Let's try to get some housekeeping out of the way. I believe in the new format, if you've ever had a comment approved or posted on this blog before, you shouldn't have to wait to see your comment. If you're a first-time commenter, I approve your comment, and then you can chat away. I'm not sure how Bill, Roger, John and the rest have theirs set up, because I am not my brother's keeper. Very sad news this week coming out of WPS. It looks like the league won't terminate the magicJack franchise after all. Craig Davis gives us all hope when he says Dan Borislow has been given no assurances, but Hal Habib crushes those dreams in his article, quoting WPS attorney Pam Fulmer saying "The league has always been willing to work with him."
All this was bare hours after the league and Borislow went extremely public with the dissatisfaction - Borislow claiming that the league was trying to deprive him of his newly valuable property, and the league murmuring darkly about unfair treatment of those same newly minted stars.
This was all so much more fun than waiting for the post-World Cup thud. Borislow has run his team as amusingly as anyone since the late, great Jesus Gil y Gil. I hate to keep harping on the website thing, but as near as I can tell, this is the honest-to-goodness official magicJack soccer team website. For comparison purposes, here is the website of a Midwestern youth club.
I sort of get that the business model here is cutting back on literally anything that couldn't conceivably be done for free, and after all, why pay for a website when you have Facebook? If only the Miami Fusion thought to not advertise, they might still be around today. Let's hope Joey Saputo or Robert Kraft don't get any ideas.
So the question on whether WPS is better at lying than running a sports league will not be answered soon, sadly. But the argument and the rapprochement had the same source - good feeling about the future of women's soccer. Here's Jere Longman breaking it down:
Since the tournament, average attendance has increased to 5,164 from 2,741 at W.P.S. matches. Television ratings are up 18.5 percent. Social media traffic has soared. Inquiries are being fielded about adding teams and corporate sponsorships. Goalkeeper Hope Solo has signed an endorsement deal with Gatorade that will pay her about $100,000 a year.
...wait, Hope is only getting $100,000 for that endorsement? That was literally Bob Bradley's marketing bonus!
I worry that most of what Longman describes is the crest of the World Cup fad euphoria, and we'll be back to 2010 interest before you can say FC Gold Pride. The main problem is, I'm still not sure that WPS is up for the challenge. All MLS had to do - or, if you prefer, still has to do - is defeat the ingrained American assumption that a soccer league can't work. WPS has to prove that any women's league can survive.
My theory is, it takes a full generation to pass before a league like MLS - let alone WPS - can truly be a part of the cultural landscape. People have to take the league for granted. People have to assume, without thinking about it, that the league will be around not just next year, but ten years from now. MLS is nearly there - twenty years should do it, although I'd like to see this current expansion crop also last twenty years as well. Only the Dallas Tornado came close to that kind of longevity, and their good attendance years were bad FC Dallas years.
But Women's Professional Soccer...not to get too left-wing Berkeley sophomore on you, but I genuinely think there's something about women's team sports that hits mainstream America where it doesn't like. Women working together, asking for loyalty and devotion, setting themselves up as role models. And for a role that has nothing to do with any traditional female social grace - it doesn't matter whether you are good-looking, charming, or even particularly bright, as long as you help the team win. It shouldn't really take Susan Faludi to see how that might ruffle a few whiskers, should it?
NO, that doesn't mean you're a chauvinist if you don't like women's sports, just like it doesn't mean you're racist if you don't like hip-hop or jazz. Such dislike can certainly be expressed in a chauvinist way, of course. But women's team sports has to create its own audience - even ten years after the 1999 Women's World Cup, it's still very unusual to have a sporting event where men are not the target market. Put another way - anyone older than my daughter has known at least one year where women's pro soccer was completely dead, and my daughter turns three next month. Maybe women and girls want to be women's team sports fans, and maybe they don't - but if there's no team out there, they can't.
(You'd think the WNBA would help some of this, but I don't get that impression. The degree that it's so heavily subsidized by the NBA sort of implies a crossover market that isn't there, which is why it sort of seems artificial - like NBA owners trying to fill arena dates in the summer more than anything. The lack of a real crossover market between men's and women's sports is why I still think WMLS would be a bad idea - see how much Revolution fans enjoy being second fiddle to the Patriots? Multiply that by an entire league.)
This is probably where we address the gap in quality between men's and women's teams, were they to play head-to-head. True, but irrelevant. We hear a lot about how American fans will only accept the highest quality in sports, despite what must be called overwhelming evidence. Any college football or basketball team would be obliterated by the crummiest pro team. The world is draped with motor races with cars racing much faster, on courses much more challenging, than anything NASCAR puts out there. The damned Little League World Series is being broadcast every year. After more than a century, people are still Cubs fans.
This isn't just a sporting phenomenon. People watch "American Idol" in vastly greater numbers than "Austin City Limits," even though performers on the latter have actually sold a record in their lives before going on television. I like "Glee," too, but an autotuned cover band shouldn't be breaking records previously held by Elvis and the Beatles. Even allowing for frontrunner disease - looking at you, Barcelona fan - the gap between popular and good has a storied past and a glowing future.
Boy, it's a good thing this is a women's soccer post that no one's going to read, otherwise I'd feel bad about that rambling. Anyway, the point is that among the considerable marketing challenges women's soccer faces, "not as good as the men" is a red herring. After decades and decades, people now accept that women play golf and tennis without harping on whether one of the Williams sisters could beat...let me Google the name of a men's tennis player real quick - Wikipedia - list of male tennis players - Jose Acasuso. Women's soccer can get there, too.
But it's gonna be a minute.
And I don't think vaudeville acts like Dan Borislow are going to help. Yeah, Borislow's at least willing to put up a team, unlike Phil Anschutz, whose shortsightedness here is still shocking. Did Phil really think the Sol were going to become a Los Angeles sports fixture in one season of Sunday afternoons?
But just because someone's willing to pay to collect women's soccer players and have them perform in his private puppet show doesn't mean that's good for the sport. If the best players in the world perform in private, they don't make a sound. Which is why Hope Solo's endorsement deal is so pitiful. These players have to be seen. If that means finding a less profligate owner who can nevertheless manage to subsidize a website - well, that's the price WPS will have to pay.
The original ASL, as Roger Allaway has told us, died because the owners declared a soccer war. WPS may die because Borislow and the league declared peace.
EDIT - I need an image with posts now. Here is a picture of magicJack soccer in happier times, back when they had players who could actually win a World Cup.
I tried to find the picture of Julie Foudy as a giant donut, but couldn't. How the HELL did she scrub that from the Internet? Julie Foudy has terrifying powers.