NWSL Accessibility – The Double-Edged Sword

Social media is in a mini-uproar this week about NWSL. That’s a good thing, right? In the bigger picture, yes..yes it is. Any time people are talking about the league it raises its profile, good or bad, agree or disagree with why, it pushes the conversation.

This week the talk is about the role USWNT members play in promoting the league and if the league is capitalizing on their allotment of ’15ers.

On the first count I think most agree that the NT players are not promoting the league as much as they could.  The USWNT is a unique beast, to the majority of people the USWNT is just that, a team that represents the US, not a collection of people who play soccer for a living. To the educated fan that’s not the case, we understand where the players come from, who they play for and a little of their history. We understand that their playing days are numbered and they are experiencing the highest level of popularity and celebrity women’s soccer in the USA has achieved..ever. I think most of us would agree they must, as people who do this for a living, use every opportunity to capitalize monetarily on this short window of celebrity and popularity. Less educated fans and fans that just discovered the players as a result of their World Cup win don’t get that, necessarily.

I do think it might take a while to steer the conversation from their individual appearances and why they’re being interviewed to how that ties into what they do for a living, play soccer for pay. Once that turn is made, then the players have some gravitas when speaking about NWSL. Can the players make that turn? We’ll have to see. Do they want to make that turn? If you listen to some, they say no, players have no love for NWSL. Whether that is true, we’ll also have to see.

The other side of this uproar is whether NWSL teams are taking full advantage of USWNT players and whether players should or shouldn’t be playing this week for their teams. This is a decision that should be made by the player and coach of each respective team. Some players played more minutes, or did more traveling, or more media. Some players did less, but haven’t been training regularly. Some may be carrying injuries. All factors that have to be handled differently. And different teams do seem to be handling it differently, both with their players and with dissemination of information to fans. Talk is also going around that US Soccer and NWSL are not on the same page in regard to players returning to teams. I can see this, since they don’t seem to be on the same page on more than a few things. To me, it’s almost as if US Soccer (and to a lesser degree NWSL) didn’t “believe” the USWNT would win and the resulting chaos around the popularity of the team was unforeseen. If that’s the case, shame on them both. Whether you believe something will happen or not, you prepare for it, and it certainly seems neither did.

And how does accessibly figure into this, you ask? Like this: Fans, old and new, educated and not, have heard of and come to expect a very high level of accessibility to all NWSL players, USWNT included. And now that the World Cup is over and won, the fans expect those players to be on the pitch performing and on the sidelines signing and selfie-ing into the night. This is short-sighted by teams and fans. Soccer is a game, but it’s also a job that requires skills and abilities that have to be honed and maintained. Players who have played their last match of a 7-games-in-a-month stretch over 2 weeks ago, and have not even had the opportunity to train due to the whirlwind appearances they’ve made, should not be asked by anyone to step onto a soccer pitch to perform. The teams and US Soccer have not managed the decreased accessibility and now it’s reflecting on the USWNT players and disrespecting the non-USWNT players who have continued to keep the league viable by playing entertaining, competitive soccer during the World Cup.

Accessibility has set up the expectation and lack of accessibility has drawn the ire. Both are the responsibility ultimately of NWSL and US Soccer and their inability to work together. The teams don’t deserve to lose one ticket sale due to this situation. The players don’t deserve to lose one ounce of respect for it either.

USWNT players can do more to promote NWSL. US Soccer can do more. NWSL can do more. I can do more.  If NWSL were to fail, the finger could point to us all.

Author note: I’ve tried to make this a cogent piece, I’m not entirely sure I succeeded. I am not a writer, or editor. If you can expand on or say it more clearly, please comment. If you see it differently, please comment. Thanks.




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