Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Soccer SupportHER

This is one of my, lately, rare articles that isn't specifically a game recap, end-of-year recap, another coach transition article, or one of my many stadium discussion articles. I think the last one was probably my discussion about my foray into the Scottish Professional Football League and my decision to start supporting Motherwell (as with my support of Purdue, the Cubs, Indy Eleven, etc... that decision has about as much/more grief as it does joy, but I don't regret that decision. I'm glad to be a supporter of Motherwell from across the pond, but I digress.). So I hope this article ends up being a coherent thought of all that I have been thinking this year as it relates to the title of the article.

First, a little background and refresher for the new visitors to the site. Soccer has been in my blood since I was little. With the exception of a single year where I was a 7th grade wrestler (average ability, but still the best in my school in my weight class, which was the lightest weight class available), I literally never played a single minute of another organized sport, and I grew up in Indiana where playing basketball for at least a season is nearly #StateLaw (my fellow Indianapolis residents will get that one). Like my wrestling ability, my soccer ability was average to slightly above average depending on the time/league, but a college career or a professional career were never going to be in the cards. That didn't stop me from playing soccer year round; club, high school, rec leagues, indoor leagues, I found a way to play. Until my body started telling me that I shouldn't play anymore, at an age when I wasn't really ready to give it up.

Photo Credit: @DLTPhotog
After a bit of a soccer hiatus for me, Indy Eleven was announced in 2013 and I was immediately in. I started writing about the games from the start of the first season and have continued to let my keyboard be the way that I experience soccer now midway through Indy's 9th season. There was a few year run where I was a coach for my kids' teams, but they moved onto gymnastics, so I was back to this for my soccer fix. While my focus over the years has always mostly been Indy Eleven, I also wrote about the USWNT and the USMNT in the early days of this site. Like many U.S. fans, I watch the men, sometimes out of a sense of obligation to support them, and I watch the women because I honestly enjoy watching them play. That fact that Lauren Holiday was from my high school just added another layer to my support for them. Until my above mentioned decision to support Motherwell, I didn't support any other clubs, just the national teams.

However, Indianapolis is not without soccer teams to support. By my count, there are (at least):

  • Indy Eleven - men (pro - USL)
  • Indy Eleven - women (amateur - USL-W)
  • Lady Victory FC - women (amateur - WPSL)
  • FC Pride - women (amateur - WPSL)
  • FC Pride - girls and boys (amateur - Elite Clubs National League (ECNL))
  • Indy Saints FC - men (amateur - OVPL)
  • Indy Saints FC - women (amateur - WPSL)
  • Old Bhoys SC - men (amateur - OVPL)
  • Indiana Fire Academy (amateur - USL Academy)

That's what I can think of without trying that hard, and that list doesn't take into account Fort Wayne FC (men - USL League Two) or South Bend Lions (men - USL League Two), nor the roughly 30 high schools in Indianapolis (and however many more in the donut counties) or the 4(?) universities in Indianapolis that field soccer teams (same linked list + Purdue, IU, Ball State, DePauw, etc. within around an hour of Indy). Needless to say, if you want to watch soccer, you can probably do so on any day of the week, and multiple times on Saturday. 

So when Indy Eleven announced that they were going to field a women's team in the newly formed USL W League, just like the men's team, I was in. I just hoped that the schedule would allow for me to attend games. I wanted to more actively support Lady Victory FC last season, but, for some reason, the WPSL game schedule was filled with a lot of dates that I couldn't make. This is not my full-time job, I have a wife and kids with their own activities, and despite wanting to support the team, I wasn't successful at it. When Indy Eleven's schedule came out, it was more conducive to me making games, and I decided that if I was going to support them, I was going to do it just like I do for the men. That's why the articles on my site, and all the graphics, all have similar appearances. The women, even if "just" amateurs, were going to get treated by me just like the professional men. 

I hope that I have succeeded in that effort from the women's perspective. I have attended every home game. I sat in the press area and work on my articles (after the first game when the league and the mainstream media were in attendance, I was the only writer in the area, which isn't too dissimilar from the men's games if I'm being honest...), and I provide my thoughts on the games. I did post-game interviews with Coach Dolinsky and with the players. 

Whether they were being paid to play for the Eleven or not, I wanted to treat them professionally.

Photo Credit: @DLTPhotog
I'm ecstatic to see that there are others who treated these games the same way, Amanda Wallace and John Rice (Indiana's Mountain) are just a couple that come to mind. I'm less ecstatic to know that the club itself didn't always treat the team the same way. I have no doubt that they're going to use the women's winning of the Great Lakes division to promote the club, but I have struggled with how they promoted the team. The BYB tries to provide a similar environment, but I wish the club did more. 

Sidenote: I do have some issues with the BYB chants and heckling of opposing keepers. For all my talk that is happening in this article, it does feel like the heckling you would do of a professional male goalkeeper shouldn't be the same heckling you do of an amateur high school or college female. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but maybe take it down a couple of notches. 

For those who are unfamiliar or were not able to attend the women's games, here are just a couple of my (and some females that I know) objections to how the women were treated versus how the men's team is treated and my suggestions. 

Since the very first men's game, a game day poster has been provided to the first 500 hundred fans (I think that's normally the number), as well as a game day program. You can see a list of those posters here. What you'll notice is that there is only one poster for the female team's games; the very first one (which is a great poster from Laura Mills - see poster on the right). However, it wasn't until the Detroit City doubleheader that the women got another poster, and that's only because it was part of the doubleheader treatment. Apparently, the first poster was always envisioned by the club as a "one off" poster. I can tell you that it's not because there weren't artists willing to design the posters for the women. Nor were there game day programs for the women, except, again for that first game. I have been told from staff on the difficulty of providing a game day program for a team where the lineup can have as much fluctuation as an amateur team's lineup can experience. My argument to this is that the first program was a double-sided printed 11x17 page that was folded in half, and then folded in half again. It doesn't have to necessarily be a full-blown book, but something would be nice.

Why do I say this?

Photo Credit: Robbie Mehling
Because after that first game, I witnessed little girls (and boys) line up with their posters and their programs waiting to have these amazing athletes, females that they could look at and aspire to be like, sign their poster or program. I watched some little girls bring the poster back the next game to get other signatures. After that, there was never anything provided by the club for those little girls and boys to more easily facilitate them to have an interaction with Maddy Williams, Katie Soderstrom, Mackenzie Wood, or the McCarthy sisters. Those were potentially new fans that could want to see other games, maybe even a men's game. 

The club claims they want to grow the game, but, again apparently, without providing enough budget to do even what I would consider the bare minimum effort to help the fan experience. To me, it's not that difficult to at least look like you care, but not spend a ton of money. Print both team's rosters (Indy and the visiting team) on an 8.5x11 piece of paper so that fans can at least put a name to a number. Kids could get those signed if they wanted. If the numbers change (like the last home game where 14-year old Emma Johnson was wearing the jersey of #19 Selena Barnett), then have the PA announcer make an announcement about the name/number change. I just wish that instead of saying, "we don't have the budget" to do "equal" things for a women's amateur team as we do for a men's professional team, that they would have at least considered ways to do low-budget "equitable" things. I received a piece of paper telling me the rosters the last time I went to a high school game and that's, obviously, not associated with a professional organization. Grand Park seats around 1,000 people in the main stand, and that's been the announced attendance all season. That's 2 reams of paper at $15 per ream at Staples for a total of $30 so that fans know who is playing, and maybe even splurge and put the schedule on the back so that they know when they can see the team play again. So $30/game multiplied by 6 games, and you've spent less than $200. That's bare minimum effort to get you close to "equitable" even if not "equal," and that's more than what the club did this year for those kinds of things. Are there other expenses? Sure, but you're telling me that one of the club's sponsors wouldn't want to spend $200 to help cover the costs of those "programs" if their logo could be on it too? You can do the same kind of math with the posters. If you assume a crowd of 5,000 for the men (which is about normal these days) and 500 posters, that's 10%. 1,000 fans at the women's game multiplied by 10% = 100 posters. How much does that cost?

Why does this bother me? 

One because I'm human, and I hope, a good person and I don't think it's fair. 

Two, I have daughters and I regularly witness this kind of shit happening to them. 

Third, Indy Eleven NEEDS to grow their fan base. Every financial description from the club related to the future stadium has had the inclusion of a professional women's team to help make the stadium financially viable. You know how you have fans ready for that in 3 or 4 years? You treat the amateur team equitably or equally. Additionally, by my count, there were around 8 women on this year's Indy Eleven team who were on last year's division winning, and undefeated, Lady Victory FC team, including names like Soderstrom, Wood, Isger, Chatterton, Barnett, McLaughlin, not to mention Coach Dolinsky who lead Lady Victory and now Indy Eleven to winning seasons. You know who was on Lady Victory FC's team this year? Soderstrom's little sister Susie. Anna Isger, Abby's sister (I assume that's their relation). Including a few players who were playing (I think) for both Indy Eleven and Lady Victory like Chatterton, Dean, Barnett, Phillips, and Reason. 

Whether Indy Eleven's professional women's team is a 1st division team in the NWSL or a 2nd division team in the upcoming USL Super League, there is already an inherent connection between the Eleven squad and the Lady Victory squad, notwithstanding the fact that Dolinsky has coached both teams and works with the Lady Victory coach, Jimmy Carson, at Sogility! Treating this group of athletes and their fans well would funnel down into the next group of girls/women who may already be living in the same household as this current group. 

Photo Credit: Indy Eleven
Indy Eleven has claimed they want to be a premier club in the United States, regardless of division or league. To me, you do that by doing the simple things that I mentioned above. Indy may have one of the best streams for their USL W team than most other teams (thanks to Rakestraw and ISC Sports), but they are lacking on those other details. 

I also think that they have a responsibility to their own "brand." Ask Coach Dolinksy or any of the players that were on Lady Victory's team last year that were on this year's Indy Eleven team how many fans were normally at the games last year. The BYB didn't show up to those games (at least not in the same kind of numbers). I didn't show up at those games. The BYB was at the W League games because of the connection between the Indy Eleven and the BYB. 

If you want to grow your brand, it's all of those little details that can take them from a good club to a great club to a premier club. The USL W League has a hashtag of #SupportHER. I'm trying to do what I can, and I hope my club decides to do a little more for this team next year, particularly if Indy isn't one of the inaugural teams in the Super League.


Anonymous said...

I agree with EVERYTHING you said. Indy Eleven administration I hope you are listening!!

Rachel said...

Grand Park seemed too small for these games. I have to wonder what attendance would have looked like if Carroll Stadium had been used all season.