In the Book, with Becky Sauerbrunn, Vol. II
Editor’s Note: Throughout the season, Captain Becky Sauerbrunn will check in with her thoughts on various subjects. Last week the New York Times published an article that brought about strong reactions from fans and players of the NWSL. Meg Linehan of Bright and Select interviewed Becky for an article that responded to the New York Times. Linehan’s article, which can be read here, serves as the inspiration for today’s post.
“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” - Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
It all comes down to perspective. My computer’s dictionary states that perspective is the ‘true understanding of the relative importance of things.” Who, in their right mind, can honestly claim to know the relative importance of things? I think it’s impossible, you’re either too close or too far away to a situation to really grasp its significance and effect on the world. I do, however, think there are ways to close that gap between being too involved and too disconnected. Asimov gives us a hand when he writes that it takes someone holding up a mirror to really see your face.
Many of you may have read the New York Times article titled “Women’s Soccer League Tries to Connect and Survive.” Many of you may not know that the original title had a ‘desperate’ thrown in at the beginning of it. Is the NWSL desperate? There have been two failed professional leagues before the NWSL, both of which folded before their fourth year. Aside from Portland and maybe one or two others, attendance wasn’t as high as hoped for. Many players do make the league minimum of $6,000. It’s true, all of it. Sounds pretty dismal.
Let’s use the MLS as the mirror. The MLS struggled in its early years. Teams folded and millions of dollars were lost. Many teams played in football stadiums where an engaging atmosphere was virtually impossible to create. 20,000 fans is a great turnout. 20,000 fans in a cavernous 80,000-seat stadium is not so great, especially when ownership is paying big bucks to rent that stadium. Rumors began of the league folding. It took a billionaire, Phil Anschutz, to really keep the MLS alive. At one point he owned several franchises while shouldering significant financial losses. A lucrative deal with Adidas helped to solidify sponsorship and investor interest in the league. And, from there, the league grew into what it is today.
Although we may not have a multi-billionaire in our ranks, we do have invested ownership groups and the backing of the US Soccer Federation. Many teams don’t turn a profit so the financial backing from these entities can be seen as charitable. So when you look at a $6,000 league minimum you have to then wonder what the alternative is. No league at all? That would be terrible.
The teams not paired with MLS franchises play at universities and smaller-capacity venues. 3,100 people at a venue with a max capacity of 3,200 people feels pretty darn full. And the atmosphere that gets created from that packed, rowdy crowd is what draws people to games and keeps them coming back for more. We sign autographs after games, chat with our fans, and we pride ourselves on being approachable and relatable. Because we are. We love the game and we clearly aren’t playing for multi-million dollar contracts. I mean, I kick a ball around a field for a living. When you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous.
When we lost to the Washington Spirit on Saturday I was crushed. It took a post-game speech from our coach, Vlatko, to put it into perspective. We can let that game define our season or we can learn from it and let it be a minor blip on our journey to a successful season. Our choice. There will always be setbacks and blips, whether you’re looking at a single game, a season, or the sustainability of a league. But it is our decision on how we view those obstacles. So we keep an eye on the now and an eye on the future. We can’t expect greatness from the get-go, especially with our history of failed leagues. Can it get better? For sure. But in order to give this league a fighting chance, we all need to have a little perspective.