Ed note: The post below is a syndicated post from Linkedin by Becky Carlson, the Head Coach of Quinnipiac Rugby. Carlson is the first female D-I NCAA Rugby Coach in the United States. Below she shares her views on Fox Soccer’s coverage of the USWNT.
The USA Women’s National Soccer Team is taking on Nigeria tonight and here I sit, writing an article. As a dedicated fan and supporter of women’s sports at all levels, I cherish any opportunity to watch Team USA. As I type, I am still wondering if I can truly label myself a fan if I am more adamant about finishing this article than watching every second of the match. However, FOX Soccer has left me no choice. During the first ten minutes of the match up tonight, the commentary by Fox Soccer’s analysts included a discussion of who is the next “face” of women’s soccer in the USA.
During this particular discussion, the comment was made that “Alex Morgan is the new face of USA Women’s Soccer” and additionally that “we haven’t had a new face of women’s soccer since Mia Hamm.” Now, aside from standing up and screaming at the television, I thought the more appropriate channel to deal with my disagreement would be through an article aimed at FOX Soccer and their commentators choice of space-filling sentences. As a fan, fully without insult to Alex Morgan as a tremendous athlete, I felt compelled to offer my analysis on why FOX Soccer is dead wrong, but also why they continually fail to see how wrong they are in the market of women’s sports. In conjunction with my opinion I felt my historical perspective could assist in understanding the shape of my argument.
As a Maryland native, I was overjoyed to return home from college in the summer of 2001 and find that the DC Freedom was included as one of the teams for the WUSA (Women’s United Soccer Association).
Soon after, I made it a goal to be at every home game because I understood that many players from the ’99 Gold Medal team would undoubtedly be sprinkled throughout the league where we would all be granted a rare opportunity to watch our favorite USA heroines match up against one another. I could hardly stand the excitement as I thought about getting to watch Mia Hamm of the D.C Freedom take shots on the legendary goalkeeper, Brianna Scurry who was then of the Atlanta Beat. I purchased my tickets and loved every second.
The following summer in 2002, I repeated this routine and despite my belief that these tickets were golden, as I stepped into RFK memorial stadium for the second season expecting even bigger crowds, 30 seconds into the match, I was surprised to see that the bottom half of the stadium was not even full. (we can delve into this in another article some day)
“How could this be?” I thought to myself. I turned to a friend of mine and said “Does this city not know that Mia Hamm is in this stadium? Mia Hamm is the face of USA Soccer, she’s legendary, she’s a spokesperson for Gatorade – she’s…”
“She’s recovering from knee surgery,” my friend said, finishing my sentence. And of course, she was correct. I looked down onto the field at Mia on the bench with not even in a substitution pinny on and suddenly, I was forced to pay attention to the new faces in the game.
Hamm was out for now, but I wanted to watch good quality soccer like everyone else at RFK, so despite the attendance, the fans that arrived to watch the Freedom were steadfast in their dedication to the players.
As I read off the roster, a gentleman next to me was trying to pronounce Abby’s last name like Wam-batch and I politely called out the correct annunciation as I eyed the field for the new additions to the roster. I can distinctly remember watching Wambach play her first season with the Freedom. She was the player that was diving for the ball and going for the header in heavy traffic around the goal posts and just an amazing young player to watch.
I remember being so impressed by Wambach’s explosive play, but it was blatantly apparent that even her points for the Freedom were not enough to overshadow Hamm’s presence. Regardless of the score, the attendance, the weather or the entire rest of the Freedom roster, like clockwork for the games earlier in the schedule, as the last 5-10 minutes of the second half approached, Hamm would emerge off the bench to warm up on the sidelines. I could hear everyone within a four row radius of my seat immediately saying things like “Oh, yes! They are putting Mia in, finally!” or “Ok, now something is going to happen with Mia in.”
As Hamm took the field, the realistic sports fan in me assumed her substitution was more to get her some post surgery minutes and to give the fans what they wanted. Once in a while during these minutes, Hamm would make a great pass with some above average play mixed in. Like everyone else, I thought Hamm was spectacular despite being at half speed. She was hands-down the crowd favorite and could do no wrong because she was indeed, the face of women’s soccer.
You see, when Mia Hamm came into the games during that season in the WUSA, you could literally feel a new life being breathed back into the stadium. People recognized her, they were comfortable with her and she was a pivotal piece of the marketing puzzle from the 1999 team. Much in the same way that Cal Ripken could get a standing O at Camden Yards anytime his name was announced. This happened long after he achieved breaking the all time games played record. Whether he was producing or not, Cal could do not wrong in Baltimore.
Keep in mind, Hamm was not only talented but she was attractive and did shampoo and Gatorade commercials by the dozens because her sponsors loved her. As new players took the field for the Freedom, fans hardly ever stayed in their seats when she appeared. Many of the diehards for women’s soccer were well aware that this was more out of historical expectation than Hamm being an offensive threat or a game changer with only one good knee.
The picture I am attempting to paint here is that all of the feelings and reactions we had for Hamm then, are many of the same we are seeing for Wambach. The difference? Well, tickets are more expensive, and social media is now part of the equation. However, one thing that remains relatively the same is that our women are still, without question, marginalized in their participation. Despite being world leaders in soccer, FOX Soccer ignored Wambach in the dialogue of marketability for Team USA. That is, until she just scored the lone goal for USA vs Nigeria. My point is proven even further but through all of this, two questions come to mind:
1. Is it possible that the analysts were simply short on commentary and made the statements as conversation pieces to fill the air? Sure, but this leads me to my second question.
2. Do these analysts have the last word on decision making of who is technically the most marketable asset for the USWNT? No. However, let’s examine the repercussions of these simple statements that are typically the ones that get people like me fired up enough to write an article or explode on social media.
FOX Soccer Analysts: In terms of your statements, I am curious as to what criteria you were speaking about when you meant the “new face of soccer”? Did you mean to reference Alex Morgan strictly because of her talent or because she is more feminine than Abby Wambach? I am just curious and yes, I went there.
When you stated that “women’s soccer has not had a face since Mia Hamm”, what exactly did you mean by that? Do you stand behind your choice even if it means that you summarily dismissed every face in the game SINCE Hamm?
If you fail to see the parallels between the Mia Hamm following and the Abby Wambach era then we as soccer fans, are at a loss with you as a leader in broadcasting.
When the USA played Sweden in the previous round to a tie, were you taking notes? Wambach took to the field with the hope and excitement of a crowd that was behind her and eagerly anticipating amazing soccer. You could hear the fans responding to her energy from my living room couch so I can only imagine what it sounded like in the stadium. This is a similar spark of emotion that Hamm instilled in the quarter-of-a-stadium crowd almost 15 years ago, despite having only one good leg to play on.
Wambach has been splashed on the cover of SI, appeared in a profile by the New York Times, was part of the latest Nike ad and so much more. Yet, how is it that Fox Soccer is suddenly in denial of of Wambach’s obvious influence in the game? The answer is simple, they aren’t unaware. In fact, they are very aware of it, just choosing not to acknowledge it because at the end of the day, dare I say it, Abby Wambach doesn’t look like Mia Hamm nor Alex Morgan. In her own right, Wambach is exciting, hard-nosed, talented and has miles worth of a success dating back to even before she was a Florida Gator under the great Becky Burleigh.
You see, the reason why your commentators made this statement is because Wambach isn’t the player you could ever stuff into a dress in order to convince her and the world that she is marketable and meaningful to the game.
Wambach doesn’t care what you think of her, she cares about the game. She demonstrated this when she took on FIFA in speaking out in the turf battle for all of women’s soccer, not just the USA.
Nothing about Wambach fits FOX Soccer’s apparent prediction of who the next face should be but based on the crowds and their reaction to her amazing performances, they have their own definitions. Oh and just for good measure, FOX, we fully recognize that you have factored in that Wambach is a publicly out female athlete. There, I said it.
Hamm will always be, without question, amazing and Morgan is exceptional but Wambach will never be either one of them in the sense that the network thinks she should be. I ask you, FOX Soccer, have you been paying attention lately as equity and advocacy are gaining ground where “no girls allowed” and “just pretend to be someone else”, isn’t cool anymore? I urge you to catch up with the times and listen to your constituency rather than clinging to old marketing habits that, by design, cater to only half the population.
You do not ask a truck to be a car and FOX Soccer somehow believes through repetition that if they tell us what we want to see that we will start to believe it is truly OUR market. Unfortunately, that’s not sports marketing, it’s propaganda. I believe these assumptions were not based solely on two analysts who simply misspoke but rather analysts that are basing their opinions on archaic network branding.
When they spoke about the new faces, perhaps FOX Soccer analysts assumed that men are the only market they are to be concerned with? On the contrary, I see fans of the USWNT right now on television that do not appear to have any one specific pattern of gender, nationality or color, but FOX seems to know better.
I wonder if it ever occurred to FOX Soccer that not all the young, female athletes or future soccer players of the world are sitting at home watching this game in their dresses and make-up. Again, taking nothing away from Morgan, your statements are assuming that we have been lacking soccer role models since Hamm’s departure and that every young child is most likely looking right through Wambach.
While I have no research to show the average demographic of the 8-14 year old female soccer fan, I would put my money on higher odds that the same constituency that adores the USA Team includes many young players who are watching the game in athletic shorts, flip flops and tees.
If you are truly taking into account what the viewer wants, then by only recognizing Morgan, what message are you sending to the player at home who identifies more with players like Wambach? What about the group of young women that do not require a ponytail or are not rocking your traditionally “marketable” female frame? In turn, what message are we sending to our young boys?
Cloe Axelson’s recent article on the Women’s World Cup continuing to be oppressively sexist makes several valid points about the manner in which the media does not do justice in reporting on the success of the women’s team.
The U.S. women, meanwhile, are consistently among the best teams on the planet. They’ve won the World Cup twice (in 1991 and 1999) and made it to the semifinals in all six women’s World Cup tournaments. In between, they’ve also won four Olympic gold medals. (This year FiveThirtyEight gives the U.S. a 26 percent chance of winning the whole shebang, second only to Germany, at 32 percent.).
All the same, this 5-10 second exchange between the commentators on this issue was enough to provoke these thoughts. FOX Soccer analysts missed the mark because they are simply failing to do what the public has already done and that’s embrace Wambach solely on her credentials that include vast contributions to the game, talent and inspiration. As opposed to the irrelevant characteristics that include any type of gender stereotyping.
The idea of who should be “the face” of women’s soccer is a mildly absurd if you actually think about it, but I get the angle. However, can we really have one “new face” for any women’s sports when we are all so largely ignored as a whole across the board?
There are so many compelling stories within Team USA where the media could achieve success in the area of marketing. However, if you must insist on a “new face” of women’s soccer, I am still a bit miffed as to how Wambach was not the first choice.
Whether FOX Soccer has research showing that little girls are sitting at home in with long hair and pink dresses watching USA Soccer or even in sweatpants with short hair, if there is marketing space for both Morgan and Wambach, it means there is space for both those little girls to have heroes.
Through the quagmire of one-side sports advertising, we are missing another important point. Wambach’s courage to speak out publicly against injustice coupled with playing great soccer is what ultimately should qualify her as “the face” of women’s soccer. This fact is independent of judgment of physical appearance, sexual orientation or any preconceived ideas of what a marketable female athlete should be. At the end of the day, while we hope that the next generation can look up and see talented field players, if they are also actively witnessing raw courage in unexpected places where fear is typical and conflict is avoided, then these moral characteristics are just as valuable.
If the networks truly understood all of these points they would be able to see beyond the same old phrases and patterns and capitalize on the value they are missing out on.
If FOX Soccer would listen to the crowds for a moment when Wambach takes the field, the answer as to who is and has been “the face” of soccer for some time now, is right in front of them. FOX and all the other networks, you could save millions of marketing dollars spent on make-up and bathing suits if you would surrender to the fact that the world is capable of recognizing female athletes and respecting their talent in the same way we do the men. You’re welcome. #HERSOCCERCOUNTS