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The Real Problem with Women's Pro Soccer
by Mike Woitalla, September 3rd, 2009 3:30PM

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By Mike Woitalla

The first season of the Women's Professional Soccer league produced smaller crowds and bigger financial losses than anticipated.

Of course, the nation's economic downturn has been blamed, and the analyses of the league's struggles have focused on off-the-field issues.

Yes, media coverage is difficult to get as newsroom staffs keep shrinking. Sponsorships are a hard sell in this economic climate. And WPS's attempts to tap into the lucrative youth soccer market is tricky business. By launching camps, it competes with and antagonizes the youth clubs and organizations whose players it's trying to get into the stadiums.

But what really matters is whether the soccer on the field is entertaining enough to draw crowds and keep them coming back.

The primary customers for WPS are girl soccer players - and the parents and coaches who deem it worthwhile to take their daughters out to watch potential role models.

The notion is that girls will be inspired by watching stars of their own gender. They'll be encouraged to watch more soccer - a key to player development - because they'll enjoy watching WPS games.

But what do young, aspiring soccer players see when they attend WPS games?

What they rarely see is goals. The league averaged 2.14 goals per game. That's even lower than Major League Soccer's current 2.54 production.

There are problems here. For one, if a coach or a parent is taking girls to WPS games to learn by observing, what are they learning? They're certainly not seeing enough scoring to figure out how that's done.

Come watch WPS to see good defending! How enticing is that, especially as there is no shortage of stifling anti-soccer on the market already?

Are the girls attending WPS games being entertained when a goal occurs only once every 42 minutes? That is simply an unacceptable rate. More than a third of WPS's 70 regular-season games featured just one goal or were scoreless ties.

Defense-minded, low-scoring soccer plagues men's soccer. Wins by 1-0 might be celebrated by fans with a deep allegiance to the winning club. But such allegiance doesn't exist in a new, American league. And the youngsters of today's America have so many entertainment options they're unlikely to find thrills from soccer games played out like chess matches.

That's not to mention the adults who take them to the games. Often they are already spending much of their time on soccer, bringing their children to games and practices a few days a week. If they spend even more time and money on soccer by attending a pro game, they'd better be rewarded with some major entertainment.

Yes, of course, low-scoring soccer games can be entertaining. But rarely. Who would opt for a 1-0 match over a 3-2 game? The coach might. But not the fan.

WPS teams had a chance to prove themselves above an attitude to the game based on preventing rather than producing goals. WPS could have distinguished itself making soccer's most thrilling moments - the goals! - more frequent and offering an alternative to the depressingly downward scoring trend we have seen in the men's game. Instead, WPS delivered even less than the men.

WPS collected the world's best female players ever to play in one league - and they produced one of the lowest scoring leagues the world has ever seen. Imagine how that reflects on the sport and women's soccer in general. Here's the world's best - and they rarely put the ball in the net.

WPS owners, I imagine, are spending the offseason reevaluating their marketing strategy. But they should also be questioning their coaches on how and why they took a low-scoring sport to new depths.

The coaches' responses are predictable. They will defend their defensive approach. They'll say their jobs are on the line if they don't get results. And that in soccer it's easier to get results by playing cautiously. That's when their bosses should make it clear that there will no jobs if there aren't more goals.

But because coaches aren't easily enticed to make the game more fun and exciting, WPS should go a step further and introduce a point system that rewards goalscoring.

The friendly autograph sessions and the lure of female role models isn't enough to make WPS a success.

(Mike Woitalla, who coaches youth soccer in Northern California, is the executive editor of Soccer America. His youth articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.

 



0 comments
  1. Alvaro Bettucchi
    commented on: September 3, 2009 at 3:23 p.m.
    One issue that I and others have, and has not been addressed. Why did those in charge allow women's soccer to be at the same time as the men's? I would enjoy to see the women play, but I will not forsake the men's, even though my team the Earthquakes are in last place. It's not a matter of money, but a matter of time. Alvaro Bettucchi. South San Francisco Calif.

  1. Patrick Duffy
    commented on: September 3, 2009 at 3:23 p.m.
    I agree that fans want to see goals. Frankly, other than Marta, WPS doesn't have a lot of high power players, at least not on attack. You don't see a lot of high scoring female forwards coming out of college these days, either. It is a new league and these things take time. After all, even in the NBA, players will tell you that the difference between college and the pros is that defense in the NBA is so much better. However, it is a mistake to build your market around youth players. MLS has tried that and it didn't work. USL has tried that and it hasn't worked. You have to build a base of people who will come out and live and die by the success of their local team, and that takes time. People that are willing to beat drums, drink beer and yell profanities at the opponents. Teams that develop bitter rivalries with other teams so the fans have to get to see that game. People that will pay a good dollar to be there and experience the atmosphere at the game. In real practical terms, its singles in their 20's and early 30's that are your primary market, particularly those who played soccer when they were a kid but who aren't playing anymore. For WPS, you need to market the heck out of the lesbian community. You don't think that there aren't 5,000 lesbians in the Bay Area who like sports and drinking beer? Not huge numbers relative to the rest of the population, but it would be an enormous base for a WPS franchise.

  1. Eric Roberts
    commented on: September 3, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.
    I could not agree more with your analysis of the womens game. I am the father of a girls U-12 player and have tried to get her interested in the pro game but she last about 15 minutes watching these games. Further more she is questioning continuing with game getting more interested in basketball and volleyball. What's at stake here is more than just a women's professional league its keeping kids interested in the game at all.

  1. George Morton
    commented on: September 3, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.
    Would it be a heresy on my part to suggest that the pitch be shortened and narrowed for the women's game? I'll have to be a heretic, although one who has coached and who loves the women's game. I was struck watching WPS how often players seem to feel they had to shoot from long-range; conversely, how rare it was in the run of play for the players to advance the ball inside the box. I often compare the women's game to a quilting bee; the passing and interplay--communication joined to physical skills--is beautiful to watch. Making the game more compact would speed the action, increase the number of tense moments the fans and the players want without, I believe, detracting from the team cohesion and selfless play the women's game beautifully models.

  1. Mark Johnston
    commented on: September 3, 2009 at 9:45 p.m.
    -Many times I do like the womens game more because its less physical, not all about beating up the other team etc.. What I noticed more than anything this year was the slow pace of the game..The WPS 3pm starts in the middle of the day don't help... I agree with the earlier post, basing your attendence on youth groups is doomed to fail. Need to follow the TFC and SEA plan and then add the youth crowd on top.. I wish this league had been WMLS and been double hitters.. You then can cut alot of expenses by openig the same stadium once, maybe even travel.. A seaso ticeket becomes good for both teams etc..... Unless these new group of owners have very deep pockets and are willing to go the distance the MLS owners have, I see this league lasting about as long or a little longer than WPSL...


  1. commented on: September 4, 2009 at 10:31 a.m.
    The real problem, Mike?. Well, I loved the games I watched and, my two boys (12 and 7yr old) and I sat and watched the finals. We even thought some of the WPS games were better than the MLS games. Eric, you should get your aspiring soccer player to watch soccer games. No need differentiating between them. If you want to play the game watch the game and it will help you. I would be disingenuous to say goals are not important, they are, but that is not the main reason I watch and Mike I know you know better. Give the league the benefit of it's first year. They will make it and I pray they do.

  1. Scott Dedycker
    commented on: September 4, 2009 at 1:42 p.m.
    As a player for one of the WPS teams I completely disagree with your view on the WPS and women's soccer in general. Yes, I am biased being a female athlete, but your story is completely one sided and just bashes women's soccer. This is the 1st year of the WPS. There are going to be ups and many downs. I don't think one organization expected to end the season with a profit. It was expected to lose money and not necessarily sell out every single game. I do agree that there weren't a lot of goals scored in the inaugural season, but you don't see many games at a high level in men's or women's soccer that have over 2 or 3 goals per side. I think all the teams in the WPS were equal in talent. I don't remember ever going into a game and thinking, we are going to kill this team. Every game was a battle and if you are a TRUE soccer fan and actually KNOW the game of soccer then you come to appreciate other aspects of the game besides scoring. Being a coach of youth soccer, which I do during the off season, you teach kids that defense wins games. Yes, you need a goal here and there but you don't need 6 to win. You can go to a game and have your kid watch other parts of the game besides scoring. How about shape, defense, free kicks, etc. The list goes on and on. I don't know what the future of the WPS is, but I do know it isn't perfect and if you enjoy soccer, you will enjoy coming out to a game. The atmosphere was great and there definitely wasn't a lack of talent for these future soccer stars to LEARN from.

  1. Tad Brown
    commented on: September 15, 2009 at 8:48 p.m.
    I saw several games on FSC but couldn't get my daughter to commit the time to watch a game. Sunday afternoon in the summer is an bad time to be sitting in the house watching tv. Primetime Fri/Sat would be better, plus attendance may be better as a place to go Fri and Sat night. My wife and I enjoyed some very good matches(DVR usually) that may not have been high scoring but they weren't lacking scoring opportunities. I also don't understand the defensive culture of soccer, it seems to me being solid defensively doesn't preclude an aggresive offensive attack. Even in the club soccer my daughter plays it seems a team with an aggresive philosophy will really throw a wrench in the works of the other teams game plans, but I'm no expert. Maybe allowing more substitutions, or even individual players to be subbed twice per half, would allow players to be more aggressive without worrying about energy conservation for late in the game. It would allow a coach to be more aggressive knowing he has more personnel/formation options. Definately they could change the scoring system to rank teams with bonus points for goals scored. 2 points for a win plus a point per goal; only 1 pt per tie. That alone would force coaches to take a more agressive posture after scoring a single goal rather than dropping back in a defensive posture and playing ball control in your own zone and force teams behind to pull out all stops earlier. FSC HD for everyone would help. Soccer in HD vs SD is like watching a whole different sport, much like hockey, it is far more attractive to the casual viewer when you can see most of the field rather than less than half of it.

  1. Lindsey Simbeye
    commented on: September 25, 2009 at 11:16 a.m.
    While high scoring games are great, I strongly disagree that it's all about putting the ball in the net. It is just as exciting to see the amazing saves many of the WPS goalkeepers had throughout the season.

  1. Kel Greene
    commented on: October 12, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.
    How soon we forget!!!!! Those men wouldn't be earning and scoring in the MLS if it wasnt for the recognition that the US Womens National Team earned for US soccer. So instead of focusing all this effort on what the game doesn't have, I would love to see some real analysis on making sure that this time we save Women's Soccer. Our daughters need to see consistent examples of female athletes competing at the highest levels on American soil.......and right now thats the WPS...........go Sky Blue.

  1. Pep Talls
    commented on: October 23, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.
    Entertainment. And all the marketing in the world won't save an inferior product in the long term. IMHO, women's soccer is screaming for highly skilled players. The US women's National team is almost as big as the men's Spanish team that won the world cup. The current US system is woefully lacking in it's ability to develop "truly" skilled players, and then even if it does, it will need to enable them to play which is impossible with all the grabbing, pushing, and hacking-Frankenstein soccer. The NHL got rid of hooking and the goons to allow skilled players to shine. If I have to listen to one more ingnorant announcer telling the audience that some basic move is evidence of high skill I'll puke. Watch FC Barcelona. Watch Lionel Messi work his magic deep in the oppoent's end of the field. That's entertaining. Bowling ball stiff arming with an ocassional chop or croif is not high skill. Friggin pathetic. But just keeping doing the same thing over and over and they'll end up bankrupt again. Change or perish.


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