CanWNT Success Creates Chance For MLS To Unite GendersThe Olympics showed the strength of women’s soccer, now MLS needs to build on it for the benefit of both genders
by Henrik Lonne | Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Olympics are over and it was yet another fix for the soccer junkie. Surprisingly to me it was the women’s tournament that ended up with most my attention, and seemingly many others. I’ve never paid much attention to women’s soccer, but watching the semifinal between Canada and the United States, I saw energy, a passion and a fight, that made me regret not watching the women’s version of the sport before.
What is interesting is also the attention being shown to women’s soccer around the world as a result of this past Olympics. It seems clear that American and Canadian sports fans probably are the biggest supporters of women’s soccer in the world. I can’t imagine anywhere else, where the women’s soccer team would headline in the way that they did in the US and Canada. Sometimes it even seems as if the women’s national teams are more popular among the casual sports fans, than the men’s national teams. I think this is because Americans and Canadians like winners. Obviously, everyone likes winners, but in the sports that Americans and Canadians care most about, they are in the world elite. As such the casual sports fan has an easier time identifying with the women’s teams as they go further in tournaments and fight for titles, than with the men’s teams who have achieved much less.
The United States won the gold medal, but the Canadian women are indeed winners too. They defied expectations, inspired passion and drew attention from the general public. They created a momentum, which will hopefully make the Women’s World Cup 2015 in Canada a resounding success and propel women’s soccer even further in the country.
But that is in three years. What is the future of women’s soccer in North America between tournaments?
Domestic soccer, regardless of gender, has plenty of room to grow in the US and Canada and the unrivaled popularity of the women’s game should be used to grow both. Women’s national team soccer has managed to get into the mainstream more, but investors still seem more intent to invest in the men’s game. From my perspective, an increased cooperation would help both. The women’s attention could rub off onto the men and the trust MLS has gained among investors could be used to ensure long-term investment in women’s soccer.
In Canada the prime example are the Vancouver Whitecaps, which already fields a women’s team. Three of the players that won bronze – Robyn Gayle, Kaylyn Kyle and Desiree Scott – play for the Whitecaps. One would expect the Whitecaps front office give their girls a deserved hero’s welcome and an honor them at a Caps MLS game.
Men and women’s domestic soccer in Canada and America are fighting in a crowded marketplace against not only other sports, but also foreign soccer. Domestic soccer will have a much brighter future if men and women stand together. According to Duane Rollins the interest of the Canadian MLS teams in professional women’s soccer is limited, and that really is a shame. With Canada hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in three years, this would have not only have helped increase the chances of Canadian success, but it would also allow the teams to share the attention and publicity generated by the tournament.
MLS survived because they had owners that believed in them for a long time. The popularity and current buzz around women’s soccer shows the potential if they too can have decent ownership that have long-term faith and vision in the women’s soccer project. If MLS supports a women’s league it will help increase the popularity of soccer across North America. And if MLS has a visible involvement in it, it will raise Don Garber’s proverbial water level of the sport and also increase the number of boats docked at MLS headquarters.
Accordingly MLS teams, not only the Canadian ones, should find allies in women’s soccer. Not necessarily direct ownership, but a partnership, where facilities, staff and contacts are shared, which will allow the women’s teams to be more financially viable in the short term and allow MLS teams to attach their brands to the popularity of the two North American women’s national teams and their players. Hopefully all of these joint efforts would grow domestic soccer for both men and women and ensure opportunities for boys and girls across the continent to live out their dream of playing and being a fan of soccer.