So yes: I'll be watching this year's tournament. With melancholy. Am I the only one who feels this way?
I'm watching wistfully too, but my melancholy has nothing to do with the precipitous decline of American hegemony. I'll be mourning the missed
opportunity that was the '99 World Cup.
That event was lightning in a bottle for those who wanted to expand women's soccer in the U.S. An American squad on its home soil featuring the most
famous women's soccer player of all time (Mia Hamm) went undefeated, punctuated by an dramatic final against China that ended in the must-see-TV of a
shootout which had an iconic moment (Brianna Scurry's save) and a once-in-a-lifetime iconic
moment (Chastain's winning kick + sports bra-bearing celebration). A recent ESPN video piece said that by some measures girls' participation in soccer quadrupled after the World Cup.
But the expected commercial success was never borne out, as Patrick notes. The WUSA and WPS have been financial failures even though they had the same
celebrities whom we went gaga over in '99. To this day the most successful marketing campaign featuring a women's soccer player is Hamm's "anything you
can do I can do better" commercials with Michael
It's not like the U.S. women haven't duplicated their World Cup success—they won gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. And there's a generation full of
people like Emma that idolized the '99 squad and want to see women's pro soccer succeed here. So Hampton, what will it take for women's soccer to gain
some commercial success in the U.S. outside of the national team?
What would it take? The NFL and NBA lockouts would have to last years. MLB, the NHL, and PGA would have to disband, and NASCAR would have to prohibit beer sales at racetracks. In other words, Jake, it would take a miracle. Not a sports miracle. The parting-of-the-Red-Sea kind.
If you all think the '99 win was an epochal moment, more power to you. But where can I buy the Grantland you're smoking? Yeah, we won. Cool. The Nike ad with Chastain and Kevin Garnett was hysterical. The problem with women's soccer isn't some fanciful missed marketing opportunity. Mainstream American sports fans (i.e. dudes), who will watch absolutely any sport if the Stars & Stripes are involved, don't want to watch pro women's soccer. Or, really, the men's game.
Which raises a point Emma was kind enough to mention, because she can. We aren't talking Premier, or even MLS. The obvious, not especially gracious truth, is that women players aren't as big, strong, or fast as men, so the game is less interesting. Of course, female athletes train and compete just as hard as men. Yes, it's good that millions of 'tweens took up the sport. That doesn't mean I'll pay to watch them play it.
Emma wants to know if FIFA missed an opportunity to get Americans interested in soccer. Like FIFA cares. Do you really think those corrupt autocrats want the egalitarian, tolerant US to conquer "their" game? Nah. FIFA represents The Rest of the World. As everyone knows, The Rest of the World hates us. They don't really want us to care, because they don't want us to win.