Posted on January 3, 2013 11:29 am
I’m sure there’s something about the National Women’s Soccer League – that’s the latest one – that’s supposed to inspire me. My local team has an awesome name and logo. Problem is, my local team is just under a thousand miles away.
And I realize that league logos matter very little, in the long run. Teams, not leagues, are the objects of loyalty and affection. Teams, and not leagues, are what are responsible for wooing fans and presenting players. Leagues plan schedules, regulate rosters, hand out fines and trophies – the administration is not the sport.
That said, if US Soccer is trying to let people know that NWSL is more of the same, mission freaking accomplished. I honestly can’t be bothered to download and re-upload the logo. Seen one white pony-tailed silhouette on a red and blue background, you’ve seen them all. Well, hopefully NOW we have.
I still have reasonable hopes for this league, even though they told the prospective Los Angeles team to go find some shoes to polish. Portland Thorns is a fantastic name, I look forward to seeing references to “FCK City,” and half the league are existing teams.
That, more than anything, is the best reason to get excited – or at least, cautiously optimistic – about what I will resist calling WU3A. Teams that can survive apocalypses – real ones, not the Maya-Harold Camping kind – are significantly different from your run of the mill franchise. Would your favorite team stay in business if the league around it folded? The Boston Breakers have – twice.
Then again, the Dallas Sidekicks have been in more leagues than Batman, and no one has been excited about indoor soccer since 1979. And yet, indoor soccer has been around in some form since it was the future of the game…would the women’s pro game be satisfied with that? What would constitute a success?
Sepp Blatter impugned what Major League Soccer has accomplished thus far, which has inspired many people to Share the Passion. But Johanna Lohman’s well-received articles about marketing the women’s game take MLS as a baseline for success. Who’s right depends on a lot of factors, not least the amount of return on investment. But the ladder here seems to be:
1. The W-League/WPSL
2. Indoor soccer as a concept, if not any particular individual league
3. Where NWSL would like to be in the reasonable short term
5. Mainstream acceptance
Level 2 is where (I assume) everyone gets paid. I gave NWSL’s aims a separate category, just to emphasize the huge, murky void between the Dallas Sidekicks and FC Dallas. The latter is a team that has its own stadium, and where everyone gets paid. That would be unfathomable success for an indoor team, even one as storied as the Sidekicks. And FC Dallas is, to put things politely, not the strongest MLS franchise.
I’m sure everyone involved with NWSL would be thrilled with being their town’s nineteenth favorite entertainment option, provided everyone got paid and the second job everyone had to take wasn’t too demanding. The question is, whether that’s sustainable. If FC Dallas isn’t – I’m not saying FC Dallas is or isn’t doomed, I’m saying we don’t know yet, and there are perfectly valid reasons for optimism and pessimism – and I hate to pick on FC Dallas here, because I can think of four MLS teams off the top of my head in similar boats, not to mention every single NASL and USL-Pro team - and boy did this sentence get away from me, who the hell ever told me I was a professional writer – then there’s no possible way any NWSL team will manage without significant medium-term losses.
Let’s take another look at the WNBA. My biased eyes put it below MLS – the teams are less stable, there are fewer teams, and the media covers MLS more often and more favorably. Reflect on how much NBA subsidizing it takes to get the WNBA even to that level – a level Sepp Blatter would call an outright failure.
Now, reflect on how successful NWSL will have to be to get to the WNBA’s level.
Now think about the gap between MLS and true mainstream success – admittedly, it’s a smaller gap in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s still there. If I were to poll Portlandians on whether they would prefer another Blazers NBA title, a Ducks (or what the hell, the Beavers) NCAA title, or an MLS Cup - well, let’s say I would be delighted to be proven wrong about the Tims being a distant third. Are the Sounders really bigger than the Huskies or the Mariners? In the words of noted Seattleite Bill Nye, I’m skeptical.
The answer might very well be “The Thorns or the Reign will never be as popular as the Trailblazers or the Seahawks, and we’re cool with that.” Which is fine…provided Lohman is wrong about which fanbase we’re competing over.
These are all questions the NWSL will have to answer, at least to itself and its investors, long before it takes on the LA and New York markets again. Otherwise, we’re looking at another three and out league.
…doesn’t help that the league website right now is a Facebook page, either.
…and tell the Seattle Reign logo if she pushes her crown up over her eyes, she might be able to see where she’s going.