Tuesday, December 13, 2011

WPS gets reprieve (+ being a women's sports fan)

Despite its inability to add another team to the league, US Soccer has granted Women's Professional Soccer another waiver allowing it to remain a Division I league. Division I leagues are required to have eight teams; WPS currently has five. But, in talks with US Soccer, WPS administrators said there was interest out there for the creation of new teams.
In a recent post commenting on the grassroots efforts of the Women Talk Sports Network to get another team in fifteen days (the deadline originally set by US Soccer for the WPS to add a sith team) I mentioned something about the many issues associated with being a women's sports fan and being a women's sport owner. So I'll elaborate.
Regarding being a female fan of women's sports: it's not so easy. Which doesn't mean it's not a worthy endeavor--just that it's not the same as being a fan of men's sports. There's the problem of where to find sports. Most of us become fans of local college and high school teams--which is great. Many of us have to travel to see professional sports, which I will do. But it's time and money-consuming. I live two hours from Boston and I have gone to see one Boston Breakers game since the WPS. (I saw one when the Breakers were in the WUSA.) I have the best intentions every season, but life gets in the way. And my life is one without children, by the way. If a woman has children, it becomes even more difficult to be a fan of women's professional sports for the same time and money reasons. Women have less disposable income and less free time. And thus it is harder to prioritize sports. And we gain little social capital from our support of women's sports either. We don't get rewarded, generally, for being fans of women's sports in the way we would if we were fans of men's sports. (Not that one can't be both at the same time--it's just that one is afforded more value.) And then there's the whole uneasy merging of the normative families with small children and the queer women--the two groups that comprise the majority of the audience.
This has been an issue for owners. I also argue that the lack of social capital--given the huge investment of actual capital--is a deterrent for women who have the ability to be team owners/investors. Sure, there are plenty of men's professional teams that are not earning money. But the owners--mostly men--get something out of their ownership/investment that is not profit. They get prestige, admiration, etc. Women who own women's team get less of that.
In some ways, ownership is more like charity. And I mean charity in a good way. If there is little likelihood of economic gain, then this is a giving endeavor. And maybe it's one that some women want to be part of. There is an argument to be made that women's professional sports are valuable to the greater society.
But--and this might be a little blasphemous--if I was a woman who had the financial ability to own a professional women's sports team, knowing that it would be more like giving to a charity, I probably wouldn't. If I wanted to support sports for women, I would likely just give to youth sports, my alma mater, Olympic sports groups, grassroots groups aimed at bringing physical activity to underserved girls, or my local recreational association.
It's a difficult situation. Women's professional sports are not a priority and in order to become a priority it seems like it is women who need to make the effort; but women have less economic capital, less time, and less social capital to give away in such endeavors. I do believe that smart and business-savvy women within existing women's sports leagues are the best chance at success for such leagues. But it remains a struggle. And these women sacrifice in order to remain in their positions and committed to making women's professional sports more of a national priority.

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