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Before there was a WNBA, the bigtime roundball game for women was soccer. Few back in 1991 could have predicted the success Women's World Cup Soccer would have since its arrival that year.

But not Marla Messing. Trained as a lawyer, the president-CEO of the U.S. World Cup Organizing Committee built a grass-roots interest in the women's game and kickstarted an American phenomenon called "Watch me play."

The marketing challenge last year was clear to Ms. Messing, 35.

"We determined our market was threefold-the core soccer fan, teen-age girls and the 'soccer dad.' " There now are 7.5 million female soccer players registered in the U.S.

Ms. Messing aimed a direct-mail and local ad campaign, handled in-house and by Voice Advertising, Los Angeles, that spoke to young women-"This is my game. This is my future. Watch me play."

Her target audience listened. Ticket sales for the Women's World Cup that started this month in major venues across the U.S. will hit 250,000; the '95 WWC in Norway sold 122,000 tickets. This year's tournament will air on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 with the final televised July 10 from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Ms. Messing says corporate sponsors "fall into two categories, traditional soccer supporters" such as Coca-Cola Co., EDS Corp., JVC and McDonald's Corp., plus sponsors "interested in a different market" such as Time Inc. publications reaching out to teens and Allstate Insurance Co., which "targets the soccer mom." Sponsorships total about $6 million with revenues for the entire WWC package expected to top $30 million. Licensing partnerships abound with such

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