The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson for July 27, 2020
NWSL Challenge Cup final thoughts — Lisa Baird talks state of the league — Must-click women's soccer links
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Challenge Cup Final Thoughts
I had a blast covering the Challenge Cup. Like many of my colleagues across the country, I adjusted to the weirdness of covering matches remotely. I got used to working in the morning, then taking an afternoon break, before adjourning to the office again for the night game. Admittedly though, I’ve had enough of Zoom calls.
I’m super proud the AP covered each and every game, and allowed me the time and space to write some features. I hope when normalcy returns (hopefully next season) we’ll continue to cover all the games. I believe the demand will still be there.
I think it’s important here to recognize that the league has been lifted significantly under the leadership of Lisa Baird. The list of her accomplishments in just FOUR MONTHS is impressive: The tournament itself, the TV deal, the new sponsors, the expansion to Los Angeles.
I was one of those who decried the league’s lack of a commissioner for a long time. I think Baird has shown how vital the role is. (That’s not a slight on Amanda Duffy by any means. The league just needed a commissioner, for a myriad of reasons.)
In her State-of-the-League address Baird said she’ll do an internal analysis of the league’s success following the tournament.
“We we came in with an objective, I think, which was to raise the profile of the league and what we’re about. And remember of that the core of that is always about the quality of play, the outstanding players we have, including, the more than 50 players from all around the world at play in our league. I think right now that what we’re proving is the awareness of who we are, what we are, has gone up.”
Along those same lines, Baird believes the NWSL is tapping into a broader base of fans.
“Four weeks is not a lot of time to win over not only avid soccer fans, but casual fans, sports fans around the world. I think we accomplished that. I have seen the amount of coverage. I’ve seen what’s happening with fans on CBS. I think you’ve all see the virtual watch parties that Secret sponsored. I think we’re getting to that second level of casual fan. That’s what we need to do to be successful. And our goal is to continue to be strong and and have an incredible 2021 season to follow up on this.”
Let’s face it. Many of us live in a soccer bubble, or more generally a women’s sports bubble. It’s easy to think that the game might be more popular that it actually is. But based on my observation of the “play” that my AP stories have seen in media outlets across the country, I’d say there is a growing appetite for women’s soccer content.
My concern is whether some of this is coronavirus-related. Once the sports landscape is more crowded, will editors and producers again turn their back on the game?
One thing is for certain: The NWSL was smart to get out in front of the other leagues.
And that brings us to what happens next. The idea of salvaging an abbreviated season seems unlikely, especially as cases continue to rise nationwide. Baird seemed to suggest there might be a kind of exhibition schedule.
She called it Phase Five. The Challenge Cup was Phase Four.
“If we can get players safely back on the pitch, we will be doing so. We have issued a statement to the players and we’re ready to get back on training. We have not made any decisions about any competition format at this point in time. That will always be guided by medical protocols. We will work within the restrictions that states and counties put in place.”
Guessing we’ll see.
Oh and hey, I didn’t even get to expansion. We’ll address that next week.
(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com.)
Caitlin Murray on the Angel City FC making a big splash.
Helene Elliott, one of the trailblazers for women in sports media, penned a column on Angel City for the L.A. Times.
Wonderful story here about how old US Soccer jerseys became facemasks, from Yahoo’s Doug McIntyre.
Sandra Herrera spoke to Rachel Daly about Houston’s new culture for CBS Sports.
Annie Costabile talked to former Red Stars about how far the NWSL has come for the Chicago Sun Times. Costabile also spoke to Sarah Gordon about bridging the gap between women’s soccer and the black community.
My story on Baird’s state of the league address, focusing on how well the medical protocols held up.
I also spoke to Thorns goalkeeper coach Nadine Angerer. Because any time is a good time to speak to Nadine.
Along with everyone else, I also wrote about Angel City, and I also spoke to Natalie Portman and I also kind of geeked out about the whole thing.
Meg Linehan did excellent work, as usual, on the Angel City announcement, and got a lot more time with Natalie than I did. And lest we forget, Meg was the one who wrote about something brewing out west a while ago.
Meg was on her game the whole tournament. Here’s Meg’s gamer from Sunday on the Dash earning respect. And finally, Meg and Pablo Maurer on what’s ahead.
Suzie Rantz on how the Pride salvaged a bit of the Challenge Cup for All for XI.
Like me, Julia Poe has been doing double duty, covering the NWSL and MLS. And she’s done a far better job than I have. Here’s her story on the final for the Orlando Sentinel.
Also deserving of some accolades and clicks is the Equalizer. The whole staff just did an amazing job the entire tournament. If you don’t have a subscription, you really need one. Jeff Kassouf wrote about Houston’s Fairy Tale. But let’s face it, my favorite story of all week was Kassouf’s story on the NWSL’s ponytail girl.
Graham Hays wrote about Angel City for ESPN. Hays also did a great story on the mental toll of life in the bubble.
Jonathan Tannenwald on the future looking bright for Sky Blue.
TWEET of the Week
Again, I’m a sucker for babies.
Five at The IX: More From the Commish!
Here are some other things Lisa Baird told reporters. Oh, and if you’d like to watch the whole thing, head to the NWSL’s Twitch channel.
Baird: Let me say, I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls, was on yesterday, two calls, with sponsors. We want the right sponsors associated with us. I need great marketers, people who believe in the league and what we do and are willing to activate and amplify the messages of our league. So you can be assured that Lindsay Barenz and myself and Aaron Salzberg are going to be on the phones talking to sponsors post tournament.
On whether the ability to pull off the tournament was/is attractive to potential expansion clubs, including L.A.:
Baird: Remember, no one had done this, going into this, not us, the NBA, NHL, the MLS. No one had done this. I think having the belief that you can do live sports and you can do it effectively, safeguard players in preseason and then do it in a bubble, I think we’re walking away, all of us, with confidence in the medical protocols that we put in place. And they need to be updated, we are always going to want to do that, particularly as we take into account state and local guidelines. But we have confidence in our medical protocols. Did that impress L.A.? I can’t say I had a specific discussion with them. I hope it did. But I know in our owners meeting this week, we we all walked away confident that our principles of protecting players are in place. And remember, the core was to mitigate risk, to make sure that we were able to do this with no COVID-19. But we also have in place extensive medical protocols that we think will be protective in any training that we go into. So I hope it made a difference. I know it made a difference with our nine teams and we’re going to continue to push to make them even better going forward.
About pulling it all off, in general, and whether a tournament might be incorporated into future seasons:
Baird: Anything that you’re doing right now, you’ve got to be flexible and nimble. But our approach — and I’m not saying it’s the right approach for everybody — is come up with what we call the end-to-end solution. And that is absolutely about health and wellness. But it’s all also about putting together tournament or competition formats that our players can excel and thrive in. And I think the tournament format for this time was exactly the right format. I think I have some work to do 2021 on the season with my own staff, with the owners and frankly with the input of the P.A. to see if a tournament format is something that we’re going to incorporate in future seasons. I’m not saying it will or not because we have not even started that yet. But I will tell you, we were pleased with how the quality of competition, the ability to live in medical protocols and the ability finally to deliver value for our new sponsors and our existing sponsors, with Budweiser and Nike, really came together. And it requires flexibility, nimbleness and a certain fearlessness.
On what’s coming up in the fall:
Baird: I know, and I know it even more so from this tournament, that what fans, avid and casual fans, want to hear is player stories. I’ve had a firm belief in that coming into this tournament and we’ve used every opportunity to really familiarize people with our players, the famous ones, and as I say, the ones that will become famous. So that’s the thing that’s most exciting for me, is America’s been introduced to these women. And I think postseason, you can see us do some really interesting things around player stories. We’re already in discussions and with a really cool idea, that I’m going to make you wait a little bit while longer, to tell the player stories in a pretty unique format, but that you can be sure you’ll hear hear from us in the postseason.
On going forward and dealing with different local restrictions, and the fifth phase.
Baird: If you go back and look at what’s on our Web site and again, I can’t stress enough, we started this tournament with principles. And one of the principles that we had in the medical task force did is we created this five phase return to play. And the fourth phase was go into the tournament. The fifth phase, which has not been written yet, is still to be written. And that’s what we’re going to work on right now, is that fifth phase, which is how do you do exhibitions? But as always, and let me say the two principles that we’ll put into place for anything with competition postseason is, we will work within the restrictions that states and counties put in place. There’s no question. In fact, I have several conversations that I’m hoping to have with governors or mayors that we might be looking at, because I want to show them what we did in Utah and how we worked with the Utah state and local officials to make sure that our protocols and our ability to be in a place conformed to them. Anything we take take into account is going to have to abide by those. I think 31 states now have travel restrictions. But we were able to do it in Utah, and that was working very closely with General Burton, Governor Herbert and the mayor of Salt Lake County to do that. And that’s what we’ll use as the guiding principle around travel first and foremost.