Anyone that has been associated with the women’s soccer world, especially at the American professional level knows that year three tends to be the time in which the survival or demise of just about anything is determined. Since, reviewing on my past blog posts at Women’s Soccer United, it has been brought to my attention that I am beginning the approach of my ‘year three’ in the Women’s Soccer United world, and realistically ‘year three’ of my adventures in the women’s soccer world.
While, I would dismiss the notion that I’ve been watching women’s soccer for far longer then that [including a gold medal match in the ’96 Atlanta Olympics, and a awkward teenage laden mess in my cousins basement during the ’99 World Cup], I must confess that as a fan I have been more involved in this sport then any other; and almost as much as NASCAR.
With all of that said, and due to the ego that I’ve been pegged with occasionally on social media I find it only natural that I share with you the wisdom and insight that I’ve discovered over the past three years in order to determine the success of my next three years. Due to the unique transactions I have with Twitter in the current phases of my life; I only find it natural to list out these nuggets of knowledge in the best way possible: hashtags.
I fear that as we’ve watched the evolution of the women’s game, we’ve bared witnessed to its growth and sustainability on the field. Realistically, even at the collegiate level, the University of North Carolina could pose a threat to anyone’s championship run. Their program is that good. The Boston Breakers of the WPS, WPSL Elite, and NWLS have demonstrated that duration and length of period of solid play can result in a carryover affect that could be detrimental towards the existence of any program. Translation: Lisa Cole is a boss and everyone knows it.
However, while I would never take a jab at the play on the field [unless you’re pulling a ponytail], I think there is a point in which we [the fan] have to stand back and ask our involvement in the program as well.
I’m sorry but RT’ing every league team in the world will not determine the success or failure of a program.
Bit harsh? Perhaps. The reality is just that; we have created a unique fan base that can talk up a storm when it comes to women’s soccer, they can scream their hearts out for any of their favorite players [some of which aren’t always on the national roster], but the team loyalty, the flags, the masks [hehe], the chants, and the filled stands. Where are they? Why haven’t they come? You cannot watch a women’s game via Twitter [unless you’re attempting to keep track of a Westfield W-League match in the United States]. Fan dedication is required on both fronts. It isn’t good enough to tell a player you love her with a creepy Tumblr account [you know what I’m talking about], or to randomly DM individuals in the soccer world [though it’s awesome when they respond]. Realistically, we need to put our money where our mouths [and keyboards] are and actually financially invest in our respective teams.
Ex: Naturally, I’ll have more blue/orange stuff in the next summer then I’ll know what to do with. However, as much as I love the Kansas City Shock, as they are my own, I have other favorite teams in other leagues. A prime example is the Boston Breakers. I have a ton of respect for the organization as a whole. I do not live in Boston [and probably never will], but that isn’t going to keep me from purchasing their gear [especially if they have hats and polos], it probably isn’t going to keep me from at least one of their games, and when the opportunity presents itself; I’m going to invest in them. As a fan, I’m going to talk smack on their opponents [tastefully], and I won’t apologize. Why? Because I don’t just believe in the sport; like Sporting Kansas City, I believe in my team. Think of this when you buy the the ’13 Arsenal/Man United/Liverpool/Barca…scratch that last one…scarf to display in your den. Where is your women’s gear, and truthfully, painfully honestly so…why is your daughter the only one in the house promoting it?
I expect that by the time I die this hashtag will be posted on my tombstone. From the business side I have this thing about local businesses. They just make me happy. I enjoy Starbucks [too much], but I’m always going to root for my local coffee shops. Understanding that corporations originally stem from that think tank, garage, or mother’s basement can humble the appreciation that we have for those who are trying to grow from the roots.
More importantly, out of that respect we get to find diamonds in the rough. I, along with the Kansas City Shock, have be very blessed to have had one [if not many] of these encounters with a married couple with the last name “Weber”. Honestly, I’m terrible at art. It’s painful. I failed coloring in kindergarten [I ate the orange]. Everyone knows that logos, photos, graphic art, can generate interest of any program; regardless of size. When I ran into the Weber’s, a few years after I had been in college with them, they were looking for a creative outlet to stretch out their potential. That potential came in the form of: our shield, our photos, our brochures, pamphlets, designs, decals, and just about everything else known to be creative. In many ways our shield was such as a success that the Weber’s turned around and built their own company; Weber Creative Arts. Since, our insight and popularity on the design side has increased. I can say that their business has increased, and we’re both moving in a positive direction. I would have been lost without Weber [and they know it]. None of this, the branding, image, anything would have existed without discovering what our local community [and entertainingly enough, a core of college friends] can offer. When given the opportunity; even the youngest can turn around and blow you away.
Ex: It wasn’t that long ago that Pete Schwadel was just another graphic designer, using innovation, imagination, and cranking out some really cool stuff. However, a few weeks ago it was found a Tumblr account [again] that Pete has some interest in the National Women’s Soccer League, specifically the branding of some of the logos. I’ll leave that thought right there. Eventually the Washington [DC] Spirit last week announced a rebranding of their logo [the second program to do that], and wouldn’t you know it? Here comes this all-so-familiar design on display; made by Pete Schwadel himself. If you follow the Spirit, ask yourself; which did you the enjoy more? The new-new, or the old-new? Exactly.
It’s to no surprise that this hashtag would find itself in this piece. After all, it has been the motto of the Kansas City Shock since close to day one of its creation. While I’ll spare the personal account of how this came to be, it is important to emphasize what it demonstrates and can demonstrate in the women’s soccer world. First of all, to even hint that the Kansas City Shock has all the answers to building a perfect, crock-pot style team and program is absolutely insane. We grow as we work; daily.
With that said, thanks to watching the WUSA, WPS, and the drama that can transpire within all of it; it was evident to me that if I wanted to build a program. We would have to do something very different from what was expected. As the story goes that started by introducing the ‘rough’ blueprints on here, starting Twitter, Facebook, and then exploring the idea of actually making a physical image behind a name. We took a full year to spread our name prior to our first season [versus throwing things together at the last minute…]. It still isn’t enough; I probably should have taken a bit longer? 1.2 million people takes a while to get a hold.
Our staff learned about SEO, insights, and other numerical attention grabbers in the social media world. I made a list of social media rules within our program [I.E. All elements of social media are to be touched daily], and our crew could [and can] be found at several tech conferences within the Kansas City area. Not only is that ideal of partnerships, but it is also wise when looking at maintaining an edge on technology. While I can’t share all of our secrets; I can tell you there things in our books that can rework the technology image of women’s soccer. That’s being different.
Personally, I think an area that teams [and especially league(S)] struggle with is their social media identity. Giving us a tweet with a link to a press release isn’t enough anymore. One of my favorite things to do, just for entertainment sake primarily, is to release information on our Google+ account [you’ll need an account to view that link] before Twitter or Facebook. It almost allows us to grow our brand into several mediums by requiring the die-hard fans to explore new realms to find us. What is most alarming about the social media complex is the fact that it requires $0 to operate [I’m yet to spend a dime on our social media] and can take 10-30 seconds to accomplish a simple tweet. Amy Jo Martin, best selling author behind ” Renegades Write the Rules” and CEO of Digital Royalty took one of her clients; we’ll call him…Shaq and ran an experiment with him. The concept of Shaq is simple; he’s huge, he likes basketball, and he floats between NBA teams. However, Martin posed the question if we actually knew who, “Shaquille O’Neil really is? Do any of us know that he absolutely loves humor?” This is where Martin sprang in and took Shaq, when he was traded to Boston, and would have him post on his Twitter account that he’d be at “XYZ Park” and take a picture of the area. He did this; he posed as a statue on a bench and just had people take pictures of him, hang on him, etc…the people discovered who Shaquille is, beneath the identity of Shaq. Do our teams reflect the same concept? While the Kansas City Shock doesn’t have a wave of fans stalking us…yet…we do make it very clear where we’ll be throughout the week. We give addresses, tips, tags, everything so that people not only know where to find us, but know a little bit more about the community they live in. Bit different? You bet. Does it work? Our insights via social media suggests yes. When tickets go on sale we’ll have a better idea.
Several weeks ago I had a few individuals on Twitter question my capacity and willingness to fully “grow the game”; in direct reference of women’s soccer. My immediate answer was “Yes!” mixed with a mental, “HOW DARE YOU!” However, the point of reaction was that these individuals believed that I was maliciously going after another team in our region; questioning professionalism and preparedness.
Now, I can talk my way out of a paper bag if I’d like, but the moment you’ve earned a reputation [positive or negative] you’re stuck with it. Whether I meant to paint that image or not isn’t the question, the real question was the base question, “Do you really grow the game, or is it just a mimic you use on social media?”
It’s a challenging question because I believe in the viewpoint of so many, growing the game can be taken in several different context. What one could view as growth, could also be seen as damaging to another. Who is right? Who is wrong?
I don’t know the answer, I’m still trying to figure it out. However, I think this example will help paint the situation that we’re currently in; consider it growing pains:
Ex: Like any other team owner I’ve been given the glorious task of sponsorship backing. Anyone who has done this should be laughing at this point. Sponsorship backing isn’t done necessarily to keep a program afloat, but instead it helps create the potential for revenue, and what I think is more important; ticket costs down. With all of the companies I’ve spoken with, presented, and just chatted with there has been an overwhelming question:
So…are you a non-profit?
I’d like to take this moment to think my debate coaches for speaking on controlling your tongue when needed. It’s very discouraging to live in a world where the thought a men’s professional/premier/t-ball thing is seen instantly with $ signs, but the moment women’s soccer comes up…at least in the US…the term 501(c) gets thrown around like cheap candy. You want to know the biggest challenge in growing the game? Having league entities [and we’re leaving it there] that don’t sound professional, look professional, or act professional and try to be a business oriented soccer program. Anyone else see the challenge due to that? Because of that immediate hurdle, it tends to make program [and fans] excessively defensive and the minute you trigger a snare; you’re hanging by a tree. That’s how fickle the women’s soccer world is, and much of that is due to how we project our image. Realistically folks; Mia Hamm doesn’t rock a ponytail anymore [most of the time], so why do league logos? If you want to grow the game put on your big…boy…girl…person pants, accept the knocks, and rethink the wheel.
Be bold about your passion, and spread your programs existence; this is to fans and staff alike. Kansas City currently is dealing with baseball and football fans diving for their mother’s basements because the soccer community is growing so, so fast. This community is not the soccer mom wielding the lawn chair like a club, this is a bunch of drunk people rocking scarves in 103 degree heat, drinking their local craft beers, and enjoying some hometown slabs of ribs. That’s our soccer community, and with the Kansas City Shock, we’re doing nothing different. Our fans are welcome to behave themselves, but there’ll be a section of seats for that. There will also be a section for people that wear random masks, do random things, and chant random thoughts. There will be ribs, there will be sweat, there will be dubstep music.
Because this is our game.
Because this is our city.
Because this is how we grow.
None of these thoughts are exact answers, and really what works for us may not work for you. However, if there is one centralized theme about any of these points, and this is a fact: know your community. If you’re not familiar with Portland’s history of the “City of Roses”, Seattle’s coffee, Kansas City’s technology drive, and Boston’s clam chowder; make the realization now. An athletic program is only as strong as its community. It takes a village to raise a child, at this point we’re learning that it takes about 1.2 million people to raise a soccer program.
P.S. I’ll be sure let you know if I find out that the Breakers have lobster near their facility. Did you know that they just expanded their stadium another 1,000 seats? Find out what I know when you hook up with me on Twitter!