana Scurry, Kate (Markgraf) Sobrero, Tisha Venturini, Saskia Webber, and Sara Whalen.[7]

Initial investment in the league was provided by the following:[8]

The U.S. Soccer Federation approved membership of the league as a sanctioned Division 1 women's professional soccer league on August 18, 2000.[10] Tony DiCicco was made commissioner.[11]

Media coverage[edit]

At various times, games were televised on TNT, CNNSI, ESPN2, PAX TV, and various local and regional sports channels via Comcast,[12][13] Cox,[14] Fox, AT&T, and MSG.[15][16][17]

TNT and CNN/SI (2001)[edit]

TNT[18] broadcast the very first[19] WUSA game on April 21, 2001, which was contest between the Atlanta Beat and New York Power[20] at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.[21] Former U.S. national team member Wendy Gebauer Palladino helped called the game alongside broadcaster JP Dellacamera[22] and American soccer great Michelle Akers. About 22 games[23][24] were scheduled to be broadcast nationally on TNT or CNN/SI[25] in 2001. 15 games were initially expected to be shown on TNT[26] and seven games[27] on CNN/SI over the course of June to August.[28] The deal included broadcast of playoffs and the championship game,[29][30] the Founders Cup.[31] During a four-year span, TNT and CNN/SI were due to televise at least 88 games,[32] under a $3 million TV contract.[33]

Ratings were not available for CNN/SI[34] for the 2001 season as the cable TV provider did not reach enough households to be a statistical factor.

Pax (2002–2003)[edit]

After the 2001 season, the WUSA opted out[35] of its four-year[36] agreement to go with a two-year pact[37] with the Pax network.[38][39][40][41] The WUSA's reasoning that Pax's offer for a 4 p.m. Saturday timeslot was more desirable[42] than the noon[43] timeslot that TNT offered.

The change[44] from TNT and CNN/SI to Pax however, may have immediately depressed ratings by confusing fans.[45] To be more specific, the WUSA's ratings plunged from the 0.4[46] to 0.2[47] average it got on TNT to a 0.1 average on Pax. In other words, where as an average of 425,000 households tuned in to watch the games on TNT, fewer than 100,000 watched them on Pax. Keep in mind that Pax was a station available in 90 million,[48] 5 million more than TNT.[49] The move to Pax also came as AOL Time Warner[50] considered morphing CNN/SI into a basketball channel that would be co-owned with the National Basketball Association.

Pax's coverage in itself, concerned the broadcast of the WUSA Game of the Week, on 19 consecutive Saturdays[51] beginning in April at 4:00 p.m.[52] (ET). In 2003, the league wouldn't decide on the opponents for the final Pax Game of the Week on August 9 in order to provide soccer fans with the best possible matchup with playoff implications. The decision on the two opponents for the August 9 game would be made in early August. In total,[53] Pax was scheduled to televise 18[54] regular season games and one WUSA Playoff Semifinal in the second week of August.

Pax would receive certain cross-promotional opportunities with the league, including signs at each team venue, although the WUSA would handle ad sales for the games. The agreement carried a reported value of $2 million.[55][56]

ESPN2 (2003)[edit]

For the WUSA's third and final season,[57][58] they announced that ESPN2[59] would join Pax in broadcasting 23 league games in 2003. This would begin with a rematch of Founders Cup II[60] with the Washington Freedom visit the Carolina Courage on April 5. ESPN2 was scheduled to broadcast only four of the 23 nationally televised games. This included the All-Star Game[61] on June 19 and the Founders Cup[62] on August 24. Beth Mowins[63] and Anson Dorrance handled WUSA games on not just Pax[64][65] but ESPN2 also.

The WUSA ultimately scored a 0.1 percent rating on Pax and 0.2 percent on ESPN2.[66]


The WUSA franchises were located in Philadelphia; Boston; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Cary, N.C.; Atlanta; San Jose, Ca.; and San Diego:

Team Stadium City Founded Joined WUSA Left Notes
Atlanta Beat Bobby Dodd Stadium Atlanta, Georgia 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
Boston Breakers Nickerson Field Boston, Massachusetts 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
Carolina Courage[i] SAS Stadium Cary, North Carolina 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
New York Power Mitchel Athletic Complex Uniondale, New York 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
Philadelphia Charge Villanova Stadium Villanova, Pennsylvania 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
San Diego Spirit Torero Stadium San Diego, California 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
San Jose CyberRays[ii] Spartan Stadium San Jose, California 2000 2001 2003 Dissolved with league
Washington Freedom RFK Stadium Washington, DC 2000 2001 2003 Hiatus, resumed with USL W-League in 2006
  1. ^ Originally intended to be in Orlando, Florida, and were going to be called the Orlando Tempest
  2. ^ Originally called the Bay Area CyberRays

For the inaugural season, each roster primarily consisted of players from the United States, although up to four international players were allowed on each team's roster.[67] Among the international players were China's Sun Wen, Pu Wei, Fan Yunjie, Zhang Ouying, Gao Hong, Zhao Lihong, and Bai Jie; Germany's Birgit Prinz, Conny Pohlers, Steffi Jones and Maren Meinert; Norway's Hege Riise, Unni Lehn, and Dagny Mellgren; Brazil's Sissi, Kátia and Pretinha; and Canada's Charmaine Hooper, Sharolta Nonen, and Christine Latham.

The league also hosted singular talents from nations which were not then at the forefront of women's soccer, such as Maribel Dominguez of Mexico, Homare Sawa of Japan, Julie Fleeting of Scotland, Cheryl Salisbury of Australia, Marinette Pichon of France, and Kelly Smith of England.

WUSA Awards[edit]

Founders Cup champions[edit]

The Founders Cup (named in honor of the 20 founding players) was awarded to the winner of a four-team, single-elimination postseason playoff.

Season Champion Score Runner-Up City
2001 Bay Area CyberRays 3–3 asdet
4–2 pen
Atlanta Beat Foxboro, MA
2002 Carolina Courage 3–2 Washington Freedom Atlanta, GA
2003 Washington Freedom 2–1 asdet Atlanta Beat San Diego, CA

"asdet" stands for "after sudden death extra time". WUSA's sudden death overtime was 15 minutes long (two 7½-minute periods) and used only in the playoffs.

League suspension[edit]

The WUSA played for three full seasons, suspending operations on September 15, 2003, shortly after the conclusion of the third season.[68] Neither television ratings nor attendance met forecasts, while the league spent its initial $40 million budget, planned to last five years, by the end of the first season. Even though the players took salary cuts of up to 30% for the final season, with the founding players (who also held an equity stake in the league) taking the largest cuts, that was not enough to bring expenses under control.[69] In the hopes of an eventual relaunch of the league, all rights to team names, logos, and similar properties were preserved. Efforts to line up new sources of capital and operating funds continued. In June 2004, the WUSA held two "WUSA Festivals" in Los Angeles and Blaine, Minnesota, featuring matches between reconstituted WUSA teams (often with marquee players borrowed from other teams), in order to maintain the league in the public eye and sustain interest in women's professional soccer.[70]

With the WUSA on hiatus, the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) and the W-League regained their status as the premier women's soccer leagues in the United States, and many former WUSA players joined those teams.[71]

A new women's professional soccer league in the United States called Women's Professional Soccer started in 2009. However, that league suspended operations in January 2012.[72] It was succeeded by the National Women's Soccer League which continues to this day.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hellborg, Anna Maria (November 21, 2012). "The Challenges of Women's Professional Soccer in the US A theoretically and empirically informed discussion" (PDF). idrottsforum.org: 15. Retrieved December 3, 2022.
  2. ^ Straus, Brian (April 13, 2001). "WUSA: Following the phenomenal success of the 1999 Women's World Cup, the first women's professional soccer league was formed around the core of the U.S. national team. But to succeed, it will have to be more than Mia vs. Brandi". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2023.
  3. ^ King, Bill. "Confident, yes, but can new league survive?". Sport Business Journal. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  4. ^ "ESPN.com: GEN - WUSA failed Marketing 101". www.espn.com.
  5. ^ O'Conner McDonough, Meghan. "The case of Women's United Soccer Association: explaining the rise and fall of a social movement organization". Louisville University Library.
  6. ^ "ESPN.com - SOCCER - Plan calls for 8- to 10-team league in U.S." www.espn.com.
  7. ^ Lauletta, Dan. "In failure, WUSA left behind blueprint for distant future – Equalizer Soccer".
  8. ^ Miller, Gretchen; Scheyer, Jonathan; Sherrard, Emily. "Women's United Soccer Association". Soccer Politics. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  9. ^ Jones, Grahame L. (April 11, 2000). "Women's Soccer League Is Unveiled". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ "WUSA Granted U.S. Soccer Membership as Division I Women's Professional Soccer League". USSF. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  11. ^ "PLUS: SOCCER -- WOMEN'S UNITED SOCCER ASSOCIATION; DiCicco Is Named As Commissioner". Associated Press. April 27, 2000 – via NYTimes.com.
  12. ^ "Ohio State's Lori Walker to Announce USA vs. Finland Match ..." Ohio State University.
  13. ^ Smallwood, John (November 25, 2012). "John Smallwood: No reason to thing this women's soccer league will succeed". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  14. ^ "Women's soccer in deals". CNN Money. April 10, 2000.
  15. ^ "Walker Set to Call WUSA National Telecast". Ohio State University. August 5, 2003.
  16. ^ Nordin, Kendra (April 13, 2001). "Women stars have league of their own". The Christian Science Monitor.
  17. ^ "Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) Announces Television Coverage for Every Game During Inaugural Season". USSF. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  18. ^ "FOUR FORMER TAR HEELS IN INAUGURAL WUSA GAME". Go Heels. April 9, 2001.
  19. ^ Lauletta, Dan (April 10, 2019). "In failure, WUSA left behind blueprint for distant future". The Equalizer.
  20. ^ Felicien, Bria (April 20, 2020). "A look back at WUSA's Atlanta Beat, 19 years after inaugural match". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  21. ^ Klein, Jeff Z. (April 17, 2001). "Foot Soldiers". The Village Voice.
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  24. ^ Stossel, Scott. "As American as Women's Soccer?". The Atlantic.
  25. ^ "WUSA: TNT and CNNSI to show 22 games". Soccer America. February 20, 2001. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
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  28. ^ Penner, Mike (April 16, 2001). "It's the Birth of a Notion". Los Angeles.
  29. ^ George, John (April 9, 2001). "Women's soccer team ready to Charge". Philadelphia Business Journal.
  30. ^ "Ten Former Irish Players Making Their Mark In Women's ..." The University of Notre Dame. August 8, 2001.
  31. ^ WUSA 2001 Bay Area CyberRays v Atlanta Beat Founders Cup I on YouTube
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  33. ^ Wahl, Grant. "BATTLE OF THE SEXES". Sports Illustrated.
  34. ^ "WUSA – big success despite small TV audiences". FIFA. October 19, 2001.[dead link]
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  37. ^ "WUSA had big drop in attendance". ESPN.com.
  38. ^ Umstead, R. Thomas (December 18, 2001). "Pax TV Nets WUSA Pact". Multichannel News.
  39. ^ Longman, Jere (June 3, 2002). "SOCCER; U.S. Soccer: Sport of 70's, 80's and 90's Still Waits". The New York Times.
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  42. ^ Rosner, Shropshire, Scott, Kenneth (2011). The Business of Sports. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. p. 103. ISBN 9780763780784.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  63. ^ "Mowins and Dorrance Named to PAX Broadcast Team". OurSports Central. April 9, 2002.
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  65. ^ WUSA on PAX: 2002 WUSA All-Star Game on YouTube
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  69. ^ Fraser John Boyd (August 2008). Failure to Launch: A study int o Launch: A study into the Nor o the North American Soccer League th American Soccer League and the Women’s United Soccer Association and their factors of failures through Michael Pough Michael Porter’s Models of Strategy Formation (MA thesis). University of Tennessee. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
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  72. ^ Bell, Jack. "Goal Goal The New York Times Soccer Blog W.P.S. Suspends Operations". The New York Times. Retrieved April 14, 2019.

Preceded by
Division 1 soccer league in the United States
Succeeded by