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Monday, October 27, 2003
Updated: November 6, 2:38 AM ET
Stern insists women's league will go on

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

The WNBA still wants next.

NBA Commissioner David Stern confirmed on Monday that the women's league will begin the 2004 season with at least 13 teams.

The recent folding of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) called into question the health of women's professional sports on a grand scale, but Stern reiterated that the league's owners remain committed to keeping the women's league -- which had 14 teams for the 2003 season -- afloat.

"Our owners are asking us to come up with a firm plan for our 10th anniversary celebration -- in three seasons," Stern said.

The league once owned all the teams and had the NBA franchises run them. But before this past season, the NBA elected to give complete WNBA team ownership to the NBA teams.

Unable to make sense of women's basketball on their budget, the Miami Heat subsequently folded the Miami Sol, the Orlando Magic sold the Orlando Miracle to a group in Connecticut and the Utah Jazz sold its Starzz team to a group in San Antonio.

After Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund saw his WNBA team, the Cleveland Rockers, experience a 21 percent decline at the gate this past season, he also gave up the franchise.

"We'll be making the decision as to the status of the Cleveland franchise -- whether it will fold or it will move -- within the next 10 days," Stern said. "If it folds, we're still committed to going with a minimum of 13 teams."

The league's average attendance dropped by six percent to about 8,800 fans per game in 2003, as more than half of the 14 teams experienced ticket sales declines.

The WUSA's folding was precipitated by lack of sponsor support, something that Stern insists isn't troubling the WNBA. League sponsors include Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Nike, Reebok and Proctor & Gamble among others.

"More sponsors will be announced over time and I am confident the league will get stronger in that area," Stern said.

Stern said that at the recent NBA Board of Governors meeting, other owners wanted to "make it publicly clear to dispel any notions" that the WNBA was in any jeopardy of ceasing operation.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.