“Let the product on the pitch speak for the league.”
You hear that often from supporters of women’s pro WoSo. And it’s true, the product on the pitch speaks volumes about the league. It says that the league is full of professional players who display the finer points of skill and technical ability in an increasingly more tactical style of play. But for the league to prosper and take it’s rightful place among all sports leagues it has to be professional off the pitch as well.
This weekend saw the beginning of the fourth season of NWSL. A landmark among women’s professional WoSo leagues in the USA. No previous league made it to opening day of season 4. It was an opportunity for the league to really step up and blow its own horn across the country in every member city, whether that team was playing at home or not. But it did not. For various reasons given there was no TV game, just streams that really weren’t any better than last year, and in one case worse. There were no sell outs, not one of the 5 venues managed that feat. Some came closer than others, but no cookie for any team. One team* had their home season opener at a venue that isn’t even their home field. Washington Spirit gave a nod to leagues past and the history being made of a season 4 by having pro WoSo vet and former NT player Briana Scurry do their first kick. Other teams did nothing..and I mean literally nothing to recognize the accomplishment. There was some MSM buzz, but not much, and some blog buzz, maybe a little more, but for the most part even some new fans didn’t know the significance of the start to the 2016 season.
On top of that, the few nods to this being anything special fell embarrassingly flat. The 2-time NWSL champions FC Kansas City were given their rings in a pre-game ceremony and in all pride tweeted a photo of the new rings only to have fans bring the glaring typo of NWSL as NSWL on the rings to their attention. The league in what I’m sure was meant to be a clever play on words debuted a new slogan of sorts that really fell flat before bouncing around the internet as a sort of Malaprop. STRONG HER – FAST HER – FURT HER debuted the new NWSL buzzword “furt”. And in what I’m sure was meant to be a grand gesture, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush flew to Houston to announce that this year’s championship final would be in the worst kept secret location of Houston on October 9th. On top of the league’s less than stellar presentations some of the teams had their own faux pas, such as wrong team names in graphics, OTT homer commentators with wrong facts, and glitchy streams.
These are just a few of the things that stuck out for me this past weekend and are indicative of less professionalism off the pitch than the teams, the fans and the sport deserve. It doesn’t take money to do what Washington did with Scurry. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to read the proof in the case of the rings. Someone with a good eye (and literally all that was needed was one good eye) could have caught the typos in graphics and whoever came up with the Strong – Fast – Furt slogan should go back to school or let a friend read your copy. It all smacks of laziness, or a careless attitude, neither marks of a professional.
I know the league and teams tend to focus on the big picture when resources are stretched and to a degree that’s understandable. What needs to be realized is that the small things that go wrong off the pitch can derail all the hard work done to make the players and the product on the pitch be as professional as possible. One glaring example is the post FOX Soccer did about the rings typo. That single post undid a lot of hard work by everyone involved with the NWSL to be taken seriously as a league. It will be the introduction to the league for many people and one that won’t make them want to know more. I don’t think FOX Soccer demonstrated their stated “commitment” to the league with that post, but the damage is done.
If this all seems a bit nit-picky to you, think about the saying “the devil’s in the details”. In the case of trying to attract and keep serious supporters of women’s soccer all it might take is a culmination of overlooked details for current supporters to say enough and new supporters to say not enough.
I’ll continue to try to hold the league and its teams to a high standard on and off the pitch. If you have anything to furt her the conversation, let me hear it in the comments.
*Disclaimer: I was at the FCKC v WNYF game in Children’s Mercy Park.