Musing on Borkowski, fan contributions, and narratives

Although there are points on which we don’t agree, I do think that Shek Borkowski writes a good, thought-provoking blog. I went to his site to find a link to his 9/16 entry, found that he had written more in the meantime, and got caught up in reading the more recent entries. So here is a small plug for his site, and he is on Twitter @shekborkowski.

Last week, Borkowski posted this entry on WPS and the German Bundesliga. Is less of a “Germany is better, nya!” and more of an explanation as to what advantages players have in the German setup, despite the potential in the US. Rather than putting the reader on the defensive by saying “Germany is superior and the US will fail,” Borkowski lays out his points and foregrounds his concern: “I have a vested interest in seeing women’s professional football succeed in the US but I am worried.” After the comparison, he continues, “Today and tomorrow, WPS represents the only real, long term chance American women’s football has in staying competitive internationally.”

Then:

In America, we the fans of women’s football, participants, administrators, referees and coaches are the only asset WPS owners have. […]

Nothing else. Without us, the fans, unlike in European countries where women’s football is subsidized, they are doomed. […]

All of us involved in women’s football always can find reasons not to attend games, but 2011 is the year of no excuses.

We must do all we can to support WPS, we can’t count on baseball or basketball fans to support the league, we must do it.

This morning, my co-writer reminded me of the lesson that I grew up with, as a Catholic, that there are basically two ways to contribute to an organization or cause. One way is monetarily. You put your money where your mouth is. Buy the ticket, go to the game. I am the sort of fan that would much rather buy a ticket to a WPS game than a USWNT game. The league adds another layer to development, where players that aren’t crowned in NCAA are getting the opportunity to show on home soil that not every American player peaks in that limited four-year time-span. The league is where the US pool can diversify and build both talent and consistency, which is admittedly lacking at the W-League/WPSL level. There needs to be recognition that just because the USWNT no longer formally has months of residence and frequent friendlies doesn’t mean that the USWNT player pool hasn’t been in a residency, playing competitive international-level games April through September. Supporting WPS goes a long way towards supporting our national team, so you can have Natasha Kais, Hope Solos, and Abby Wambachs in the future, after those names have retired.

The other way of supporting is through service. Time and energy. Volunteering for those jobs and positions that the teams and league can’t afford to spend money on. Becoming active in keeping this league. Speaking as a monetarily-challenged (read: poor) grad student with a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to my nearest WPS teams, my opportunities to be involved with traditional volunteer positions seem limited. My co-writer, who is about 600 miles from her nearest WPS team, has even more limited options–but that doesn’t stop her, or me, from doing what we can. We have the knowledge and means to talk about the league, teams, and players in various types of media. So we do. We write and podcast, and we’re gradually stretching to see what more we can do and add.

Additionally, I do go to games when I can. I am fortunate to have returned to a part of the East Coast where I have relatively easy access to US women’s soccer at all levels. I did not go to the WPS playoff game between Philadelphia and Washington, but that was because I was already locked into plans to go to the Boston College-Rutgers game, where a number of future professionals and internationals were playing. I feel a little guilty about missing that WPS game, because I know from living in St. Louis that any WPS game could be the last. But then, instead of a WPS game, I was at an NCAA women’s soccer game, not at home on the couch playing video games.

Hope Solo is half-right about statistics. There are intangibles that matter. If you can’t affect the numbers, there are other things you can be doing. One of the intangibles that keeps sport alive and relevant is story. If you know the history, if you know what inspires you to care about the sport, you can pass that on to share or strengthen the same interest within others. (For instance, I don’t care if one keeper has a better statistical average against a team. I care that the other keeper earned the starting position over time and has dedicated her performance in this tournament to a recently deceased relative.) You know how Our Game Magazine is trying to drum up subscribers? They have some of the stories that the mainstream media isn’t hooked into. When you talk someone into going to a game or following a team or player, you have those stories, too.

To come back to Borkowski, he’s right. It’s packaging as much as product. Sometimes it’s packaging more than product. The stories are part of the packaging. Mechelle Voepel, a women’s basketball journalist, grasps and executes that well–she draws me in when I’d just as soon ignore basketball altogether. When you can describe why someone could care instead of just telling them that they should, you can sell. Teach a man to fish, and all that. Our experiences as fans are just as much a part of building the league and interest in the league as anything the leagues or teams are doing.

But of course, in order to share those experiences and stories, we have to have them, first.

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7 Responses to Musing on Borkowski, fan contributions, and narratives

  1. Ethan says:

    Wow, wow, holy crap, etc etc, upholsterygeist. (I think that covers all of the hyperbole?)

    Rather than clog up your comments box with my immediate thoughts about this article, I’ll have to be one of those blogging jerks that says “I’m gonna have lots more to say about this on my blog.” Well, I will.

    But: I wrote an article some years ago (since lost to the ethers) exploring my hypothesis that the essence of what makes a sports fan a sports fan boils down to three factors: Names, Narrative, and No Tomorrow. One could say “Numbers” but that’s really part of Narrative, like “A-Rod is trying to hit his 600th home run” or “A-Rod hasn’t scored a goal since August and we’re still 0-0 in ET in the WPS playoffs.”

    Anyway, wow, holy crap, wow, thanks for writing this, wow.

    Oh yeah, and wow. Holy crap.

    • vRm says:

      Thank you! And thanks for the two follow-ups at your blog. This is one of those things that I love to talk about and read about. There are some good academic articles on these factors, but I love bringing it outside of the academy into the real world. Definitely makes it more relevant.

  2. Pingback: Why Women’s Professional Soccer Matters « Mister Women's Sports

  3. Pingback: Names, Narrative, and No Tomorrow, Revisited « Mister Women's Sports

  4. woso95 says:

    Oh boy, you hit the sweet spot – narratives are what always get me into things (women’s soccer obviously among them), and when I drift away due to leagues failing or world cup meltdowns or whatever, narratives always bring me back.

    Great example you allude to: the 2007 WWC Solo affair. So many converging stories there: Solo finally on top, Scurry fading but not gone, coach Ryan (…), Abby assuming the role of *the* US striker (for good or ill), first WWC since the retirement of the ’91ers, the Cup back in China (for real this time), etc. It’s like Greek theater.

    Back to the main point – how do we ensure the narrative continues – I don’t get a lot of chances in Seattle to support the USWNT or WPS. I had seriously decided to buy some Athletica home game tickets when news broke of their troubles, but they of course collapsed just days later. I’ve got merchandise, but that’s pennies to the league.

    But this got me thinking about how this need to support WPS might converge with another problem the league has: lack of broadcasts. For many games, there’s no whole-game video coverage at all. I mean, the highlights we get are much better than nothing, but still, they could be better. So, as unrealistic as this may be, maybe the league some day can come up with something like the college model: subscription to games, or to teams, or the whole league for a season.

    Of course, since we’re paying for it, then we’re in a loop of expecting more, which leads to higher costs, and so higher prices, and then higher expectations, etc. Anyone know what the NFL or MLB packages run?

    But if I can’t make it to any live games, this would not only put coin in the league coffer, but give me more of the games in return. And, hopefully, the story of women’s soccer in this country would not only continue, but be compelling to more and more people.

    • vRm says:

      Good points, as usual! I wonder if there is something that people who want to support the league can do if they aren’t anywhere near a team. I’ve never needed to look into that, since I’ve been fortunate to be near a team or three the past couple of years. I really wish the league could come up with something like the subscription model, since this isn’t just about supporting the league–it’s about supporting the teams. There is no way I can make it to an FC Gold Pride home game, but as a fan of FC Gold Pride, I want to see them play at home. And I want them to continue to exist, so this works even better if I am presuming that my team (the home team) is getting my money. While I appreciate the motivation behind buying a ticket even if you can’t get your butt in the seat, there *have* been complaints that attendance numbers are inflated by ticket sales to people that aren’t actually coming to games. Sometimes it seems as though there isn’t any way to win.

      • woso95 says:

        That was my first thought after “damn, I’ve got a buy some tickets before it’s too late”: that the lack of fans actually in the seats would be almost as bad as the lack of money coming in. Being naturally cynical, I worried that people who did go would see a lot of empty seats – not empty sections, but empty seats right in the should-be occupied areas; and/or that the teams/league would be accused of inflating tickets sale numbers. Dumb to even worry about that, but it all became moot anyway.

        And, nagging my practical side: the annoyance at giving and getting nothing tangible in return. No game to watch, not even a shirt to wear, nothing but a vague hope that I am supporting it long enough that some day I *could* go to a game.

        I know many fans who hate thinking of the WPS as a cause, but until it’s found it’s own working business model (how many teams? Big cities or small? Downtown or suburbs? Regional conferences or all-national? etc etc) it really *has* to be. I don’t feel the need to support the NFL or MLB in any way, because they don’t need me – I can completely ignore the whole thing for years, and they’ll still be there later. WPS doesn’t have that luxury. Given the attendance numbers, I think they need more than the relatively few fans who show up to each game. I think those ex-pats exist (besides me, that is), but there’s nothing to give those fans. Yet.

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