Trost On Women’s Sports (Oct 23)
Brette Trost is currently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania.
She covers women’s soccer, women’s basketball and baseball for the Daily Pennsylvanian.
To read her previous work, click here.
October 23 2011
It was recently announced that Fox Sports outbid ESPN for the rights to the men and women’s FIFA World Cup from 2015-2022.
This surprised a lot of people, as many assumed that ESPN would continue to hold the rights as they have for the past couple of years.
Though this changing of powers may not appear noteworthy I think it could be a detriment to the growing sport – especially the women’s game.
ESPN has been a powerful force in adding to soccer’s growth in the United States, featuring many soccer games this summer, including MLS matches and International Friendlies.
The network did a great job in covering the Women’s World Cup, and I think their reporting not only enhanced the viewing experience but also helped to maintain the excitement around the women’s team. Since ESPN is a primetime network devoted to sports, they have greater flexibility in covering the game outside of the actual match itself. With great lead-ins such as feature pieces on Marta and Birgit Prinz as well as thorough in-depth analysis, ESPN has the means necessary to carry out exciting and well put together pieces of journalism.
ESPN also changed the way they covered the Women’s World Cup this year, with a commitment to providing live commentators at every match for the first time for all 32 of the the matches. This meant that the commentators were a pivotal part of the excellence in reporting as the veteran Ian Darke and Julie Foudy were a strong knowledgeable team.
I worry that Fox’s commitment to the women’s game will seriously lag behind that of ESPN’s. While Fox Sports is known for their soccer coverage, as a majority of games during the year appear on Fox Soccer Channel, they mainly use European feeds. Furthermore, their coverage of the female game has always been poor. The WPS playoffs looked as if a high school student had filmed it. Obviously the network will amp the production quality in order to attract the same number of viewers ESPN experienced last summer, but I still question where the focus – and the money – will be.
October 10 2011
“Futbol no es un deporte. Es un espectáculo de las masas.”
Football is not a sport. It is a spectacle of the masses.
After finishing my first full week of classes, sports, or more specifically football, has already entered the academic narrative. My professor of Spanish history, Javier Gómez, discussed something that I felt like was worthy of a blog post.
Please bear with me while I go through a brief historical tangent.
The professor began the class by giving us an overview of the main periods in Spanish history. In the third major era, 1880-1930, he highlighted a new innovation during this period. One typically thinks of the many major technological developments that graced the international stage during the time often called the “Second Industrial Revolution”, but along with the law of relativity and the discovery of electricity, Professor Gómez highlighted the period when football became an established sport.
He said that the innovation was emblematic of an overriding theme of the period when the notion of a public identity and nationhood began to take hold. He concluded: “Futbol no es un deporte. Es un espectáculo de las masas” which roughly translates to “Football is not a sport. It is a spectacle of the masses.” Football became a way to structure the Spanish identity (and that of other European nations). It became the personification of a country, a way to represent the Spanish people through the cohesion of a team. Football matches were like wars, where nationalism was put at the forefront.
It was also a period public participation. Spanish men gained the vote in 1890. Liberalism and democracy were growing throughout Europe.
It is clear that football is engrained in the Spanish way of thinking and a sense of public unity. While revolutions and political instability may be a large characteristic of Spanish history, football is a constant.
So how does this translate to the female sport? From what I can presume so far it doesn’t at all. Though as my professor said, men’s football isn’t looked at as a sport, but more as a part of Spanish infrastructure, women’s football is quite a different experience. It seems to me like this is the first piece of the puzzle.
September 30 2011
It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but for a valid reason! I will be spending the next four months studying in Madrid, Spain. With the location change, you may experience a slightly more Eurocentric view of women’s sports. That’s not to say that I will be completely limiting myself to European women’s sports – that might be too limiting. However, I will be injecting some accounts of personal sports experiences onto this blog if something should come up (stay tuned for an account of my experience going to a bull fight in two weeks!).
I will be completely honest. I know little about women’s sports in Spain. However, in a nation that is still celebrating its World Cup victory over a year later, it is no surprise that female sports take on an even smaller role than they do in the United States.
Yet I find that it is not just that men’s sports overshadow women’s sports as is the case in the U.S. Here, men’s football overshadows every other sport – male or female. Walking around the streets of Madrid the number of posters boasting Rafael Nadal’s face is far behind those of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Is there even a women’s soccer league in Spain, I found myself asking. Yes, the counterpart to Spain’s La Liga is in fact the Superliga Feminina. The league includes 18 teams but considering the Women’s National Team has to yet to qualify for a single Women’s World Cup, the excitement for female football is nearly non-existent.
Though eastern European countries, like Germany, seem to have made some strides towards “football equality”, Spain still appears to be far behind in any type of recognition for the female game. Exactly why this occurs is what I hope to explore during my stay here, as I question people as to the role of women’s sports in Spanish culture.
August 23 2011
Danica Patrick has now officially announced that she will be leaving IndyCar to race full time for NASCAR, something that does not come as a surprise to most racing followers.
However, I’m worried. By moving to NASCAR fulltime, Patrick will be on the biggest stage for racing. Already a household name, she will have to prove that her celebrity status is warranted by backing it up with talent. Though she’s done a lot for women racers, so far her career in terms of wins hasn’t been stellar. In her 111 starts, she has only won one race.
As John Romano puts it, “That doesn’t mean she isn’t talented, and it doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have an opportunity to switch gears. It’s just that her performance has never been commensurate with her popularity, and that distinction is sure to be more noticeable in NASCAR.”
Patrick will start in the Nationwide series, which is a smart move considering the difficulty of the Sprint Cup. The Nationwide will be a good test run for Patrick’s move to the NASCAR world. However she is expected to go full time for the Sprint Cup by 2013.
The importance of this move should not be underestimated. Though a few women have raced in NASCAR, no woman has raced full-time in the Sprint Cup.
I want Patrick to be the poster girl for women in racing sports, but because she already has the popularity, I’m worried people will be expecting too much of her too quickly, and her failure to live up to the high expectations will be a burden.
Even if Patrick does not perform exceedingly well, I doubt that it will have any financial repercussions for the racing star, whose Nationwide car is backed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sprint Cup car is backed by Tony Stewart. Also her GoDaddy endorsement still manages to rack in major bucks and if we’ve learned anything from Maria Sharapova’s longtime standing as the number one earning female athlete, being in first place in your sport does not necessarily equal financial success.
However, Patrick will have a high wall to climb in terms of her opponents on the track and her record on the courses. Nonetheless, I still have high hopes for her, and hope that this can really become a gateway for women entering into the sport.
August 22 2011
Saturday afternoon’s WPS playoff between the Florida magicJack and the Philadelphia Independence was a battle between individual effort and collective talent.
Looking at the magicJack’s roster, you would assume the magicJack had the edge. With marquee players from the U.S. Women’s National Team like Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone, just to name a handful, it would have been difficult to believe that the Independence would actually win in a 2-0 victory.
However, despite those individual talents, it made sense that the Independence pulled away with the win. With so much of the magicJack being away at the Women’s World Cup during the early summer, the team seemed disjointed. They had less time to practice as a team, to understand how to work together and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. This showed during the playoff, as the team had difficulty mounting attacks against the solid Independence defense.
Though it would be impossible to argue that Philadelphia has better players, last night they were certainly the more cohesive team. The defense protected against the dangerous Wambach superbly. And at the forefront of the Independence’s offense was Tasha Kai, the lesser known tattooed Hawaiian forward, who would be the player of the game after scoring a brilliant first goal.
Tasha Kai had played for the Women’s National Team at the Beijing Olympics, scoring the winning goal against Canada to put the U.S. into the quarterfinals. But after having major shoulder surgery in late 2009, she was not selected for the World Cup Squad.
Amy Rodriguez and Kai looked a little out-of-sync at times. Independence coach Paul Riley had mentioned that the two forwards didn’t work well together, duplicating each other’s runs at times and not feeling completely comfortable. That showed a couple times with Rodriguez taking shots when passing to Kai would have been the better option. Rodriguez definitely seemed a little separate from the rest of the team, even as they celebrated at the end of the game but as a whole the team seemed to be more put together than the magicJack.
What may be even more important, is that because so few of the team’s players were involved in the World Cup, this truly was the pinnacle of the year for most players. The magicJack seemed less invested in the game, which makes sense as nearly half of their team were playing for much higher stakes only a month ago. The Independence looked like they really wanted to win, that this truly was a playoff, and looked like a team should look when they are going to the Championships.
The magicJack looked tired, which is no surprise considering they had just played Boston on Wednesday, giving further reason for the WPS to trash this ridiculous playoff structure. Also, as much as I respect and admire Abby Wambach’s talent I’m not quite sure that being a player-coach is the best thing for the magicJack. She seemed focused on substitutions and tactical strategy, making it hard for her to stay in the moment, convert passes and just play.
In the end collective talent rose above individual success. The Independence was a team that wanted to win, while the magicJack looked more like a group of players that were participating in a soccer game that didn’t really matter to them.
August 19 2011
After watching the Women’s World Cup, I was truly excited to sit down and watch the playoffs of the WPS.
The World Cup showed the excellence of the women’s game around the world. While the U.S. has dominated the talent pool since the start of the professional women’s game, this year’s tournament revealed superior athletes from England, France, Sweden and Japan.
However, as the WPS game began I soon realized that the quality of play I was looking for would not be matched, even in the playoffs. As the Boston Breakers began the game against the Florida magic Jack, they looked sloppy, unfocused and tired. Since the players are capable of high caliber performances, I believe the playoff system is to blame.
The top four teams at the end of the regular season make it to the playoffs. The fourth place team plays the third place team in the first game. Then, the winner of that match goes on to play the second place team and the winner of that match goes on to play the team that finished first as they vie for the title. Since the champion of the regular season has a clear advantage, this make the playoffs void of any excitement whatsoever. Even more frustrating then the unbalanced, unexciting set-up of the postseason is the brief turnaround between the regular season and the playoffs. The Breakers didn’t clinch their playoff spot until Sunday against Sky Blue FC. They then flew down to Florida but logistics forced them to take three flights to get there.
Their exhaustion showed as the Breakers were really no match for the star studded magicJack, as they lost 3-1. The first goal was an indication of the lack of concentration and skill by the Breakers, as the dangerous Abby Wambach was wide open, with no one covering her or her favorite spot of attack at the back post. When Wambach scored the first goal, it was virtually over for the Breakers. Though it was only the sixth minute, the statistics spoke for themselves. The magicJack were 5-0 when Wambach scores and the Breakers had not won a game when they allowed the first goal all season. Though they climbed back to tie the game at 1-1 with a good shot by Keelin Winters, the magicJack dominated for the majority of the game, sealing the deal with two more goals in the second half.
If a lack of rest is truly what hurt the Breakers squad, it will only get worse as the magicJack will now have to travel to Philadelphia to face a rested Independence team on Saturday. Furthermore, the Flash will have it the easiest, with their first (and only) game of the playoffs not occurring until a week from Saturday.
I am interested to hear what the ratings were for last night’s game. My prediction is they were low. Even the field at Florida Atlantic University didn’t seem full. Overall, I expected more from the WPS and more energetic coverage. It didn’t seem like a playoff game, but any other regular season game. The WPS needs to overhaul their playoff structure and create rivalries that attract a passionate fan.
Will I watch the next game? If I can find what channel Fox Sports Net is on my cable system, perhaps.
August 9 2011
For those of you who don’t know much about MMA (and I consider myself one of those people), the sport is in the midst of a transition right now. The UFC acquired its rival, Strikeforce, in March, which led to major questions about its future. While the Strikeforce had a female division, UFC President Dana White had previously said that women would never fight in the UFC, claiming that it was not a lucrative venture because there is not enough depth.
Unfortunately, I think White may be right. Over the short time I have explored different women’s contact sports it seems clear that female athletes in these particular sports face a unique challenge. Most famous female athletes come from sports such as tennis, soccer and golf, sports where femininity can still be retained while being athletic. It should thus be no surprise that women’s contact sports are in serious trouble.
Men strive to be athletic and fit. In fact, it is the ideal. But women athletes need to retain their femininity and not let their athleticism overtake their womanly allure. If they lose their softness, they lose their marketability. Female athletes in some sports look too athletic for marketers to want that face behind their products.
Those who participate in contact sports such as bocing and MMA face a particularly tough burden as they take on the most masculine of all personas, fighters. While tennis, soccer, and golf stars can be both fierce and graceful, MMA and boxing epitomize masculinity. Even in NASCAR, Danica Patrick has the ability be gritty, strong and dirty behind her racecar, but in front of the camera she can maintain her soft image and continue to be feminine and sexy.
So what does this mean specifically for the world of MMA? An inordinate amount of pressure was placed on last weekend’s showdown between Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate, many saying that this match would determine the future of women’s MMA. Some believed to keep women’s MMA afloat it needed a breakthrough fight like the Griffin/Bonnar fight that crystallized men’s MMA. Others felt that even with an entertaining fight, the talent pool on the women’s side was too small to keep fans interested. As it turned out the fight proved to be an exciting match. It was a back-and-forth for the first three rounds, when in the fourth Tate took control and ultimately beat the defending champion.
Many are hoping that Tate will become the female face to keep women’s MMA alive. “The photogenic and camera-ready Tate is the right blend of skills and sex appeal to connect with male mixed martial arts fans,” said one article. The MMA was able to break the contact sports curse with Gina Carano. Her fight against the less feminine Cristiane Santos garnered 856,000 viewers. Many believe Santos (who you may know by her über masculine nickname ‘Cyborg’) to be the best female fighter in the world, but she has nowhere near the same name recognition as Carano. Santos has focused on fitness at the cost of image, while Carano has managed to retain her feminine appeal while still being a ferocious fighter. However, she is now putting her fighter persona completely aside as rumors of a movie career have begun to overshadow her athletic feats.
Can Tate’s win last weekend solidify here as the new Carano? Can she fill the hole Carano has left and become the face of women’s MMA?
I believe that Tate may be able to crossover and be one of the stars of women’s contact sports. She can be both athletic and a hard fighter while still being feminine and appealing for male fans and marketers. But in the end, I don’t think it will be enough to save the sport and make White want to put money into female MMA. Tate is certainly one of the few female athletes in contact sports to maintain a sexual appeal, but there may be too few that are both talented and feminine for the sport to stand side by side with its male counterpart.
July 26 2011
Now that the Women’s World Cup is over what’s in store for women’s soccer?
Over the weeks following the tournament, the WPS has unsurprisingly experienced a boost. The magicJack had a record 15,404 people attend the first WPS game following the World Cup. With many of the USA’s star players on its squad, including Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, the magicJack clearly have the largest draw for fans of the World Cup. And though Wambach and most of her fellow USA teammates didn’t play, the game had enough hype that Fox Soccer Channel aired it.
The Boston Breakers played the Western New York Flash last night and also experienced record crowds, as 6,222 people attended. It was among the top five crowds in the team’s three year history. Whereas the magicJack game ended in a 0-0 tie, the very thing that those who aren’t huge fans of soccer deplore, Alex Morgan’s game-tying goal with three minutes left may have reminded some at the stadium of the epic quality of the World Cup. The average attendance for the last four WPS games was 8,141, well above normal.
Though attendance and interest are up, is this merely a post World Cup boom? Will this excitement have any sort of longevity?
While over 6,000 people may have attended last night’s game, very few fans had a stake in who won. Though Boston was playing at home, when Alex Morgan tied up the game, there were no boos from the crowd. No one cared if Boston won, something that would be very uncharacteristic of a Boston sports fan.
Everyone can get behind women’s soccer when the USA is playing other countries, it’s a matter of national pride, not sports. But without any team rivalries or allegiance to WPS teams, it will be hard to keep the league afloat. People watch sports to root for their favorite team, and if no one cares which team wins, people will begin to lose interest. As the magicJack and Breakers gear up to play each other next week, a match that officials are estimating will draw 10,000 fans, the stadium will be filled with cheers for both Wambach and Morgan. They will be cheering for the USA, not for the WPS.
This has been the same with many Olympic sports as well. As Brian Straus aptly points out, “It was Phelps who captured the nation’s heart, not the sport of swimming. The vast majority of us haven’t watched a backstroke since.” While the WPS may be experiencing a boost in popularity now, and should try to do everything it can to remain in the minds of Americans through endorsement deals, advertisements and television appearances, I don’t think it will be long until the WPS begins to struggle again, just as it did before the World Cup, and just as the WUSA did following the 1999 victory.
July 19 2011
“If we had to lose to someone, at least it was Japan.” From the newscasters on ESPN to the callers on talk radio to my own dad, that seemed to be the mantra of most viewers after the U.S. women loss on Sunday.
But I’m a sports fan. In the moment I don’t care if there is a good back-story for the other team. I want my team to win. Period.
As a Mets fan who has suffered time and time again, I had felt this agony before. It seems as though I am always on the losing end when it comes to sports teams.
As with every unexpected loss, I spent all of Sunday night reliving those missed penalty kicks. With the U.S. women leading for much of the game, how could we have come up short at the last minute?
But as I woke up on Monday morning I was surprised by the general public’s reaction. It seemed conciliatory, amicable and proud.There was little of the anger, bitterness or disappointment that I was feeling. I woke up Monday morning to FAN talk radio, a show whose disappointed callers usually bash the management of a defeated team avoiding any praise whatsoever. But even there, the medium by which obsessed fanatics express their rage, the comments seemed somewhat mild. There were a few callers who let their stream of consciousness ramblings be heard – one said that Pia Sundhage should have pulled Abby Wambach and put in Amy Rodriguez. But I’ve heard more outrage and insistence on loony tactics when both the Mets and Yankees win.
Most agree that the sport scored a victory in that FAN and other media were talking about the women’s soccer team – not because of their gender but because of the game. But why weren’t they angry? Why was there no blame? Why did I feel alone in my irritation?
Perhaps it was because I watched every single match of the tournament and felt completely invested. They hadn’t lost to Japan in 25 games. This was their game to win. They let me down and now I’m supposed to give them a hero’s reception? I don’t think so.
The media is starting to target itself for going so easy on the team. See the following three articles: “Is media giving US women’s soccer team a free pass for its World Cup Fail?”, “Why don’t sports fans, media ever accuse women athletes of choking?” and “Critics keep hands off U.S. women”. It’s not only the generally docile attitude of the media, but it’s the fans as well. The main stream media at times seem to work in tandem but the fans, who bring the passion and excitement, the money and the ratings are also treating the women with extreme care.
But now we’re back to the gender issue. So they’re not being so hard on them because they’re women. Because that image of Hope Solo running to the stands and crying into what I presume to be family or friends arms is too delicate to mock. And there we go again with these same gender issues blah blah blah.
Tying the whole thing up with a nice bow by saying it’s because they’re women is too easy. Maybe it’s the type of fan. There are two principal types of people who were watching the women’s World Cup and were truly invested throughout the whole tournament: women and soccer fans. At times women do take a more benevolent view, just speaking from experience, as I sometimes identify with a team that loses and revert to sympathy more than anger. Soccer fans realize it’s soccer, that penalty kicks are an arbitrary and silly way to determine a game (especially one as big as this) and relies more on nerves and psychological composure than a true test of skill. So maybe that’s the reason for the lack of criticism?
However, ironically a loss is giving the women more publicity than a win, and has the potential to help the struggling sport. Appearing on both Letterman and Leno, people actually want to know what the American women have to say and how they are going to sum up the series of unbelievable events. But for now, I’m angry. I’m not giving them a free pass just because Hope Solo is crying and Abby Wambach may never make an appearance in a World Cup again. You were the favorite and you choked and now you need to deal with the consequences.
July 14 2011
U.S. women’s soccer has a tough road for survival. If history serves as an indication, a dramatic win against Japan will change little for the sport. After the 1999 team won, the WUSA league lasted a paltry three years and suffered 100 million dollars in losses.
This fanciful period in which women’s soccer comes into the spotlight in the U.S. and seems like a major sport comes at a time where little else is happening in the sports world. The NFL and NBA are in a never-ending lockout and baseball is at the All Star break.
So what is the best way for the women to capitalize on their 15 minutes of fame and help the ailing WPS? I think it lands in the hands of Hope Solo.
It seems as if soccer still has one of the hardest brick walls to break in terms of women’s sports. In 1999, the Australian women’s soccer team made headlines with its nude calendar. More than ten years later, before this year’s World Cup began, the German national team wore sheer tops on the cover of German Playboy. Most recently, the French national team posed nude in a German newspaper Bild under a headline saying: “Is this how we should show up before you come to our games?”
Even during this period where women’s soccer reigns supreme for athleticism more than sexuality, each headline speaks with incredulous trepidation at calling women’s soccer exciting, with captions like: “U.S. women making soccer fun (really)”. Other articles highlight how much women’s soccer in the United States barely has a chance of survival even with a win.
A stunner and true talent like Solo, who possesses newfound name recognition and a fiery personality (see her comments from the last World Cup) is what U.S. women’s soccer needs if it wants to extend a World Cup win into a women’s soccer craze. They need to market Solo as the true headliner of the Cup, showing off her athleticism and her beauty to intrigue both genders and garnering interest in games outside of this major tournament every four years. She needs endorsements to become a sports celebrity and to get herself in the public eye. She can be the U.S. player with the personality, beauty and talent to launch the sport into a major franchise that corporations want to be identified with.
And as uncomfortable as it may be to say, the only way that the WPS will be able to survive may be to capitalize on the appearance of its athletes. Surely not in as dramatic and demeaning fashion as some of the naked shoots mentioned above. But Solo needs to use her beauty as a means to promote the sport. Solo plays for the magicJack which draws audiences as small as 500 fans. It is clear that there needs to be something big to keep the WPS afloat. Before the World Cup began, the U.S. women’s team drew only 5,852 people to the Red Bull Arena in its final match before going to Germany. Making Solo a fashion icon, or a cosmetics face could be just the boost the sport needs to grow financially and establish a fan base.
U.S. soccer should not just stick to its own players when trying to market the sport. This World Cup is evidence that women’s soccer has a talented international pool and so does the WPS. No one would have guessed that the four teams in the semifinal would have been the U.S., France, Sweden and Japan. Marta is one of the most marketable women’s soccer stars with her remarkable talent that time and time again gets her compared to the “female Messi”. There is a large enough talent pool now on an international level for international stars to emerge and all of these women stars should begin to take on a celebrity demeanor.
July 12 2011
It was drama. It was controversy. And most importantly, it was everything the Woman’s World Cup needed to attract viewers.
But will it translate into ratings for tomorrow’s game?
As extra time wore on in Sunday’s match between the USA and Brazil, it seemed as if the US was going to make its earliest departure ever from the World Cup. However, when Megan Rapinoe’s expertly placed cross met Abby Wambach’s head in the 122nd minute of the game, it was a moment of sheer fortitude. The women’s team would not give up until the final whistle had blown.
After a handball by Carli Lloyd went unnoticed by the referee in the 51st minute, the veteran announcers noted that because the group of entirely female referees had less experience there can be “some inconsistencies”. This statement would soon become a major understatement as the unpredictable calls by the refereeing crew completely changed the momentum of the game.
The entire Cup has been filled with ridiculous miscues. Most strikingly was the blatant handball by Equatorial Guinea’s Bruna Amarante da Silva. We don’t want to see the referees dictate the game, that should be left to the athletes. And as the final minutes were winding down, Darke jeered as the referee began to inexplicably talk to the players in the box: “It appears the referee is giving a lecture in the middle of a World Cup quarterfinal”. It is safe to say that the referees in tomorrow’s match will be excessively careful when making important calls and interjecting themselves into the game.
However, if we’re talking sheer entertainment value, I say keep it coming. Bad calls are what make people invested. It appears to have catapulted the Women’s World Cup into the national eye as every news show and publication from ESPN to page one of the New York Times has given the game prominent coverage. The Women’s World Cup has scored record ratings everywhere around the globe, that is, except the US. What was bad refereeing lent itself to a game that was one of the most dramatic in the history of the World Cup. It transcended this one quarterfinal and allowed the viewers to care about the team, the players, their feelings. American viewers began to feel wronged as the players were wronged, joy when they felt joy and most importantly, excited for what will lie ahead.
As the overwrought comparisons about the 1999 World Cup continued, especially as the mirror image penalty kick shootout overcame every reporter’s highest hopes, this just might make people stop talking about Hamm, Chastain and Scurry and instead begin talking about Wambach, Krieger and Solo. And who do they have to thank for this renewed interest and the highest women’s soccer ratings since that famous 1999 final? The referee.
July 1 2011
Stay tuned for an analysis chronicling Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 4th. Check out this article about the new addition to this year’s contest: a women’s competition. With quotes like “This excitement is similar to when women were given the right to vote” and “These are suffragettes for a new era” I am expecting real entertainment. There is a lot of hype already surrounding the contest (see: Kobayashi’s decision to compete via satellite because of his persistent refusal to sign a contract with Major League Eating – yes that’s a real league). This year’s competition should prove to be one of the most exciting and over the top yet. To get you in the mood: here’s a video from last year of Joey Chestnut capturing his fourth title:
June 28 2011
It is clear that the U.S. women’s team was playing two different games in each half of today’s contest with North Korea. The first half presented a team that was timid, nervous and unable to hold onto possessions. If you joined in at the second half, the U.S. offense dominated. But equally disjointed as the two halves seems to be their defense and offense.
When the offense kicked into gear in the second half, the team did not solely rely on its usual strikers such as Abby Wambach, who has been struggling with one goal scored in her last ten games. Instead, the first match epitomized the depth of the U.S. squad. A last minute tactic by coach Pia Sundhage of putting Lauren Cheney in for Megan Rapinoe paid off as Cheney headed a cross from Wambach to ease the tension with the first goal. Though many people believe this last minute move created the turning point of the game, equally impressive and noteworthy was the United States’ second goal, which came from central defender Rachel Buehler. After a corner kick, Buehler got a touch on the ball and hit a low shot. It was only the second goal of her entire career and put the U.S. comfortably atop Group C.
Further, when Rapinoe got her chance to play for the last 10 minutes of the game, the power of the U.S. bench became obvious. Though her goal was ultimately ruled a foul, it is clear – as we had seen in her game winning assist against Italy – that this midfielder will be an important offensive addition as well, especially if Sundhage continues to play her from off the bench. Considering Wambach’s recent struggles, it is critical that the U.S fields multiple players who are capable of taking charge of the offense.
But when you look at who is making these goals – a midfielder and a central defender – you can also see how this reliance on the defense can pose a significant risk. Although five saves by Solo and a young and easily demoralized North Korean squad let the U.S. come away with the shut out, the gap between the back four and the midfield is something that more experienced teams (like Germany and Brazil) can and will take advantage of. As Cheney, who typically plays as a forward, pushes to the front as a midfielder, it leaves a gap that could easily allow other teams to pose a counterattack.
The US plan represents a conscious strategic change by Sundhage who relied on the midfielders to act as central parts of the offensive attack instead of playing long ball and pushing the plays down to Wambach. If you’re going off of today’s match that may not be a bad strategy. But will it work when the U.S. starts to face more offensively aggressive teams able to hold onto possessions and take it far? This is what happened in England’s April victory as an open midfield allowed Kelly Smith to run 50 yards before passing to Rachel Yankey and scoring. This is just the situation that could lead to serious trouble for America’s women.
June 23 2011
As the Women’s World Cup begins this weekend, much of the coverage seems to be focusing on the past and not the present.
While 1999 was obviously an epic year for the U.S. World Cup team and immensely helped the profile of the sport and women’s sports in general, I believe it’s time that we stop focusing on the glory of the past and start to get real about the situation at hand.
Despite being ranked number one in the world, the U.S. women’s team has not been able to win the World Cup in its last two attempts. Not only has this been a disappointment but it has hurt the women’s soccer industry in general. Instead of focusing on those enthralling days when the image of Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt following the fifth kick in the penalty shootout against China graced the cover of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, we should be looking at which of today’s players are going to be the key to a victory. We should be focused on if, despite the title of being number one, the U.S. team is finally ready to beat its long time foe and two time World Cup champion Germany who this year reap the benefits of a home field advantage.
Numerous articles that have been written this month bear titles like “Remember the 1999 women’s World Cup Final” or “For US, legacy of ’99 lives on”. In fact Yahoo posted two different articles within 6 days of each other recapping where the stars from the 1999 U.S. National Team are now. Almost every article about the World Cup begins with some iteration of “It has been 12 years since the U.S. women’s soccer team had its iconic moment”.
In fact, much of the headlines in the past week have been that Mia Hamm will be writing about the women’s World Cup for ESPNW. And while hearing her perspective on the Cup should be interesting, I have no doubt that much of the attention she will gain will be a result of overbearing comparisons to her own experience and examining how the 2011 team ranks against those champions. There seems to be just as many articles about Mia Hamm and her fellow teammates as ones profiling Heather O’Reilly or Abby Wambach.
Of course the past is a large part of the present and remembering the exciting victories of 1999 can help enlist enthusiasm for this year’s Cup. But is it that? Or is it really just that the general American public has no other grasp on anything relating to women’s soccer besides that momentous 1999 victory?
I am excited for this year’s Cup. And now that I have some duty to the readers of this blog I will be following it much more closely than I have in the past. However, the indicators that the U.S. team has given us so far have been contradictory.
As a Fox Sports article appropriately points out: “Whether the US women succeed in Germany will hinge on which team shows up: The lethargic squad that lost to Mexico in the semifinals of CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying or the fast paced, dangerous team that just beat Japan twice in May.”
I do not know if the U.S. will finally be able to break Germany. But I do know that I am sick of hearing about 1999 and would like to start seeing more focus on this year’s team.
June 15 2011
Though it’s obvious to point out that women’s sports do not receive anywhere near the same coverage as men’s sports, how to rectify this is a tad more complicated.
While focused groups like the Women’s Sports Foundation have been making these claims for a while, I was surprised to see the Washington Post write a self-reflective editorial on its own publishing practices.
The editorial discussed the unbalanced nature of The Post’s own sports reporting. In the past month, only three female athletes have fought their way to the Newspaper’s front page: tennis star Li Na, swimmer Diana Nyad and Mystics guard Alana Beard. Other publications reflect the same trends. Between 1997 and 2008, only 5.62% of Sports Illustrated’s issues had women on the cover. Of those covers, 31.6% of them were for their swimsuit edition and 15.8% were about a larger aspect of sports (i.e. ticket prices and fans).
There are some efforts being made to call more attention to women’s sports. Last fall ESPN launched ESPNW, a website targeting female sports fans. While I appreciate the effort to attract more attention, it raises the possibility that separating this segment of the sports world will continue to marginalize women’s sports, accepting that it will always attract to a smaller segment of the population. While it does cover men’s sports as well, claiming that it’s emphasis is on women’s sports fans and athletes, not women’s sports, it is clear that the greater attention given to women’s sports is one of the website’s principal motivations.
But segregating female sports fans makes it difficult to incorporate women’s sports into mediums with broader audiences like ESPN’s SportsCenter. Even our website, which seeks to publicize sports with inadequate coverage, provides its own section solely for the discussion of women’s sports. How will people who don’t care about women’s sports be enticed to learn more if it’s not incorporated into what they would already look at?
A study was released last year by a professor at USC that examined the number of women highlight footage that was aired on three local affiliates in LA and on SportsCenter at 11 p.m. from 1989 to 2009. The first two studies revealed that there was about 5% of coverage. Although, the number ticked up to 8.7% in 1999, the most recent data collected from 2009 revealed that ESPN had women’s sports making up only 1.4% of its SportsCenter coverage.
To me, incorporating women’s sports footage on highlight clip shows like SportsCenter would be the easiest way to expand coverage and appreciation of women’s sports, opening it up to a wider male sports centered audience.
Furthermore, all of the columnists for ESPNW are females, and while they do stay away from gossip or hard line feminine positions, adding masculine commentators would help to broaden appeal.
Also, I feel as though ESPNW will have to stay away from fluff pieces even more than other sports publications as well as refrain from statements like the one made by the Vice President of ESPNW Laura Gentile, who states ESPNW is “where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure”. As a female sports fan, I can say that I truly don’t care about either of those things. The best way for anyone to show legitimacy is by focusing on technical analysis which proves that the writer actually knows about the sport he or she is covering.
The good news is, by allotting a space for female sports, situations like this can be avoided. On Memorial Day Weekend, a match between the New York Liberty and the Chinese national team drew a crowd of a little over 3,000. How many reporters were on Press Row? One. The only other media personnel along with the journalist writing the story, Mark McGuire, were one TV cameraman and a videographer for the Chinese national team.
Despite the unequal space allotted for female sports, women are fairly well represented on media sports staff. On the Washington Post “two of the five sports columnists are women, two of the four daytime editors are women and about a third of the full-time reporters are women”. So it is partly women who are choosing to report on male sports. This would be consistent with a study done by the Post that shows that women readers are more interested in men’s sports than women’s sports.
How do you think women’s sports could be better represented in the media? Should it be separated into its own niche? Or is there a way to integrate it into the broader media and attract viewership?
June 8 2011
Did you know that 40% of UFC fans are women? Yeah, neither did I.
It’s no secret that the UFC is one of the most popular sports for the 18-34 demographic. It drew 9.3 million “buys” in 2010 and according to a report by Bloomberg TV had better ratings than the NFL, NHL and NCAA in 2009. What may be the secret is that many of these viewers are women.
Though the data behind this figure is not readily available, clearly women make up a surprisingly large percentage of viewers. Other reports speculate that if the number is not at 40% yet, a 60-40 split is inevitable.
However, UFC President Dana White has explicitly said that the UFC is not for women. In a 2007 interview with the Baltimore Sun, he said: “It’s for males 18 to 34. If women watch, that’s just gravy for us, that’s beautiful . . . But to go out and market toward women would be very expensive and not make much sense.”
Though the UFC does not market towards women, it doesn’t hesitate to objectify them. Just Google UFC women and you can immediately see women wearing next to nothing – or watch this interview of Quinton Jackson “air motorboating” the female reporter’s chest.
But regardless of the way in which the UFC chooses to portray women in its programming, women still seem to be a major component of UFC fandom.
This article by the Vancouver Sun gave some striking examples of unconventional UFC fans:
Farrell, a 35-year-old credit analyst, says her entire circle of close female friends follows the sport — one that first attracted her six years ago, when she began to get bored with boxing. She doesn’t have that complaint with UFC, which she passionately defends. […]
In some households, however, UFC is becoming a family affair. Journalist Hunt said it’s no longer unusual for her to see couples, and even mothers and children, enjoying UFC together.
Whatever the reason behind women’s appreciation of the sport, there is a clear disconnect between the viewers and UFC’s marketing. On the other hand, it hasn’t seemed to stop the growing female audience.
June 6 2011
In still more disturbing news regarding women’s sports clothing, the Iranian women’s soccer team has been banned from the second round of the 2012 Olympic qualifiers against Jordan on Friday due to the prohibition against wearing hijabs (traditional Islamic head coverings) during the competition.
The FIFA women’s association prohibits athletes from wearing clothing that covers their neck and ears. Although FIFA had held negotiations to make changes to the uniforms and alleviate the problem, on Friday Iran was prohibited from play and will probably be excluded from the 2012 Olympics.
In Iran, a Shiite country, much of the outrage is falling on the specific FIFA official who prohibited the team from playing, awarding Jordan a 3-0 victory.
The FIFA official was Bahraini. The current unrest in Bahrain, a country populated largely by Shiites but ruled by Sunnis, is bringing political tension to the situation. The Times of India noted: “Iran has been a vocal critic of the Sunni Muslim Bahraini monarchy’s violent crackdown on democracy protestors from the Shi’ite majority in recent months”. (It is utterly ironic for the Iranian government to siphon this controversy through the lens of pro-democracy sentiment given its own political history.)
FIFA’s reasoning for barring traditional Islamic dress is that “Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.”
For months, FIFA has been well aware of the situation and the Iranian team had played the first round of the Olympic qualifiers in their modified garb. Significantly, Iran seemed to have a good chance of representing Asia in next year’s Olympics, as they crushed Palestine in the opener 4-0, beat Bahrain 2-0 and held Jordan to a 1-1 tie. FIFA has yet to respond to the controversy, but it seems that despite the rules, it will be impossible to truly remove politics from decision making.
May 31 2011
Maya Moore joined the ranks of Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter and Dwayne Wade, becoming the first female player to be signed by the Jordan Brand. According to reports, her contract is expected to be somewhere between three and four million dollars.
Despite the fact that women are the leading consumers of products and services in numerous industries, in the world of basketball, women have been a largely untapped market for athletic goods.
The Sports Agent Blog noted that the WNBA seems to be far behind other women’s sports, with NASCAR and tennis capitalizing on popular women athletes for advertising campaigns.
According to Forbes list of Highest-Paid Female Athletes in 2010, Maria Sharapova tops the list with almost $24.5 million dollars, earning endorsement deals with Nike, Sony and Pepsi. NASCAR’s Danica Patrick has landed 10 personal sponsorship deals, including the numerous scandalous GoDaddy.com advertisements and puts her at number four on the list.
There is no denying that Sharapova and Patrick capitalized on their physical attributes which appeal to men as much as women. But things may be changing. The WTA just launched a new ad campaign which could serve as a model for other women’s sports. Steering away from marketing sex appeal, it instead focuses on strength and athleticism, featuring athletes sweating (gasp!) and making tough shots.
Here’s a video of their first ad:
Though the Jordan Brand hasn’t announced the specifics of Moore’s deal yet, a successful campaign could pave the way for the signing and commercializing of more female basketball athletes with a focus on skills instead of sex.
May 25 2011
Mia Hamm may be the only female soccer player most of the people of my generation can name. Clearly woman’s soccer needs some serious remodeling.
After the Women’s Professional Soccer’s inaugural season in 2009, attendance dropped dramatically. While in 2009 the average weekly attendance averaged 4,493, the following year weekly attendance fell to 3,642.
At the end of June the Women’s World Cup will begin in Germany. The question will undoubtedly come up as to the waning popularity of U.S. soccer as the viewing numbers are monitored.
An article on ESPN poses a solution to the dwindling audience and interest in American female soccer: regionalization.
The proposal of a regional conference structure similar to that of many other mainstream sports will help reduce travel costs as well as create local rivalries.
Whether or not this would help spark a match under the struggling industry is hard to say. But it is clear that there needs to be some major structural reorganization yet again if the sport has a chance of success in the U.S. market.
May 19 2011
A few weeks ago, The Other Sports posted about a new rule in Badminton that forces all female players to wear skirts. The Badminton World Federation claimed the requirement would raise the profile of women in the sport.
The regulation has sparked a lot of controversy both inside and outside of the badminton community. The rule was intended to begin on May 1, but it has been pushed back to begin in June, at the Singapore Open for “members to fully understand the reasons behind the new rule.”
Clearly, forcing female athletes to wear skirts is part of a troubling trend to promote female athletes based on appearance instead of athleticism. But I don’t believe this is the crux of the problem.
The BWF has no female representatives on its executive board.
The Badminton Board’s ability to make decisions related to the appearance of its female athletes without having a single woman on their board is the real issue.
Of course, the BWF is not the only sports organization that has zero or little female representation as women are significantly underrepresented at higher levels in virtually all sports organizations. So when rules coming out of these organizations pertain to women exclusively, it is wrong.
The Sydney Scoreboard is a website that analyzes the representation of women as Directors, Chairs and Chief Executives of National Sport Organizations globally. Though its research is not yet complete, there is a notable lack of female leadership throughout sports organizations.
This absence of female decision makers in badminton should lead to the ultimate rejection of the skirts-only rule and may result in the inclusion of a female voice at the higher levels of the sport. Some hope for a rule similar to that of the Olympic Committee, which requires at least 20% of women on their boards.
With that said, I still believe much of the efforts of the BWF towards equality of the men and women’s badminton in general is something to be applauded and used as a model for other sports. The BWF has raised the profile of women badminton players as they have offered equal prize money for both genders and standardized the 21-point rally system.
However, until females have representation in the BWF, I see no reason for the BWF to dictate clothing regulations – unless the members of the executive board want to try on a skirt.
May 18 2011
Welcome to On Women’s Sports! Here I’ll be covering events and issues as they arise in the world of women’s athletics, ranging from the Women’s World Cup to the enforcement of skirt wearing in badminton competitions. I will also share my perspective on issues that pertain to female athletes, exploring issues both common and distinct throughout different sports and hopefully sparking debate and dialogue. Since to most of the mainstream media women’s sports ARE “other sports”, I hope to create a platform to discuss issues ignored by most writers.