Hello faithful blog readers. Apologies that I have been out of commission for so long. But I’m back. And lucky for you, I’m in a mood to vent.
Namely it’s about professional soccer for women in North America. My twitter feed has been filled all day with tweets from inspiring, fantastic national team and professional female players. They all have dedicated their lives to becoming better players. They’ve overcome injuries, low pay, challenges of all sorts, to reach the pinnacle of the sport. And here they are on twitter, down on their knees, begging and pleading for a miracle investor to come in and save the only pro league for women in North America, the WPS. To allow these ladies to make a modest living (and I mean in some cases, borderline poverty line level salary), playing a game that they love.
I’m not cringing at these ladies pleading on twitter, because yes, we have come to this point, and there is little left to do. But inside there screams a voice that says WHY! Why have we allowed things to hit a point where it is necessary to beg?
There are almost 4 million girls that are playing soccer in North America currently. 4 million!! To those that say there is no money in women’s soccer, I dare to differ. In fact there are people making out like bandits from the women’s side of the game.
A metaphor for how this current situation with WPS makes me feel, is that it reminds me of people on one side of a wall on their hands and knees begging for food and water to survive, when on the other side of the wall there is a plethora of both. The resources actually belong to the impoverished group, but instead of looking for a way to reclaim those resources, instead that impoverished group stands on the other side of the wall, begging for crumbs.
The Concept of Women’s Soccer as a Charity
As the drama with the WPS has unfolded over the last few months, I have had some ah-ha moments. A few weeks ago there was rampant talk of a team coming to a state. I went on the local message boards, and the owner of the biggest girls club in the area was speaking in very negative terms about the league and this team coming. My initial reaction was, this guy is making hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions, off of girls soccer in this state, why would he feel the need to contribute so negatively to the discussion. If anything, being in charge of so many young female players, he should want WPS to succeed, and why wouldn’t he do everything in his power to make it happen?
And then it hit me. Should WPS come to the area of his club, it would potentially be a competitor to this owner. And like any good businessman, he is protecting his investment, even if that is at the expense of the girls in his club having a place to play after college.
Does he care about furthering women’s soccer? Probably not. He’s a businessman, and at this point women’s professional soccer isn’t a profitable investment, while on the other hand running a club full of female youth players, is profitable. The WPS is a threat to his business, so this man, who regulates the information that goes to probably about 2000 female soccer players in the state, is actively speaking negatively about his competition, as any good businessman would. Even if this said competition is an opportunity for these girls in his club to continue to play when they are done college, or have female role models to look up to as young girls in the sport. This is a micro representation of what is going on all around the continent.
After reading this club owner’s comments on the aforementioned message board, I had a coffee with a friend who himself, is making a large portion of his income off of girls soccer. He was defensive of the owner of the club, when I expressed my frustration at the club owner’s comments on the message board. This friend responded to me, “I’m sick of women’s soccer feeling like it’s a charity that deserves to be supported. Club Owner A is running a business and should make his decisions accordingly.”
I felt an anger rise in me at the word charity. It shouldn’t be like this. Why are we begging for crumbs when there is a plethora of resources on the other side of the metaphorical wall.
I started girlsCAN, my company in 2002. I had just finished working a soccer camp, and got paid a measly $12/hr along with my friends who were all national team caliber players. I knew the kids that had come to camp had paid about $100 each and there were about 60 of them. My friends and I had run the whole camp, and when I did the math at the end of the camp I realized that for all of our work, we had probably gotten about 10% of what the camp made. And some guy that knew little about soccer was walking away with a few thousand dollars, while us girls, who were living and breathing the sport, had enough to cover groceries for a week.
I decided it was time to take action, and organized the group of girls that were still playing. Under the name girlsCAN, we ran a camp, and divided the money amongst ourselves so we were able to play, having enough money to cover a couple of months rent. To make a long story short, no one with girlsCAN that was an elite level player, ever got paid below $50/hr. With the result, female players began to see their worth and wouldn’t coach anywhere besides girlsCAN, and other clubs recognizing this, knew they needed to meet or beat that price to get elite level female players to come and coach for them.
The acceptable wage for female players went up from $15/hr to $50/hr in the course of a couple of years in Vancouver, Canada, and still remains the same. It was a lesson to me that change comes from thinking outside the box, and taking action to make the world look the way you want it to.
The lesson as it relates to the WPS, is that its time for female players to take control of things at the business level of the sport, at the grassroots, where the money that could sustain a league lies. We need to be involved controlling that money and making the decision to re-invest it into the sport that we are so passionate about, that we have lived and breathed for so many years.
We need to forget about begging for crumbs and climb the wall and start taking the riches. We need to be the smart business people. But be smart business people that truly want to see women’s soccer grow.
Change doesn’t happen begging on our hands and knees.
Find me on twitter @ciaramccormack
I’m a fan and supporter of WPS. I was a season ticket holder for the Chicago Red Stars and enjoyed the gameplay. That being said, you can’t operate a league or a team as a charity. It needs to be run as a business. girlsCan is a good model to build off of.
Excellent blog post!
I respect what you’ve done and your perspective on the current WPS situation. Your suggestion for action is certainly something that should be happening. My question for you is: What do you think the course of action should be for the immediate future? I ask because while taking control at the grassroots will serve women’s soccer in the future, what will happen to all the women who are playing now, or in a year or two? If WPS does not succeed it will take years to get another league up and running, even if W-League does pursue some sort of pro team format. Thanks for weighing in so candidly, we could use a little more of that.
This is an interesting post, thanks for sharing your views. I’ve long wondered (with all due respect to the WPS staff) whether the league office has ever had a really shrewd, ambitious business-type aggressively working to make deals to further the league, and I kind of suspect they never have. It makes me think that perhaps WPS is just a few talented, enterprising and passionate people away from gaining a real foothold in the world…which is endlessly frustrating/saddening when you wonder if that will come to pass before the league folds.
As an avid womens soccer fan, I couldn’t agree more with what your saying. It actually pains me to see these talented women beging on twitter, knowing most are barely scraping by.
Personally, I hope US Soccer doesn’t sanction WPS. In fact I hope WPS burns to the ground. It’s a sad joke the way they’re running things and they completely deserve that fate. Unforetunately the talented women who give their hearts in every game don’t.
Personally I think the best solution to this is WPS doesn’t get sanctioned, and the W- league becomes pro and gets sanctioned. (W-League Pro) They seem to know how to actually run a business and they offer something to investors the WPS can’t… Stability! I just hope if that does happen, the W-League will do the right thing and pay the players what they deserve.