“The Year of the Furt” and the NWSL’s historic fourth season have now come to an end with an exciting final game that was, no matter which team you supported, extremely entertaining. The 2016 season was not only record-breaking, but saw huge growth from the 2015 season, with a 17% increase in attendance and a 300% increase in YouTube views. We can now even say that it is the longest running professional women’s soccer league in American history.
However, it’s no secret that the league is still plagued with issues, and as we enter the off-season, I have three suggestions for the NWSL that I think will be key to growing the league even further in 2017.
Improve Your Live Streams
Yes, this has been a running joke for quite some time, but the only way it will ever get better is if we continue to complain about it. So, my apologies, but here I go.
Live streams have become the bane of my existence as a women’s soccer fan. Of course, there are a few teams who now have live streams that are very professional and beautifully done such as Portland, Orlando, and Houston, but for the most part many of the streams are subpar and unbearable to watch for the average viewer. Most of the broadcasts are plagued with camera work suitable for a high school football game and commentators who are generally uninformed about the teams and players. This is a problem that you can forgive in the first or second season of a small league, but going into the fifth season of one of the best women’s leagues in the world, it’s unacceptable.
What should the NWSL do to address this?
- Find an experienced camera operator, one who knows how to film games in different weather, levels of light, etc.
- Find a visual broadcast director, someone with the skill set to make sure the score, game clock, and stoppage time appear on the screen when and how they’re supposed to.
- Set a standard for commentators and if those currently in place don’t live up then find some new ones, ones who are knowledgeable about the game, as well as the league and the team, who can pronounce everyone’s names correctly, and who can actually identify the players on the field.
These are easy fixes that can make every stream more enjoyable and will hopefully save me money by no longer having to bribe my friends with beer to “please watch this game with me on YouTube, I promise it will be better this week and you won’t have to listen to the NWSL theme music on a loop for 15 minutes.” A good broadcast – even a streaming broadcast – is necessary for the league to build its following.
Build the Diversity of Your Fanbase
In August, the 2017 business plan for the Boston Breakers was revealed, and it gave me hope. Instead of targeting only younger girls who play soccer, they spoke of making an effort to market to the 20-30 year old demographic. Wow. How novel. Marketing to a group of people who actually have jobs and money to spend on fun sporting events.
I’m all for building the league from the ground up by promoting it through youth soccer, but at the end of the day, relying on parents taking their kids and coaches taking their players to games isn’t a sustainable way to grow your fanbase. At some point, you have to market to adults who can and want to buy tickets.
We’ve seen how intense and exciting the crowd can be for Portland. If you look at everyone in the stands at these games, the stadium is filled with people of every age and every gender. That is a sustainable fanbase. That is an atmosphere that cultivates that fanbase.
A few ideas to bring in more people could be:
- Find a bar near the stadium that will host a pre-party before home games (for teams that don’t have an area they can host tailgating) and establish a march/walk to the game with the fans.
- Find a way to get your team known around town. Whether it be recruiting a street team that hits up local businesses during the week, or hosting fun events that players and fans can attend around town, there should not be a single resident who lives in a NWSL city that isn’t aware of the team.
While there have been a few teams doing their part to bring in a larger demographic of people, there is still so much work to be done among the league.
Get Better, Better, Better
Better facilities, better refs, better pitches, better safety precautions for players, better kits, better accommodations on the road; any of these issues could have been third on this list, but they all have one thing in common.
They are all preventable if we have better support from the league.
Look, NWSL, I get it. You don’t have a lot of money. But, you can’t blame every issue that arises in the league on lack of money. At some point, you must take responsibility for careless mistakes that could be prevented without spending an extra dime. If you would like to refresh your memory with this blog post by Hope Solo, or these tweets from Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair regarding the shoddy hotel accommodations provided by the league, or the embarrassment that was the postage stamp field that Seattle and Western New York were forced to play on this year, it becomes evident that there is an abundance of issues that stem from lack of support within the league itself.
I need to see the league improve by caring and treating these athletes in the manner that they deserve: as professional women’s soccer players.