Kick Wanted

May 13, 2001

Flip to a WUSA soccer game on TNT, and you can be forgiven if,
based on what you hear, you think you've landed on MTV's TRL.
Rising upward in tones only 11-year-old girls can muster, a
cacophony of squeals pours forth, leaving the viewer half
expecting to see Ricky Martin sub in at left fullback. These
cheers, however, are for ponytailed midfielders, not boy bands,
and thus are sweet music to the WUSA's organizers, vocal proof
that fans are coming out, often in surprisingly large numbers,
to support the distaff league. (The inaugural game on April 14
between the Washington Freedom and Bay Area CyberRays attracted
34,148 to RFK Stadium, and the league average through Sunday was
11,110.)

As impressive as attendance has been, the league's television
viewership has been less imposing. After 40 million U.S. viewers
tuned in to see the U.S. battle China in the women's 1999 World
Cup final, WUSA's brass was hoping for a carryover effect when
TNT began telecasting Saturday afternoon games in April. Instead,
the first game drew a 0.5 rating (393,000 households)--TNT had
hoped for a 0.5 to a 1.0--and the following two weeks the Nielsens
were 0.4 and 0.3, respectively. Placed in context, these aren't
horrible numbers. MLS soccer has averaged a 0.3 on ESPN this
year. Nonetheless the early ratings don't bode well for the WUSA,
because the audience numbers figure to decline as the novelty of
the league wears off.

There are many explanations for the low viewership--afternoon
(as opposed to prime-time) kickoffs, competition from NBA and
NHL playoff games and locally telecast baseball, poor preseason
promotion and a dearth of scoring (the first three TNT games
featured a total of four goals)--but the coverage isn't one of
them. Relying on many of the same people who put together the
World Cup coverage, TNT's broadcasts have been smooth and
gimmick-free. JP Dellacamera, who did play-by-play on the Cup
final, is paired with analyst Wendy Gebauer, a former North
Carolina and national team star, to provide solid work in the
booth. Banners across the bottom of the screen are usually
helpful, providing background on the league, the rules of the
game and the players, though we don't need to know that Freedom
forward Roseli "likes sushi, George Michael and the color blue."
On the other hand, such information might appeal to the young
female audience.

As for the preteen chorus, Dellacamera hopes it endures. "When a
goal is scored," he says, "I've tried to let the crowd provide
the call."

--C.B.

As impressive as attendance has been, the WUSA's TV viewership
has been less imposing.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)