Cablers firm 4-year deal for femme soccer

Turner Sports and the recently formed Women’s United Soccer Assn. have signed an exclusive four-year national cable television deal to broadcast WUSA games on TNT and CNN/Sports Illustrated.

Beginning in 2001, TNT and CNN/SI will combine to televise 22 games per year — 15 on TNT and seven on CNN/SI — including playoffs and a championship game.

“This four-year agreement solidifies the WUSA as the next major professional sports league,” said John Hendricks, chairman of the WUSA board of governors and CEO of Discovery Communications.

The announcement was made just one month after WUSA was formed with investments totaling $40 million from cable operators Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Comcast Corp.

The cable operators who are shouldering the WUSA investment will get first dibs at local TV rights to the games. “In addition to the 22 games that are nationally televised, there will be a whole schedule of local and regional broadcasts utilizing the resources of our cable partners,” Hendricks said.

Initial market

The league also announced its first eight team markets: Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, S.F., Washington and Orlando-Tampa, Fla. If the league is successful, the business plan calls for expansion to as many as 14 teams by 2006.

WUSA, which begins play in April 2001, hopes to exploit the growing popularity of soccer among American girls and women that accelerated when the U.S. team won the Women’s World Cup final last year at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. All the 1999 World Cup champions have agreed to play for the WUSA, including Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Carla Overbeck.

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