[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nkjla75mZKQ"]1998 Women's World Cup Soccer Barbie Doll Commercial With Mia Hamm - YouTube[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV12k6k9W4Q"]Michael vs Mia.mov - YouTube[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Eifa8oqCRU"]we will take on the world as a team 1 - YouTube[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI5Jslh-UlE&feature=related"]Julie Foudy's Reflexes (Bud Light commecial) - YouTube[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFuPTnJ9ABc&feature=related"]we will take on the world as a team 2 - YouTube[/ame]
Apart from being awesome, those ads were all shot and aired long before the United States nearly choked in the Arroyo Valley heat - I mean, before the US triumphed over China in the most inspiring game ever. People have been comparing the outpouring of attention and love for this year's team with 1999, but a great deal of effort went into making the Girls of Summer phenomenon.
I think this year is completely different. Last week, I pretty much said "Wow, no one cares about the Women's World Cup," and no one called me on it. Because last week it was true. In the space of roughly an hour - basically, between Solo's first penalty save to Ali Warrior's winning shootout kick - America fell back in love with the USWNT.
There is a USSF precedent for this, but it was the 2009 Confederations Cup. Nothing tournament played at weird hours in the wrong continent, with no one paying attention at the beginning but you, me, and the rest of the site. A ridiculously lucky result between Italy and Brazil primed the pump, and then after the US beat Spain, suddenly it turned out the whole nation cared.
For our younger readers - yes, once upon a time our national team was able to beat Spain, and in neutral territory, too.
Same thing here. We can probably thank the Internet in generally, Youtube and ESPN3 in particular, because I think people saw a few Twitter posts that read "OMG WTF USA USA USA USA" or something equally eloquent, checked for themselves, and before you could say "Rebecca Black" the thing snowballed completely out of control.
And I guarantee you this took ESPN, Nike and the USSF utterly by surprise. In fact, I can prove it. I strolled by a couple of Nike stores in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica the past couple of days, and the first thing I noticed about the USWNT signage with the larger-than-life cutouts and action shots of Wambach and Solo was that THEY WEREN'T ********ING THERE.
You would think that, considering Nike had been reeling from Tiger, LeBron and Lance, if Beaverton had the slightest inkling that Abby and the gang were going to take the nation by storm while in a different nation, they'd have jumped in with both feet. Even now, the splash page for Nike's US site has the new Arsenal shirt sharing top billing. (Hey, is that a new crest?)
I also think they would have come up with a different/better ad campaign than the bland "Pressure Makes US" morass. I think the "us"/"US" confusion is supposed to be deliberate, but if it's not, then I just more thought into Nike's WWC ad campaign than Nike did.
Yes, it's better than those godawful Rainn Wilson ads from 2003. But Nike still has forgotten something basic - letting the audience know who these women actually are. Notice in the funny ads that the women have their uniforms on, and their names in big bold letters? Nike used to know how to make stars. Since 1999, they've treated the USWNT like - well, like an outdated fad they've had to pay lip service to.
I'm sure Nike, ESPN and the USSF are happy, just like Sony Music would be thrilled if the Backstreet Boys had another multi-platinum record. Doesn't mean they saw it coming.
You know who else didn't see this coming? Well, as it happens, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo play for the same club. So do Boxx, Rapinoe and Rampone. (WPS fans are probably way ahead of me on this joke.) Let's see how the club website is letting fans know how to give their internationals a hero's welcome when they come back.
Well, at least there's a tab for "Tickets." At least I can find out where they play and when.
Whatever WPS fined them, it clearly wasn't enough.
Of course, WPS has embraced the USWNT with both arms, by suspending league play so that...hm, no, it turns out they not only kept playing, they've even scheduled a game the same day as the Final. I suppose in theory fans of Sky Blue can see the game, then immediately drive out to boo Marta.
What we've seen is a groundswell of support for the USWNT that is almost entirely organic. Except for being fueled by social media and Internet highlights. Okay, cyber-organic. Like a Dalek. Or the Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica.
What this means and doesn't mean for The Sport in America is worth considering. No, this great and inspiring run won't do jack - let alone magicJack - for WPS. They weren't prepared to capitalize on this, and the most those teams can hope for is a local bump. Maybe FSC gets a miniscule short-term rise in ratings for their Game of the Week, but I wouldn't bet anything I cared about on it.
But WPS, like MLS, was always going to need a plan lasting a decade or two in order to build a fan base. They understandably decided not to bet the house on a team that, you may or may not remember, was the last team to qualify for the World Cup and had lost to Mexico. The Women's World Cup in 2003 didn't save WUSA, and that was before the US even blew that tournament. MLS doesn't get what you'd call spectacular World Cup bumps, either.
That doesn't excuse the Boca Raton Freedom being utterly unprepared for any but the most determined fans, but it's not surprising to see most WPS teams both think and act locally.
What it does mean, though, is that, just as with the USMNT, there is a casual - very casual - fanbase that numbers in the many millions.
Contrary to this amusing but perhaps not work-safe Onion article (I think BigSoccer's autocensor will prevent you from opening it from the link, but I'm sure you can figure out the missing word), it might not actually matter if the US wins or not. Fans like the US national teams. When they do well, they come out and cheer, radio hosts treat them with something resembling respect, they make the front pages of sports sections ahead of regular season baseball and the British Open (which is easier and more accurate to say than "The Open Championships," so screw 'em), and the nation gets to learn how wonderfully crazy Hope Solo is.
The impolite way to describe such a fanbase is "glory-hunting fair-weather front-runners," but national teams everywhere are prone to that. So they will more quickly forgive a loss to Japan than, say, River Plate fans would. (I think River Plate might actually lose to the Japanese women's national team right now, too.)
So what if they go away again by Monday afternoon, win or lose. They were there, they came out of nowhere, and - here's the significant bit - they'll come back. Maybe they only show up for big events, but up until the end of the Brazil game, we didn't even know the Women's World Cup was a big event.
The conventional wisdom was that 1999 was a one-off, largely based on the WUSA's inability to capitalize on it. It also looked like interest in the women's national team diminished when the ponytails were replaced by short haircuts, and when the US stopped thumping everyone they played.
Turns out, just as with the men's national team, that it's a much slower and surer process than we suspected. I don't know what the landscape will look like after it has sunk in, but this is the tournament that proved something people thought impossible, if not unspeakable..."We don't need Mia."
And like the Confederations Cup, this World Cup showed that there wasn't necessarily a point when that happened, just a point where it became obvious. Sometime before 2009, most of the country got to the point where if Donovan and Dempsey did something amazing, they would care.
Sometime before last week, the same thing happened with the bunch of misfits we put in terrible, terrible uniforms and told to go beat Brazil and Germany. (Which they only managed to do one of. Slackers.)
The mainstream sporting public has accepted our national teams. Soccer, in that sense, has arrived. The long-term health of those national teams would be greatly enhanced by equally solid professional clubs, which is a different and more difficult battle.
But we'll have time for all that later. Right now, I want Abby to do a Barbie commercial.