Only three years old, the World Cup of Softball is already one of the premier events of fastpitch softball. The Amateur Softball Association founded the tournament in 2005 to keep the sport, and especially the U.S. National Team, in the eye of the American public more than once every four years. The tournament hosts six teams, inviting a couple of different countries each year to keep the competition fresh. This year's contest will feature the United States, Japan, China, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Canada.
"The majority of us saw the build-up going into Sydney in 2000. Then there was a significant drop-off leading into Athens in 2004," described Kelly McKeown, ASA's Director of Marketing. "We wanted to make sure that the sport and our national team didn't go away. We needed to create an annual event to showcase them."
In the two-year history of the tournament, Team USA and Japan have developed a steady rivalry. Dominant pitching by Yukiko Ueno proved to be too much to handle as the U.S. lost the inaugural World Cup of Softball title to Japan. Team USA came back refocused in 2006 and again met Japan in the championship round. With the help of 11 strikeouts from Cat Osterman and offensive power from Jessica Mendoza, Stacey Nuveman and Lovieanna Jung, Team USA claimed their first World Cup title.
The popularity of this world-class event is on the rise. In 2006, more than 25,000 fans attended the five-day event to watch the best softball teams in the world compete. Ticket sales for this year's tournament, set to take place from July 12 to 16, have already increased by 35 percent over last year. And it's not just locals--tickets have already been sold to fans from 41 different states. In addition, the World Cup of Softball television ratings in 2006 were up more than 40 percent from the initial tournament in 2005.
When asked about the future of the tournament, McKeown replied, "We have a lot more room to grow. We want to get to the point where it's a sellout a couple weeks after tickets go on sale and really becomes such a destination for everybody that we need to go out and get more seats. Those are all good problems to have and problems we want to have if we continue to grow."
The World Cup of Softball is held in Oklahoma City at the ASA Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium. Built in 1987, the Hall of Fame Stadium has become a mecca for preeminent softball events in the United States such as the Big- 12 Conference Championship, the Women's College World Series and, of course, the World Cup of Softball.