Inevitable NWSL Rant #7392481605

UPDATE 08/17/15 – It’s official, NWSL Championship Final will be played at Providence Park in Portland.

Note my total lack of surprise at this announcement that comes complete with quotes from the invisible man himself, Jeff Plush.

While I am not surprised I am still infuriated, for all the reason listed in my original post below and then some. Lies of omission – not telling anyone that it had been decided to use a predetermined site prior to the season- and outright lies – the 2015 Competition Rules & Regulations (before edit) – being just 2 of the more egregious reasons.

The most infuriating, and saddening, reason of all though, is that I am forced into a position where I cannot with good conscience support this decision. I have spent far more time and money supporting NWSL and individual teams than anyone knows and to have to step back and not support this latest breach of trust truly hurts. Many will not see not attending the final in Portland as a big deal, as is their right, but to me it is the last straw in a season that has seemed ill planned and poorly executed. Whether that is the fault of the owners or USSF may never be known and some would say doesn’t matter, but it does. To me, it matters because it affects the way the league operates. If owners want one thing and USSF another, this will continue to be a cluster. If USSF gets to call the shots because they control the league, fans will continue to get the USWNT hand me down decisions. And USSF hand me down decisions will always play in favor of the national team, always. Decisions that play in favor of the national team have so far done nothing to bolster the NWSL or it’s growth ( a very small argument can be made that USWNT makes money that is funneled into NWSL, but we don’t know if there is a direct correlation as to amounts or if USSF just makes it up as they go along). Individual teams are dictated to about so many things regarding national team players, even when a reported agreement existed between them and US Soccer concerning post-world cup play, that it hampers operations, from advertising to rosters. And if you don’t think that affects individual players, think again.

I’m not disputing that putting on a good show is what sport is all about anymore, but it’s the way the league ( again, I have no real idea what that term means) goes about it, and the way they treat the people who are expected to keep showing up, keep spending money, keep spreading the word.

I know I’m only one ticket sale and in the grand scheme it’s not much. But I have to look at myself in the mirror and know I did what felt right to me in defense of the league. I don’t let people in my real life treat me the way NWSL does, why would I or should I accept it from them?

***

08/14/15  – Soccerwire.com posted a story today about the NWSL Championship final being played in a “neutral” site..Portland. (Quotations marks are mine) Needless to say, my blood started to boil. The following is what splattered out all over my keyboard.

What in WoSo’s name is NWSL thinking?!!? I mean, not that we even know what or who NWSL is, is it the owners? The supposed admin arm supplied by USSF? The invisible man, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush? Some sordid combination of these? Or none of these and it’s just some guys on a conference call once every few months from MLS, FOX and US Soccer, coming together to figure out some infuriating and unexplained way to piss off fans? The more I see, the more I think it’s the latter.

Back to the Soccerwire piece. I have no real problem with a predetermined site, if it were truly neutral to all teams. A venue that hosts an NWSL team is not neutral to anyone and especially not if the team that uses that venue makes it to the final. There are any number of venues across the nation that would be truly neutral and would be a good atmosphere for a televised final. Not to mention that a neutral site would open up the opportunity to showcase the NWSL to new fans.

Putting the final in a place such as Portland (if that’s the case since Merritt Paulson seems to have walked back from Portland being a sure thing) who has a very good fan base and creates a great atmosphere for the game is just plain dishonest (and asking a lot of the local fans to show up and support two teams that they would normally see as foes if the home team doesn’t make the final). By NWSL bowing to whomever is making this call, be it FOX or MLS as PR, or even the owners (although I think that the more numerous the asinine decisions are coming from NWSL, the less the actual owners have a say) they are trying to present NWSL as something it is not. NWSL is not Portland. Portland is an anomaly and as such showcasing the atmosphere in Portland is misleading any new potential fan or sponsor. The game experience a new fan from Boston gets will not be anywhere near that on display in Portland. That’s not to single out Boston, they won’t get that experience at any of the other seven team venues either. Sponsors won’t reach that many fans at any other team venue, leading both fans and sponsors to feel they’ve just been had by a bait-and-switch scheme.

The total lack of any transparency by the league to journos/bloggers/fans is beyond infuriating. Fans are constantly treated like any decisions the league makes doesn’t affect them, in their wallet or their support. We get a pretty basic website, a twitter account that exists to RT the team’s twitter posts and set of Rules and Regulations that isn’t worth the virtual ink it’s written with. We are expected to just accept and support any and all changes the league makes with no explanation or warning. The league knows best and you know..”trust us”. Fans don’t really expect to have a say in how the league is run, at least not most rational fans, all we want is to be treated like thinking, reasoning adults, not small children (the NWSL’s seemingly favorite demographic) who often are told to do something “because I said so”, and do. Fans want to have a place to provide feedback about what they like and don’t like and they want to feel like someone even cares. Some individual teams are great about taking and acknowledging feedback, some less than great, but the league makes no such effort and it’s not unnoticed by fans.

Other sports leagues have commissioners who are out in front of the media taking the heat and the praise that comes with the job. NWSL has no such person. Jeff Plush is the invisible man of NWSL. He may have been appointed because of his ties to MLS and experience building a team, but he is MIA to fans and media alike and we don’t like it. We want him to be the front man for the decisions, good and bad, that the league makes. We need a face of the league. If he’s not going to be it then the owners need to appoint a spokesperson to be that face. I want to have someone to complain to or thank when things happen. Right now I have nothing and no one, not a good thing when fans have no recourse but to take to social media or blog about their frustrations. A league needs to spin everything that happens in their favor, even if sometimes that means taking a little heat first.

Which brings me to the total lack of regard for any media types trying to spread the word about the league. NWSL as a relatively new league has to rely on all the media-type attention they can get. I say media-type because things are changing and print media and TV aren’t the way many fans get their day-to-day information about their teams, especially if those teams belong to a new, growing league. Fans increasingly rely on bloggers and social media, along with a few internet sites that are fighting to get access to the league. These people largely don’t get paid for what they do, yet they do it. They do it diligently and with as much dedication to telling the truth as any major journalistic endeavor. Yet, time and again they are bypassed for more conventional media who give the absolute minimum of inches or airtime to any league news. NWSL, whoever that may be, needs to get with the current times and give these media-types access and accurate information in a timely and consistent manner if there is any hope of coming off as a truly professional league. It’s not just about locker rooms and venues.

I’m pissed about the decision to change venues of the final, whether it be Portland or not, at the 9th hour. I know a lot of fans share this feeling with me. Did the league seem to forget that many fans made the pilgrimage to Canada for the World Cup and as such are smack dab out of leave or holiday/vacation time? Moving the final to a Thursday is foolish on so many levels, least of which is limiting the number of people who can travel for a mid-week game. Just like men not playing on turf, why are the women expected to play their final on a Thursday and not on the weekend as all have done before? Seriously NWSL, are you the FIFA of WoSo?

If all of this has been done to accommodate some very suspect TV deal, I’m even more pissed. I acknowledge NWSL may not have much leverage when it comes to what any network will do for them, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t supposed to fight for what is best for the league. So far counting the very, very iffy FOXSoccer2go streams, the lack of any screen time for the defending champions and a heavy reliance on MLS venues (see previous paragraph about misleading game experiences), this really isn’t much of a deal. And if my suspicions (since I have no facts to go on) are correct, the league isn’t making any money from it and may in fact be paying FOX to air the games. So yeah, if these accommodations were part of that deal, I’m pissed.

Fans like me – a longtime follower of WoSo, and unlike me – new to the sport, all need to be kept in the back of the minds of every person involved with NWSL. We the fans, expect and deserve no less.

So maybe this wasn’t as much of a rant as I thought it would be, but I hope I made some good points and didn’t ramble too much. I’m just getting more sick-and-tired of the constant ignorance of the “league”

 

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2 thoughts on “Inevitable NWSL Rant #7392481605

  1. Some additional info as well as some personal thoughts on some of the points in question:

    TV Deal – as far as I know (via several journalists who spoke out on twitter today) FOX didn’t want to spend that much money on the broadcast so part of deal was that final will be held at a stadium that already is equipped with multiple cameras as to guarantee high value broadcast (multiple angles, zoom etc) without FOX having to temporarily install cameras. That costs money they were not willing to spend, which is also why broadcasts in regular season have been from Portland and Houston only. MLS stadiums usually have these cameras but since – except Portland and Houston – they have no strong nwsl ties, availability (and I assume stadium rent?) is an issue, making the two venues named the most convenient/cheapest for everyone involved.

    Why are fancy (ish??) camera angles important? Quality of onfield product is what will be advertisement of the league! – To people who already love woso/soccer enough, yes. To most people, however, “how it looks” matters. Lack of zoom/angles makes the production look unprofessional and is a (more) marked difference to the HD 5mio angles and zoom men’s soccer broadcasts they are used to. Most casual viewers will not wonder why that is, they will just notice the difference and then perceive the onfield product (not the production) as inferior and perhaps move on to watch sth else. Since ratings are a tool to attract sponsors for tv deal next year and to give leverage in negotiation of it – those people and getting their attention actually matters. Most people are not puristic enough to care about “on field product only” or to differentiate product and production.
    (Also better not to play in university/high school stadium or on field with football lines for this reason – perception)

    “neutral venue” is a sports jargon term btw, and means “predetermined” much more than it actually means neutral. superbowl final site is considered “neutral” too, despite the fact that the city’s team could actually make it to the final and have a de-facto home game.

    a predetermined location allows for more than 3 weeks notice on advertisement. It gives the league time to approach sponsors, to promote the event around the city in bigger way and sell tickets. The logistics are easier for the host city/the league as a whole. Stadiums also come fully equipped with concession stands and security. But that is a minor point, most important point if arguing for predetermined site is lack of short notice and hence possibility to plan better esp wrt advertisement – if you can approach several local or national companies now about how much they are willing to pay to advertise at the stadium, as opposed to in early September, you can perhaps approach more and get better price instead of having to take whatever they offer because the final is in 2 weeks and you don’t have time. It might not be much, but this is a league with a 250k salary cap. A few 100k go a long way.

    Last but not least, this was not a decision made at the 9th hour. It was made in April, and not made public sooner. Lack of information/transparency can be criticised (and should be criticised!), impromptu decision making cannot (because it was not impromptu).

    Many of the so called bloggers who do this for free/little money actual were informed of this and have known for a while (since April), but I assume the media availability point you make is also about world cup etc (who gets exclusives with the wnt? oh the new york times and not equalizer soccer) – that is a good point. But I think wrt #growthegame it is also worth considering that more people read the NYT and this is about creating exposure to people who don’t already love woso enough to watch shit quality streams from all corners of the word just to see their teams play and know who equalizer soccer is. The balance of this, and also the angle of coverage from “non woso” journalists, however, is worth discussing.

    So is nwsl’s decision to go with FOX and not ESPN on broadcast deal, especially since ESPN generally tends to get higher ratings and delivered a pretty good product last year. And while we’re at it, the PR on this information as well as the league’s refusal to comment after the news dropped is unacceptable.

    In general though I feel it is somewhat short sighted to argue in the interest of the fans that already exist, and our interests only. The balance of how to make your existing fans happy and get new ones at the same time is certainly a good question, but too often I feel we come at issues only from the angle of what it means to “us personally” and not to the nwsl as a whole. In the long term the league will not be able to survive (let alone grow) from the 4k that come to nwsl home games. As much as that may suck for (most likely) Seattle fans, who don’t get a home final now, it might actually help in the long term and keep the league around for a few more years – which is in all our interests.

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    • Your points about production value certainly have merit. I did not contest that in my rant. What I did contest is the many, many , many, concessions the league has made to get a very poorly orchestrated “deal”. While the end game may be to acquire new fans through TV exposure, alienating the fans you already have is just bad business. If you lack their support, who is left when the TV broadcast is over? A few new fans that were sold a bill of goods about what an NWSL game is really like? And what if the Portland locals (supposing it ends up there) don’t show up in numbers? Then all you have is a big stadium with empty seats and less atmosphere.

      My viewpoint is and was intended to be from the viewpoint of a fan and as such whether the “league” made the decision in April or 2013 isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that the fans and much of the media were kept in the dark and allowed the dream that their team could earn the final venue. As a fan, this is no small matter. It is an important way that keeps you invested in the process all along the way. The last thing the league needs is for the faithful to be disgruntled as they try to woo new fans.

      As far as trying to sell advertising, we are 7 weeks out from the final and still no set venue, so every day they delay lessens opportunities and weakens the argument for a switch to a predetermined venue at this late date. I have no real beef with a predetermined venue, it has many good selling points, just don’t call it neutral, as jargon or otherwise, if it truly isn’t neutral. And certainly don’t let fans know so late in the process that you misled them for the first three quarters of the season.

      Generally, TV exposure of any kind will be good for the NWSL going forward. My issue is with how it is handled by the league in relation to the established fan base. So far, it’s not been handled well at all. The fact that this deal was made with FOX is not surprising to me, or many I think, when considering it was probably in some convoluted broadcasting world way associated with the USWNT World Cup coverage. FOX had that and not ESPN, so to me it makes sense.

      In regards to media and access, I don’t think I expressed an interest in shutting out conventional media, I asked for access from the growing field of social and internet media springing up as WoSo grows in the US and around the world.

      The question of balance between existing fans and new fans will always exist, I don’t think one has to suffer at the hands of the other for the league to grow. On the contrary, I think a more well thought out strategy could satisfy and grow both.

      If I thought the league or US Soccer or whoever is running the show gave any thought to how this would be received I might not be so pissed. My general impression is they don’t really think about it, and no one wants to be marginalized.

      I hope the final turns out to be well produced and well attended. I hope the play is superior and anyone watching wants more, I just hope they’re not disappointed when they find out this was just a spectacle staged to get their interest.

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