Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
Jun 012012
 

fans of americas womens soccer team cheer during the us squads recent 3 1 victory over france Question of the Week:  Does Womens Soccer Have a Fan Problem?Over the past week, a debate has sprouted over sports fandom. On Thursday, a Twitter firestorm raged over the writers/founders of the website While The Men Watch being invited to offer commentary on CBC during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with most commenting focusing on their lack of serious supportership of hockey or sports in general. On Sunday, the author of Happy Go Snarky put out a screed to the Atlanta soccer community decrying their lack of support for the W-League defending champion Silverbacks in light of their support for a VERY BAD Atlanta Beat team last season (a team that won ONE game out of 18 in WPS in 2011). The debate over whether her call-out was just aimed at her local situation or could be extrapolated to the women’s soccer supporters community in general (with the focus of such being the backers of the USWNT), combined with the Thursday piece, brought me to ponder whether there is a fan problem in women’s soccer, such that fans aren’t really backers of the game itself but rather are “fangirls” of specific players. Has women’s soccer supporter culture evolved in the decade or so since the US won the Women’s World cup in 1999 and launched WUSA in 2001, or is it the same with just new faces, voices, and platforms to profess it? Moreso, if that is the case, does it hurt the “brand” of women’s soccer in the US at a time when the professional game has suffered the folding of a second top-level league in less than 10 years?

From Becca:
In my opinion, there are three types of women’s soccer fans in the U.S. The ones that love the game… anything and everything that has to do with women’s soccer. These are the fans that head down to the local high school fields to watch a cross-town rivalry. The ones that will get in their cars and drive 2 hours to catch an NAIA match. The ones that are devoted to growing the sport we know and love. The second type of women’s soccer fans are the ones that love their team, generally their team being the USWNT. They’ll buy their jerseys (even if they’re ugly), support their WPS teams (RIP), and buy every issue of ESPN The Magazine or Sports Illustrated with Hope, Alex, or Abby gracing its pages. These fans are important, because they are the ones blowing up Twitter and Facebook, demanding that games get streamed if not on TV, and pack sold-out stadiums during friendly matches. And finally, there are the women’s soccer fans that could really care less but have jumped on the bandwagon. They know who Hope Solo is, and they think Alex Morgan is hot, but if you asked who the back line consisted of they wouldn’t have a clue. Of course, it would be great to have those second and third groups of fans converting to the diehards, but do we really want to call out and question the fans that are helping women’s soccer get noticed? Maybe someday… but I don’t think that day is today.

From An:
The game of women’s soccer has evolved tremendously since 1999. I’d like to think that women’s soccer supporter culture has changed as well. As Becca mentioned, there are many types of fans and those groups of fans probably existed since the days of WUSA. Yet, unlike post-1999 years of pro women’s soccer, today, soccer fans have many social media platforms that allow them to follow their favorite athletes, teams, and support the sport. I am uncomfortable with judging and labeling groups of fans as “fangirls” or “crazy.” I also am not sure how we can define “die-hard” fans. What I do know is that the sport we love and the existing women’s soccer leagues we follow need a lot of support, and all groups of fans should be welcomed. They all help support the sport in their own ways whether it is by buying season tickets or watching games online and buying merchandise. I am not as concerned with answering the question on what kind of women’s soccer fans do we want coming out to support US Soccer. Instead, I think two pressing questions stakeholders and fans alike should consider are (1) what “brand” of women’s soccer, realistically, do we want in the US? (2) What does it take to get fans to come out to the game? If there’s a drop in attendance for teams like Atlanta Silverbacks, then why? I don’t claim to know the whole situation for the Silverbacks, but I would simply be cautious of holding fans accountable for the success of women’s soccer alone.

From Scott:

An hit on the head one of the key elements for the rise numerically of the current women’s soccer support base, that being social media.  It has taken a fandom that used to be visible only at games or similar events into a 24/7 occurrence.  I view the evolution (or lack thereof) of women’s soccer fandom from the perspective of sports business and the non-soccer fan, and I compare what exists currently to two other forms of supportership/fandom:  other sports and pop culture.  Women’s soccer fandom (in general) is more akin to the latter than the former.  Perhaps that is due to the lack of opportunities that existed following the demise of WUSA, thus the new rise of the USWNT and the birth of WPS tapped into the next generation of the same fans that were there for the 99ers and WUSA, which is not sustainable in the long-term.   Perhaps it also is due to the average age of the women’s soccer fan versus that of other women’s professional sports or the brief history of the sport in this country (MLS had a similar issue I feel until the focus of the brand returned to the game on the field and long-time soccer communities were added to the league).  In any case, when the public face of women’s soccer fandom is still the same (by and large) in 2012 as it was in 2000 and the most public expressions of support for the sport and its players are indistinguishable from those for Justin Bieber or the Kardashians or Lady Gaga or the newest movie star, it doesn’t translate confidence in boardrooms to attach itself to the product or business.  Can this change over time?  Sure, if and when those fans end up in places of influence in the business community and can merge their fandom with the ability to actually put some skin into the business side of women’s soccer through advertising, corporate sponsorship, large-scale ticket purchasing, or even investment in a club or franchise.  Therefore, to answer the questions posed, I say 1) yes in some respects, no in others, and perhaps there has been a slight devolution over the past decade brought about by the 24/7 nature of it; and 2) it can hurt the brand by limiting the sport’s ability to attract the sustainable resources necessary for long-term operation and growth because the fan base doesn’t look like that of other sports fandoms and thus cannot be banked upon to remain supportive of the product over time, and it can hurt the ability to attract new fans because of the lack of “seriousness” that seems to emanate from portions of the fan base.  In ten years, might things have grown and women’s soccer supporters groups begin to look similar to that on the men’s side, or like fans of the WNBA or WTA or LPGA?  I’d like to hope so.

Scott Viar

  12 Responses to “Question of the Week: Does Women’s Soccer Have a Fan Problem?”

  1. An makes an important point here: “I don’t claim to know the whole situation for the Silverbacks, but I would simply be cautious of holding fans accountable for the success of women’s soccer alone.”

    When writing my original post, I felt I had to be careful not to veer into a “BLAME THE FANS” rant and suggest failure of WPS (and the WUSA before it) lay alone at the feet of fans. It was never my intention to say, “you better come to the games or the team will go away!” There were so many other contributing factors that led to the demise of WPS; lack of (early) attendance was just one.

    The post was a scatter-shot vent aimed at those fans whose “passion” and support for the game seems to have disappeared when their WPS team with famous players did. Our game isn’t worth your time if a well-known face isn’t there? That’s hypocritical, and that’s what I have an issue with.

    - LT :)

  2. I think this is a great topic to focus on. Right now it appears that there are more women’s soccer fans than ever, although one could argue that the breakout of social media has attributed to women’s successes within the past year or so, rather than the sport skyrocketing solely because of minimal television coverage. Right now it’s difficult to tell which women’s soccer fans are in it for the long-haul. Yes, if you venture on twitter or tumblr, you can point out the “fangirls” right away. But who’s to say that those “fangirls” won’t stick around for the next Women’s World Cup in 2015? At least those “fangirls” are generating some interest into the sport.

    I feel like I have no right to judge other fans based on the level of support they show. I say this because I, myself, didn’t attend a single WPS match even though the Philadelphia Independence played a mere 10 minutes from my house. At the time, I stated over and over again that since none of my friends liked soccer, I’d need to go to matches alone and that would’ve been uneventful. Looking back now, I realize that I was part of the problem. I would sit on my laptop and watch low quality streams of WPS teams play, but I never actually attended a match. Never once did it cross my mind that I was essentially contributing to the demise of the WPS.

    It’s great that everyone shows support in different ways and I’d like to be able to say that as long as women’s soccer teams are picking up fans along the way, we can (hopefully) see a steady increase of fans within the years to come. But the reality is that fans can cheer on teams all they want, but if the teams aren’t selling tickets or generating any revenue, women’s soccer teams will continue to fold and leagues will become unsuccessful.
    While it’s easy to blame fans (and I’m totally including myself in this) for low turnout rates at WPS matches, we need to realize that those in charge of leagues similar to the WPS didn’t successfully pull their own weight. How are fans supposed to know matches are taking place other than through twitter? Not everyone has a twitter account or can access the internet at any given time. I truly believe that if coaches, investors, and especially the players spoke about the WPS after the success of the Women’s World Cup, things may have turned out slightly different. Not a single player mentioned the WPS during the USWNT’s media tour after the World Cup. This may have been because the players were told to only speak of the World Cup, but it still strikes me as odd. It made me think that if the players didn’t seem to care about their league, why should we?

    Basically, what I’ve been trying to say in this entire post is that, yes, there may be a fan problem within the spectrum of women’s soccer. However, fan problems would be less severe if everyone—players, coaches, investors, etc.—pulled their own weight. The only problem is that it’s difficult for many of these people to pull their own weight because, as sad as it is, many people are turned off by women’s sports. Live streaming matches is a great starting point for bringing in fans, but something needs to happen for the fans to not only become interested, but to stay interested and help teams (whether it be W-League teams, WPSL teams, national teams, etc) generate both a bigger fan base and some revenue. It’ll be interesting to see which fans stick around to attend W-League and WPSL matches without the likes of Abby Wamach, Christie Rampone, et al running around on the field. It’s great that many people support the USWNT, but it can’t always be about those players. One thing’s for certain, something needs to change within women’s soccer to attract a larger fan base.

    Sorry for the long comment. I never know when to stop rambling!
    -Ashley

  3. We know the issues that WUSA and WPS had business-wise that of course hindered the devleopment of a deeper and more longstanding supporter culture within the game. I am hopeful (as I have always been) that WPSL and W-League teams can put in the elbow grease to create that within their localities, because women’s soccer is about so much more than just the 20 (or so) that wear the Red, White, and Blue.

  4. Personally, I loved LT’s post on Happy Go Snark. I very much admire and relate to her passion for her club and for the sport of women’s soccer.

    It’s easy to be a fan of the US Women’s National Team. They’re successful, they’re talented and they’re number one in the world. It’s fun to root for the best.

    But the world is catching up and we’re edging closer and closer to a point when our superior athleticism isn’t going to be enough. I’ve said this to some of my soccer friends and one of my colleagues here at Two Touch Pass and I’m pretty sure they look at me like I’m talking about the Mayan’s prediction of the end of the world.

    However in my opinion, you’re wearing blinders if you aren’t a bit worried (watch that 1st half from the game against China – awful soccer).

    That said, if and when that happens, it will be interesting to see how that affects women’s soccer fandom.

    • Yep, exactly my point. I’m a Portland Timbers supporter. Can’t get much lower than that right now after losing to amateur side, Cal FC in the US Open Cup last week. I just hope people continue to support women’s soccer and the USWNT through the good times and rough times.

  5. I completely agree! Many fans became die-hard fans after watching the USWNT vs. Brazil match in last summer’s Women’s World Cup. I think many fans are just naturally expecting the USWNT to return home with gold (or even silver) during this summer’s London Games.

    If the USWNT places second in their group, they’ll face the first place team in group F (which will likely be Japan) during the quarterfinals. There’s a very good chance that the USWNT could face an early exit from the Olympic Games this summer.

    Going back to the fans, if the USWNT is forced with a dramatic early exit from the Games, I wonder how many fans will stick around post-Olympics for other friendlies and such. It seems as though many fans (especially the younger crowd) love the USWNT because of their impressive winning-streak. If their streak ends, how many fans will stick around? It’s frustrating to be a fan of a team that has an awful record (I should know, I’m a Philadelphia Union fan!) so it’ll be interesting to see how the USWNT’s placing in the Olympics will affect their fan base– not that I’m doubting the USWNT’s ability to win friendlies AFTER the Olympics. But I think their placing could shape their fan base, either good or bad. I’m sure most fans will stick around and support the team no matter what, but I also believe that some fans (aka the glory hunters) will become less interested, which would be a real shame.

  6. We all saw what happened after espn aired the wwc. The fan base grew. Ppl wanted more of these superstars like Wambach Pinoe Morgan etc….. And than they showed it by going to WPS GAMES. WNY Flash va Magicjack was sold out. Promoting and showing excitement towards the game will make the fans come out. Ticket prices are perfect for any age to attend. But lack of local support and advertisement to attend these games is slowly killing the fan base!

  7. Wow..where to start? (pull up a chair).

    This is such a broad question,. Fans come in all ages and commitment levels, from casual fans dragged to games with friends or family to die-hard internet types (I happen to know a few of those, personally). My view is that the problem lies not so much with the fans, but with the individual teams and leagues, whether they be USA, WPSL, or USL. All of these entities need to make money to survive and they need to figure out how best to do it with the fan base they currently have or want to have.

    In order to grow your fan base, you need to know who they are and how they consume the game. This varies in large degrees depending on the level of the league, of course.

    At the lower tiers most fans are local and can attend games in person. These are the tickets buyers, the kids who play and the parents who support them, the friends and family of the local players on the team. These are the fans the local advertisers want and expect the teams to deliver.

    As you move up the ladder to semi-pro and a new pro league the circle of fans widens and the distance they are willing to travel expands. These fans are maybe more “committed” to following a team and not just its stars, but stars certainly add appeal to a traveling fan and influence their choice of which games to travel furthest for. Teams that cultivate their players into “stars” can benefit from this. Each team should at a minimum have a marquee player that is the face of their team. A ‘supporters group’ of fans willing to travel to away games would be beneficial at this level. These fans not only buy tickets, but merchandise and probably have a little more disposable income to spend on bigger advertisers.

    At the top tier, the national team, you have the most varied mix. You’ll get bandwagon fans of the 2 or 4 year variety; die-hards that know everything about every player; fangirls who only care about their ‘favorite’ player’; fans of the women’s game in general and every permutation of the mix. These fans want it all, from merchandise to the “Ultimate Fan Experience”. They will travel cross country to be at a game, usually multiple games. They buy tickets and hype the team to anyone who will listen. These fans spend money, on airfares, hotels, rental cars, merchandise, tickets, special events..you name it.

    And the common denominator for all these fans, other than soccer itself..is media, in all its forms. Teams need to use media to its full potential, to inform fans and to form fans. Fans won’t stay fans if they can’t get information on their team or players. They won’t attend games they don’t know about and won’t form an attachment to something they only hear about on game day. This applies to every team that wants fans. It doesn’t matter if you have stars, if no one knows where or when they can see them. It doesn’t matter if you have merchandise, if no one knows where or how to buy it. It doesn’t matter if they play the most beautiful version of the beautiful game if no one sees it.

    So, I guess my answer to your question is No, women’s soccer doesn’t have a fan problem. Women’s soccer has a communication problem.

  8. Great discussion, you guys! As a side note, my journey to “obsessed fandom” happens as I begin to get to know the player’s personalities. Unfortunately most players can’t get much exposure, especially women, but Twitter and Facebook are a great help. So if someone isn’t a Solo or Wambach, but they’re out in front enough with social media, it’s suddenly really fun to root for them, maybe even check out a game. At any rate, I hope the fanbase grows. I feel optimistic.

  9. [...] Does women’s soccer have a fan problem? [...]

  10. Does Women Soccer have a fan problem? As the European Championships (men) come to a close in Poland/Ukraine it has again not gone unnoticed that soccer is drawing worldwide the largest crowds of female fans but where are those die hard fans for the women? What is causing this fall-out? Interestingly enough there was an article published a few days ago in the German news magazine “Focus” that described soccer and female fans as a “fatal affair”. I was laughing tears about the statement of feminist Alice Schwarzer that female soccer fans are met with scepticism. They are standing all dolled up on the side lines, but the technical knowledge of the game is missing. Men are irritated by the fact that women don’t know the game and instead discuss the physical appearance of individual athletes and describe soccer as “oh it’s just a game” and take it even so far to use it as a platform to discuss world peace issues. So there is our problem. There is simply a) no sexual tension or friction in female soccer and b) even by women it’s seen as a “nice nice game” which is not the case with men games, there is at least that one side that gives soccer more power and declares war on the rivals, unfortunately the ever peace keeping women don’t do that, so where exactly is the excitement, the rush? As this may sound cheap, I think it’s yet another part that deserves consideration.

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>