Soccer….Family Style

Can Women’s Soccer Survive is the Wrong Question

Twitter: the fastest way to get me from sleeping to blogging at 2 AM. @FromaLeftWing responded to Sport’s Illustrated writer Grant Wahl‘s tweet about @NoahEDavis‘ article “Can Women’s Soccer Survive in America?” (which by the way, was published by @Awl). Davis writes a decent article comparing the 1999 Chastain sports bra flash moment and this year’s Donovan miracle last minute goal and the impact those moments had on US Soccer for the men’s and women’s games. He talks about how the 1999 women’s team was a standout team, and that while the men’s game has improved over the years in between those moments, the women’s game hasn’t, and that’s why the women’s game is faltering in the US.

The tweet spree that went back and forth about Wahl’s and mass media’s reporting of women’s soccer and WPS viability was just getting interesting when I realized I had more to say on the subject than 140 characters at a time. I was in the stadium, tackling the guy next to me, at both moments, and I as the representative old school US Soccer fan, here’s my response, Twitterverse, if you have the attention span for paragraphs.

Davis talks about the popularity of the 1999 USWNT, and calls out Mia Hamm as the Greatest Player of All Time, and quotes Scott French saying “There was a perception in 1999 and 2000 that women’s soccer was more popular than men’s soccer, but it was never true” when actually, it was true, for a moment in time. American sports fans like to win. And anyone who was with us in France in 1998 knows, it wasn’t the USMNT that was making it happen. Americans were fascinated by the USWNT that summer because they were winning, and they made it really exciting to watch. It was captivating, and you could see ordinary Americans really enjoying coming to soccer games. It wasn’t just the ultra fans, it was the soccer moms and their minivans. For that one summer, Women’s Soccer was more popular because the games were fun, we were winning, and it was better marketed.

Yes, marketed. And Davis proves it. Because Hamm may have had better marketing, but wasn’t the best player ever, Kristine Lilly was, is, and will always be (at least until my 8 year old daughter turns pro). Lilly has more goals, more caps, but not as successful marketing. But I’ll tell you this: I am a passionate soccer fan. My cat was named Mia, but my daughter’s middle name in Lilly. Marketing can’t buy that.

Davis is correct, the USMNT has shown dramatic, if not linear, improvement over the past decade, while the international women’s game has caught the US women. We knew this would happen, because you couldn’t help but sit in the stadiums in 1999 and watch USWNT dominate and think, in 10 years, the rest of the world will catch up with us and then we’ll see what women’s soccer is made of in the country. And here we are, competitive to a fault. Now Americans assume that USWNT will qualify for the World Cup, and we’re shocked when they don’t with ease.

I think the lack of this team’s popularity has more to do with a lack of marketing and a misdirection in the management of the WPS league. Hopefully the marketing will pick up with next summer’s Women’s World Cup (Nike? Wheaties? Who wants to be a hero?) but the WPS needs to take a serious look at where they’re putting their teams, because if they were thinking, they’d skip Dallas and LA and stick one right here in Des Moines.

Have you finished laughing yet? Ready to hear my point? Go get a drink of water….I’ll wait.

Here’s why: the East Coast and West Coast are full. They have NFL, NBA, MLS, NHL, and a million other things to do. Where’s the best attendance in the PDL? What’s that? Omigosh! It’s Des Moines?! I had no idea! Iowa also has a proud history of supporting women’s athletics, and (at least until a few years ago) it has the highest percentage of per capita youth soccer participation in the US. But most importantly, you’re not competing for sporting dollars against every other sports team in the country. Build WPS where it has the best chance to grow; and putting it on the coasts is like trying to grow your full sun flower garden under a rain forest canopy. Give these women a little sunlight and breathing room.

Finally, I’d like to respond to Davis’ snarky parting shot, where he ends with the sad little send off, reflecting, if there was another Brandi Chastain moment, “who would be watching?” The American Outlaws Des Moines chapter sent more members to watch the USWNT do or die qualifier in Chicago than we did to the USMNT game a few months prior, and the only female there was my daughter. American soccer ultra fans are ready to support the women’s team, probably not at the level of USMNT yet, but I think we should be prepared for an outpouring of support from those of us young fans who are now raising daughters. But do not mistake us for the mass media favorite “soccer mom.”

Do not DARE call me a soccer mom, because while I do parent a soccer player, I am a mother who is obsessed with soccer. I do not drive a minivan, and my daughter missed her last game of the season because we were in South Africa watching the World Cup. Do not expect to be successful marketing to the soccer moms, who lovingly support their children but could not explain the offside rule. Market to us, the families who love soccer, and want our daughters growing up with the same athletic dreams as their brothers. Market to the women who can tell you where they were when Chastain whipped off her jersey, and Donovan scored. I can tell you what it feels like to have you five month pregnant belly flip a full 360 when hit with the wall of sound created by a stadium full of Koreans chanting in unison, and what it feels like to have morning sickness at the PDL Referee fitness test, and I await the day when people mean me when they say “soccer mom.”  I am not alone. There are women (and men) in this country that are watching US Women’s Soccer, as long as there’s someone savvy enough there to sell it to them.

Not Jewish Enough, Or Too Jewish
December 4, 2010, 2:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Life often offers up some interesting juxtapositions. I’ve spent the last 36 hours thinking why people in the soccer world were worried about me traveling to Qatar as a Jewish soccer fan. Obviously, I’m not quiet about my Jewish identity, but it’s hardly stamped on my passport. My two blonde children and blonde husband are hardly screaming out “Tribe”! to anyone.

Case in point: I went to synagogue tonight to celebrate Hanukkah with my family. As services ended, we gathered in the social hall for dinner and discussion. An older gentleman was there and purposefully introduced himself to me. “Hi, I’m Mr. Jewish Sounding Name. And you are?” “Tanya, Tanya Keith. Nice to meet you.” He started sputtering, “Keefe?” “NoKeith K E I T H” I said, a little annoyed. Then he did it: “Keith!? Well that’s not a Jewish sounding name!” I will save my commentary on how Jews shoot themselves in the foot with these comments all the time for another blog, but suffice it to say, I let him know that was inappropriate  to say and left without further discussion.

So here I am, caught between two worlds. With some close minded people in the synagogue, I’m not Jewish enough. In the soccer community, I’m too Jewish to be comfortable in Qatar. I think in both instances, my response it, I’m just as Jewish and as big a soccer fan as I need to be. If you don’t think I belong, that’s for you to work out….on your own time. So I hope you meant what you said about bringing Middle East cultures together, Qatar bidding committee. Because I may miss Shabbat services, but I have a 16 year streak of World Cups that I’m in no mood to break.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
December 3, 2010, 4:35 am
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, US Soccer

You probably think this is going to be a rant about bribes in FIFA. Wrong. Made you look. Sucker!

This is about 22 year old Tanya. It’s about a girl who was driving home from the 1994 World Cup in Chicago, talking non-stop to her boyfriend about the amazing experience they’d just had and the pact they made. It was a pact to go to every World Cup, no matter where it was. We would let soccer show us the world. Places we’d never thinking of going to for fun, but places that would teach us about who we are.

In 1994, I was just starting to grasp what moving to Iowa from northern New Jersey had done for me. When you live somewhere totally different from your home environment, it changes the way you see yourself and the world around you. You realize what you took for granted as “what everyone does” and you learn about the things that really do connect us as people. That goes for travel too.

It was terrifying to go to Korea in 2002. I was four and a half months pregnant with my first child and had a head full of what ifs. What if we need medical attention and can’t communicate what we need? What if there’s a crush at the stadium? What if I eat something I’m not supposed to because I not only don’t speak the language, I can’t even sound out the characters? It was really scary.

South Africa had other worries. Would they be ready in time? How bad is the security? Will we be safe? On the streets? In the stadiums? Should we bring our kids and worry about them in questionably secure areas, or leave them in the states and worry that we will never see them again?

I’m not going to say that I’m not nervous, or even dreading going to Qatar. But I am going to say that there’s been several universal themes through all 5 cups I’ve witnessed.

  • No host wants fans to have a bad experience.
  • FIFA won’t let the tournament go on if there are serious security concerns.
  • People are more the same around the world than they are different.
  • For the most part, the differences are beautiful.
  • The good will outweigh the bad.

So we’ll see. I’ve watched the Qatar presentation to FIFA. They make some provocative promises. Soccer stadiums getting built modularly and then torn down post tournament, so they can be packed and shipped to a developing nation is pretty cool. The industrial designer in me really wants to see that. Stadiums going out into the world is a good thing, if they can pull it off.

This is it. Qatar is what I wanted. I wanted to see parts of the world that I would never consider going to without a World Cup there. So I’ll give Qatar a chance. I’ll step out of my comfort zone and go to the Middle East and watch some soccer in 2022. 22 year old Tanya would be appalled if I didn’t.

Qatar? You Must Be Joking.
December 3, 2010, 4:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I am not happy. And when Mama ain’t happy…..we must be going to Qatar.

I was so excited for the announcement from FIFA this morning. I thought that the earning potential for the US hosting would be a slam dunk. Then I woke up hearing my son getting up. My son that my husband was supposed to take so I could start writing this post in the morning. Note to self: three year olds do NOT understand the gravity of FIFA Decision Day. So I’m juggling getting him ready, me ready, cursing ESPN for talking about basketball all morning, and waiting. And waiting. FIFA started 40 minutes late. Would’ve helped me to know that ahead of time, so I could have dropped him off and had some peace.

So I finally gave up waiting for FIFA when? About 7 minutes before they announced. I was less than two miles from my house and I saw that Russia got 2018 on Twitter and I called my fellow Des Moines American Outlaw Corey so I could get audio and not be alone in my car with a three year old when I heard. So I heard it, through the phone, and didn’t really believe it until I heard Corey’s expletive commentary. Qatar. Really.

All I know about Qatar is from one of my soccer travel buddies, Brock. You’ve seen him on TV. He’s one of those guys that wear the 9/11 Eagle shirts. We had a contest in South Africa to see who could score more media whore points. Trust me, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably seen him. His day job is building the Doha Airport. And he reports via Facebook about the project and the culture. It’s nothing revolutionary. Mostly his reports were about how bazaar it is to need a permit for alcohol.

I’m trying to tell myself that I’ll be 50 and won’t care as much about drinking. But I think that’s a bunch of crap, of course I’ll still care about drinking. And about being a woman with rights. And a Jew. It wasn’t as much fun going to games in Nuremberg. It was a little creepy, and I have a feeling that I’ll be watching my back and not ever really comfortable. When we flew through Dubai on the way to South Africa, we took a cab around the city…a ladies cab. They have separate cabs that women can go in. I think Qatar is going to be a big cultural shift for most soccer fans.

Once I got off the phone with Corey, I called Chad, another Des Moines soccer fan that typically has some good analysis. He started rattling off stats to me: Qatar is 4416 square miles. Think about that number. See if this helps: Iowa is 56276 square miles. Connecticut is 5543 square miles. The 2nd largest city in Qatar is SMALLER than the Des Moines metro area.

I think it’s irresponsible to build infrastructure to support a World Cup in a country that size. I understand that they’ll pack up stadiums and ship them around the world, but what about the hotels? After sleeping in many, many Korean “love hotels,” it scares me to think what will be called into housing in Qatar.

And air conditioning a field? I believe that technology exists, but do we have any business using it for something like this in an age when we should be cutting energy consumption?  I can’t see how that’s going to be a green thing…air conditioning the outdoors.

Finally, this is personal for me. Qatar will, G-d willing, be my 8th consecutive men’s World Cup. Not going is not an option. The expense comparison for England/USA and Russia/Qatar is huge. There goes the college fund. People were joking with me today about inspiring my children to play in 2022/23 and 2026/27. I’m going to have to, because those kids are going to need some serious scholarship money.


Go USA Bid!
December 2, 2010, 3:37 am
Filed under: FIFA, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the bidding process until today. I have a store to run and kids to raise. And I figured it was a done deal…who could turn down the financial benefits of the US hosting the World Cup? I can’t say I was too happy about it. I go to the World Cup to see the world, not a bunch of stadiums I already go to. I was grumbling about how lame it would be…traveling around in a rented RV or something.

Then today people started talking about Qatar possibly having the votes, and my US Soccer pride kicked in as fast as you can say “Do they even serve alcohol in Qatar?” FIFA, are we really going to say, in the age of global warming, that it’s OK to air condition entire fields and fan viewing areas? A World Cup in the middle of a dry dessert….OK, it’s funny to say that now, but trust me, no one actually wants to do that. And I know this is on a personal note, but Qatar hosting means I’ll hear years of Brock Kwiatkowsky calling it “Cutter.” You’ll have to trust me, FIFA. The answer to the Qatar question is “seek happiness elsewhere.”

The US should host the World Cup. I am a soccer fan because the cup was here in 1994. I had been to one game in 1993 and then slammed right into the 1994 World Cup games in Chicago. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and I never wanted to miss another World Cup, and so far, I haven’t. I pray that in the next 12 years, America figures out that soccer is the greatest sport in the world, and we won’t need hosting to convert the masses, but just in case…let the US host and I’ll gladly spend all summer converting ordinary Americans into Ultra Fans.

We have huge stadiums that will sell out. We have the hotels. Not the “Love Hotels” like in Korea…real hotels in every price range. And we have lots and lots of people who want to see World Cup soccer. Remember South Africa? I was looking forward to a nice, intimate group of Americans, but noooo….we were the second highest attended national after South Africa. Those people and many, many more will flood stadiums across the US.

It will be epic. Americans will embrace soccer wholeheartedly. Brad Janovich will no longer be so misunderstood. US Soccer will have to institute a ticketing ranking system to ensure that the people who have followed them all over the world for the previous 28 years will be guaranteed tickets (you guys taking notes on this?) In short, it will be what we soccer fans have waited for, soccer hitting the tipping point in America’s mainstream.

So now, six and a half hours from the decision. I’m going to try (finally) to get some sleep. But I’ll have dreams of Sepp Blatter announcing “and in 2022, the FIFA World Cup goes to……the United States of America. GO USA BID.

%d bloggers like this: