They haven't played a single soccer match yet, but the Women's United Soccer Association achieved a measure of legitimacy last week when it made a deal to televise its games through Turner Sports.
When WUSA kicks off its inaugural season next April, women's soccer fans will be able to watch 22 games each season on Turner cable outlets.
TNT will carry 15 of the games, with seven appearing on CNN/Sports Illustrated, according to Mark Lazarus, president of Turner Sports.
Lazarus declined to confirm reports that Turner Sports is licensing the women's soccer games for $3 million per season over the course of the four-year deal.
"There were a number of contenders," said John Hendricks, Discovery Communications chairman and chairman of the WUSA board of governors. "In the end, it was a combination of the reach of TNT and CNN/SI."
Lazarus thinks the weekend-afternoon contests could achieve a 2.0 rating on the cable channels (1.5 million households). "We believe it depends on the time slots we settle on."
Turner Sports is already fielding inquiries from "many major marketers," according to Lazarus, including General Motors, Nike and beer companies.
Additional games from the 80-game schedule will be carried on local cable channels by Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Comcast Corp., all partners in the deal to the tune of $40 million with Hendricks and Amos Hostetter, former Continental Cablevision chairman.
Teams have been approved by the league for Atlanta; Boston; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; the Tampa-Orlando, Fla., market; and the New York City area. The league is scouting venues for stadiums in the 8,000- to 12,000-seat range in each market, according to Hendricks.
Each market represents a $5 million investment in the respective team. Time Warner has New York and Tampa; Cox has Atlanta and San Diego; Comcast has Philadelphia. Hostetter is the investor in Boston and is in partnership with Hendricks in San Francisco. Hendricks is also a partner with Comcast in Washington.
The league has signed letters of intent from 20 players who were members of the victorious U.S. national women's team in the 1999 World Cup, including Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy. Two or three players from that squad will be assigned to each team in the new pro league.