A staredown between the s national and Soccer over the 1999 squads victory tour changed the relationship between the and their boss forever

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On the morning after the national won the 1999 World Cup, the celebrations continued. While the players were off to do a victory at Disneyland, officials from the Soccer Federation opened the s pages of local papers, eager to see the coverage of the victory.

The Los Angeles Times ed the headline the Bootul alongside a large photo of Briana Scurrys penalty-kick save. Some of the Soccer brass probably cracked a smile at the pun. But when they turned to page 5, they saw a dferent headlineone that would touch off a bitter dispute and mark a permanent change in the relationship between the players and their boss, the federation. It was on a full-page advertisement for an indoor victory tour the national players had scheduled for that fall.

Hank Steinbrecher, the secretary general of Soccer, was shocked. The players were calling themselves the All-n Soccer Stars but essentially planned to to 12 cities as winning national to play exhibition s against an all-star of world internationals. Robert Contiguglia, the president of Soccer, was furio.

But the players had already asked Soccer how the federation planned to capitalize on hosting the s World Cup on home soil. The answer they got back, essentially, was that the federation wasnt really thinking about that.

We pressed them on it and said, Hey, what are you doing? What are the plans? remembers Julie Foudy. They said we were going to Africa. We were like, Africa? We need to grow the here. Why are we going to Africa? We had never even been to Africa.

Yes, for some reason, Soccer president Robert Contiguglia and secretary general Hank Steinbrecher wanted to send the players on tour in South Africa and Egypt after the 1999 World Cup, when interest in the at home would be at an all-time high.

To this day, the players dont understand what Soccers higher-ups were thinking. To say the federation lacked foresight or ambition to help the national keep up its momentum is to put it mildly. There was no strategy to grow interest in the from the federation responsible for it, to say nothing of cashing in and hosting s that would sell lots of tickets. It was a strange response from the federation that only deepened the s mistrt of their boss.

They had nothing for , Kate Markgraf says. They had no plan. They didnt think would be what it was.

So the players started talking through the details of a tour they could put on themselves. They agreed to hire event-marketing firm SFX, which could handle logistics of the tour. But it wasnt done in secret behind Soccers back, as the federation later made it seem.

Langel and the players sent letters to Soccer notying the federation of their plans, but officials jt ignored their messages. The attempted again jt before the s World Cup to see Soccer wanted to have anything to do with the tour.

They jt kept ignoring , Langel says. I said, Look, were going ahead with this. Do you want to do it with ? But they didnt believe we could get it off the ground. They essentially told : Try. So we decided to go ahead with the tour on our own.

For the national , the tour represented a unique opportunity to make some real money: a guaranteed $1.2 million for the 12-city tour. Most importantly, it was income shared equally among all the players, $60,000 each, becae the top playersthose like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudyinsisted it be that way.

It was another step toward securing financial independence as more individual players started to earn their own endorsement deals and didnt need to rely on Soccer as much. By then, Nike had expanded its footprint in soccer beyond Mia Hamm. Theyd added Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Tfeny Milbrett, and Tisha Venturini to their roster of sponsored athletes and featured all five of them in advertisements that promoted the s World Cup. Nikes expansion into s soccer was a -changer for the players who benefited from it.

Soccer was my side htle. There was no money in it originally. But I came right when Nike came in, and I started to get a little bit of money, says Briana Scurry. It was impeccable timing becae it wasnt something that would allow me to pay my bills, I wouldve had to stopwe all wouldve had to, and that wouldve really been a shame.

Not everyone had that same opportunity for sponsorship, but now, with this collective group effort to launch a tourby the and for the financial freedom was available across the board. It was a payday for all players.

And in another sense, the players were doing the federations job for them. The tour allowed the national to play in front of fans who did not attend World Cup s, which would grow a fan base at home in . Yes, it gave the players money, but it also spread the gospel of the Beautul , as soccer is known around the world. It did everything that Soccers haphazard plan for an African tour would not.

As Julie Foudy put it in a press statement after the tour was announced: The one thing weve learned recently is that our fans want to see more of and more of soccer. Were answering their call.

So there were Hank Steinbrecher and Robert Contiguglia opening their papers on the morning of July 11, 1991. They were shocked by the tour the players warned them about and furio the players werent going along with the African tour, which wouldve certainly phed the national back into relative obscurity.

Soccer went apoplectic, Langel says. They imtely hired a Chicago law firm, and they sent a complaint to my law firm that theyre going to go into federal court to get an injunction.

An injunction, granted, could have stopped the tour in its tracks. John Langel and his legal worked through the night to prepare their responses to try to stop the federation from seeking a court-ordered moratorium on the tour. Then came two days of marathon meetings between Langel and Alan Rothenberg, the head of the 1999 s World Cup organizing committee. Rothenberg, who had been the president of Soccer through 1998, played a sort of tor role.

They had achieved success and popularity, and they had to properly take advantage of that, Rothenberg says. But to go around on tour as a unit, no matter what they call themselveseffectively as the national that right belonged to the federation.

In a panicked move to retake control, Soccer offered $2 million to essentially buy out the tour from the national and send them to Africa as planned. Even though this would be more money than they had ever been paid for playing soccer, the players were having none of it.

We were like, You havent spent any time on this. You expect to jump ship and go with you guys? Foudy says. After this marketing group invested in , not even knowing was going to be a success or not? Theyre the ones who believed in , and you never did. No, screw you.

Negotiations with Soccer became incredibly tense and acrimonio. It was as everythingcontract disputes, lack of , and perceived slightswas finally coming to a head. When Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and John Langel met with Soccer president Robert Contiguglia and federation counsel John Collins in Washington DC, the players were ready to stand up.

At one point during a meeting, Contiguglia was dismissive of the planned victory tour and acced the players of adulterating the by playing at indoor venues. Mia Hamm threw the comment right back at him.

You ed the word adulterate, Hamm said. Well, Ill e the word adultery becae we feel like you cheat on all the time.

Contiguglia was taken aback. The players, who felt like Soccer was too worried about the mens , had had enough, and they werent going to back down, even under the threat of a lawsuit.

you sue , Im prepared to never play for Soccer again, Hamm told Contiguglia. Then she turned to her mate.

I dont know about you, Julie, but I feel pretty good about what weve done with our careers, Hamm said. I won a World Cup in 91, I won a World Cup in 99, I won an in 96. Ill call it a day.

Foudy nodded.

Yeah, me too, she replied. Im pretty happy walking away from the .

Im sure Nike will like that youre walking away from the , too, Foudy said to Hamm. Foudy was deftly calling out the federations coveted sponsorship with Nike, which was then worth about $15 million per year.

Asked about these specic negotiations now, Contiguglia says he doesnt remember them, but he does recall that over the years, the relationship between the federation and the players was hostile. At one point, he admits, I did lose my cool, but he adds: The last thing I ever wanted was an adversarial relationship with our athletes.

Thats what happens in collective bargaining when you dont have a relationship of mutual trt, Contiguglia says. It was a horrible, horrible . It was not healthy, but I blame lawyers.

While the federation was certainly unhappy the players defied them by moving forward with the indoor tour, there were other practical considerations behind their opposition to the tour. The federation had its own sponsors at the time, and the national was going on an unctioned tour where they ed a competitors equipment or wore another companys unorms, it could damage Soccers existing biness relationships.

After two days of meetings in DCand some sharp-tongued exchanges between the federation and the playersthe two sides worked out an understanding: The tour would incorporate all of Soccers existing sponsors. The tour the players had worked on was going to happen after all.

After that concession, the players and Langel were fired up. They knew they had some real leverage for the first time. Outside the second meeting, Foudy and Hamm joked with Langel: Whos driving the b? Were driving the b! Thats right, were driving the b!

The tour belonged to the players, not Soccer, and it gave them a new collective revenue stream that wasnt controlled by the federation. It was set to earn them $2.4 million over two toursone after the 1999 World Cup and one again after the 2000 and, in addition to the ticket sales, the also signed balls and photos, which generated another $250,000 to be shared. Eleven of the players appeared in a Chevrolet commercial together. The players were finding financial freedom they had never experienced before.

As part of the final understanding to make Soccer happy, the players gave the federation the opportunity to take over the tour afterward they wanted to do it again. Now, it is built into the national s contract, and to this day, after major tournaments, the still goes on the same victory tour. It started with the 1999 and a shocking full-page ad, and it has lasted two decades.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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