Women’s soccer leagues: How much video should fans expect?

Do you need a live stream of your local women’s soccer team? Highlights? What else? Here’s one suggestion from a BigSoccer thread: I have NO problem with games not streaming for free anymore, I think they aren’t really worth the laborious efforts and will never generate enough interest and should not be done unless a time comes where it can be shown they generate pay-per-view subscriptions or ticket sales. However, goals and highlights videos should be put on official youtube channels (free on demand hosting) weekly, as well as new coach/player interviews daily. I can only speak for myself, but … Continue reading Women’s soccer leagues: How much video should fans expect?

The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economist by trade — which is good, because if you see the financial documents linked later on, you’ll remember that he doesn’t get paid for his role with the federation. (Perhaps it’s a little unfair that the person making the big bucks, CEO Dan Flynn, rarely has to face the media while we pester Gulati all the time. But I digress.)

So when we pestered Gulati before Sunday’s USA-China women’s game, he made one telling statement: “I’ve been doing this too long to get too up or down by individual data points.”

Whether you agree with everything Gulati does or not, this statement is one thing that separates his thought processes from most of us who yap about soccer on the Internet. We in the virtual soccer community can “prove” lots of things from single data points:

  • Hey, it’s 50 degrees in Chicago today! That proves MLS can play through the winter!
  • The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup! That proves the A-League is better than MLS!
  • We sold a lot of tickets for one exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid! That proves that if MLS teams simply spent themselves silly, we’d have crowds like this every game!
  • The WPS games immediately after the World Cup drew huge crowds! That proves WPS has made it!
  • The U.S. men won in Italy! Why aren’t we ranked in the top 10?

In the long run, it’s a good thing the powers that be don’t make decisions based on isolated data points. They might see a few hundred people gathered for one of last spring’s WPS games and figure women’s soccer is dead. They might see empty seats in MLS cities — even in places like Toronto where the seats are apparently sold but not occupied — and figure MLS is struggling. They might notice that ratings trumpeted as big numbers for European broadcasts are in the same ballpark as the numbers that have fans of The Ultimate Fighter on edge.

Let’s look at a couple of data points and see how the situation is a little more complicated than it appears:

Continue reading “The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points””

Myriad most popular: 2011

By popular demand (well, some demand, anyway), I’m going through the stats to see what you read on SportsMyriad this year. Traffic was down just a little year over year, which isn’t surprising even though the blog didn’t operate all 12 months of 2010. In 2010, I was trying to make this a full-service, revenue-generating blog, so I was posting more frequently. This year, I concentrated a bit more on work that actually pays money. Still, readership wasn’t bad. Here’s what surprised me: – 2012 medal projections keep getting traffic even without recent activity. – The Ultimate Fighter recaps really … Continue reading Myriad most popular: 2011

The ups and downs of promotion and relegation

Long the province of cranky conversations in the virtual soccer community, promotion and relegation leaped into the news in recent days with a couple of pieces of bad reporting:

1. An English executive of some kind, Richard Bevan, claimed that some overseas owners of Premier League clubs want to scrap promotion and relegation. American-owned Aston Villa responded: “Put up or shut up.” Neither happened. Liverpool’s John Henry has now weighed in with his own denial.

Let me back up with a disclaimer: My love/hate relationship with Britain (probably 80% love) can be summed up like this – Britain invented many things I love in the arts, sports, sciences and intellectual thought. That includes Monty Python, the Beatles, the Comedy Store Players, soccer, antibiotics, economic theory and (eventually) the notion that a capitalist country should find a way to take care of its least fortunate.

But don’t let anyone tell you it’s not provincial, especially in sports. They’re miffed that the rest of the world doesn’t play the same sports they do. Some people even prefer the “awkwardness” of the UK version of The Office to the full-fledged character development and creative situations of the American version. They’ve spent decades thinking there’s something wrong with the way South Americans play soccer. They STILL think the 1930 U.S. World Cup semifinalists were all Brits, no matter how many times Roger Allaway and company smash that myth into pieces.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when the bad old Americans are seen as overlords who want to turn the Premier League into the NFL. They really should be more worried about people who want to form a pan-European NFL of their own.

2. Meanwhile, in Korea, the soccer powers that be want to start promoting and relegating. Here’s the problem: They tried that just a few years ago, and the lower-division teams didn’t want to move up.

That’s not unusual. In the USA, teams have often preferred to move down or stay down. The USL’s sprawling three-tier system of 15 years ago is now a scaled-back third-division pro league with scores of teams opting instead for fourth-division amateur status. Some clubs, like the well-rooted D3 Richmond Kickers, have no desire to bounce back up to a division that would require cross-country travel every other week. (Yes, I’ve asked.)

Teams also aren’t that likely to see a giant leap in revenue with each step up the pyramid. Consider other U.S. sports. I saw Greensboro’s minor-league hockey team move from the brutish ECHL to the flashy AHL, a big step up the ladder that brought much more talented players to the Coliseum. Attendance dropped.

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Continue reading “The ups and downs of promotion and relegation”

Rugby’s hierarchy still set in stone

Over the last seven men’s soccer World Cups, 28 teams have reached the quarterfinals (27 if you count Croatia and Yugoslavia as one). Only one country, Germany, has reached that stage all seven times. Then it’s Brazil with six, Argentina five, three with four, two with three, and the rest with one appearance each.

Over all seven men’s rugby World Cups, including the current one, only 12 teams have reached the quarterfinals. Since South Africa was welcomed back into competition in 1995 to pave the way for a future Matt Damon role, it’s just 11. Australia, New Zealand, England, France, South Africa have never missed the quarterfinals, aside from South Africa missing the first two Cups during the apartheid days.

This group is self-reinforcing. The top 12 teams in each World Cup (quarterfinalists plus third-place group finishers) automatically qualify for the next World Cup. The rest of the world plays through a promotion/relegation/playoff scheme so complex it makes the Davis Cup look like the NCAA Tournament. And the International Rugby Board divides teams into tiers, with the top 10 playing either in the Six Nations Championship (Europe) or Four Nations (Southern Hemisphere). The second IRB tier has the seven teams that usually play in the World Cup.

Everyone else is in Tier III, including the other eight teams that have ever played in a World Cup. That’s only 25 teams. Yes, fewer teams have qualified for a 20-team tournament (formerly 16) in seven iterations than have qualified for the quarterfinals of soccer’s World Cup in the same period.

So changes in the rugby hierarchy are marked in glacial terms. But these tiers could still use a little updating.

Tier I: The big five teams are competitive within the group — no team has won it more than twice, and no team has always made the semifinals. But below that, no team has ever made the final.

Tier II: The next tier of four teams includes the three other teams to reach a rugby semifinal — Wales (1987), Scotland (1991) and Argentina (2007). Ireland is in its fifth quarterfinal but has never gone farther. This tier of four has once again accounted for the other three quarterfinal spots this year, with Scotland the odd team out for the first time.

Tier III has the other teams who have reached a quarterfinal, but they’re well back. Before South Africa joined the fun, Fiji reached the 1987 quarterfinals, and Samoa and Canada advanced that far in 1991. Samoa made it back in 1995, Fiji returned in 2007, and Canada hasn’t won more than one game in a Cup since then.

Curiously, the International Rugby Board released new rankings today in the middle of the World Cup. The changes are basically based on one game — Tonga’s upset of France. France fell three spots to No. 8; Tonga leaped four to No. 9. Everyone in between them, therefore, moved one spot in either directions. And yet nothing has really changed — eight of the nine usual suspects are in the quarterfinals.

Here’s how they stand going into those quarterfinals:

Continue reading “Rugby’s hierarchy still set in stone”

Single-Digit Soccer: The Shin Guardian “treatise” and the fundamentals

A blog post making the rounds this week is the ambitiously headlined “A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer.” To underscore how serious an effort this post really is, The Shin Guardian presents it with an intro saying the author, Ryan McCormack, is a USC master’s candidate who “spent hours refining the piece with TSG’s US Youth expert Nick Sindt.”

Given that buildup, I was a little disappointed. The piece wasn’t terrible, but given that introduction, I guess I expected more novelty and perhaps less of a fixation on Jurgen Klinsmann. But this piece is far better researched and argued than a lot of what you’ll find on the Web and much more worthy of actual discussion. And the commenters have brought on that serious discussion.

My basic objections are that the treatise is big on unanswerable problems, and it doesn’t take into account what makes the USA unique, for better or for worse.

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How and how not to change the U.S. soccer landscape

(Yes, I’ll get to WPS, magicJack and even promotion/relegation in this post. But it needs some background.)

The United States has been a graveyard of soccer leagues. The reasons are many: The scattered population and ensuing high travel costs, the cultural antipathy toward a game that wasn’t invented here, and the dominance of the Big Three and a Half team sports.

Another reason is that it’s nearly impossible to get everyone on the same page. Plenty of people have their own ideas on how to run a soccer league, and inevitably, the leagues, teams, players and fans get caught in the crossfire of egos. Let’s spend wildly on players! Let’s go indoors! Let’s go indoors but change the scoring system! Let’s blast music during the game! Let’s confine players to a particular region of the field and give them ankle bracelets so they don’t veer outside that zone!

(If you don’t find my summary here or in Long-Range Goals sufficient to make this point, read David Wangerin’s Soccer in a Football World. And note that he has another book out on the USA’s missed opportunities.)

Though the state of U.S. soccer in 2011 is a bit better than it was in 1988 or 1960 — or just about any year you could find prior to World Cup 1994 — we still have plenty of people who are convinced they know better. “X, Y and Z failed,” the argument goes, “so I must know better.”

Continue reading “How and how not to change the U.S. soccer landscape”

MLS: Still not sturdy enough to wish for another team’s demise

I often like to visit the visiting fans’ section at RFK Stadium. For one thing, it gets me out of the press sauna and out in the stands where the breezes offer some relief.

We're not superior -- RFK management just put us in the upper deck. Like the Open Cup replica?

It’s especially interesting when you have fervent fans who travel a great distance to see the recent expansion teams. They often offer insights on their teams’ successes and needs that you won’t get elsewhere. Tonight’s conversation with a Seattle supporter was no exception. Among the ground covered:

– If Adrian Hanauer were to stand today for re-election under the much-hyped promise to let fans retain or push out the GM, he’d have little trouble keeping his job. The Sounders aren’t matching last year’s results, but the good run last year didn’t give everyone unrealistic expectations.

– Freddie Ljungberg served the Sounders well in their first year, and there’s a certain amount of pride that the team’s medical staff fixed him up. But if it’s time for him to go elsewhere, so be it. The younger players could use more playing time, and the team can splurge on an even bigger designated player.

– Coach Sigi Schmid might be sticking with his old favorites (Peter Vagenas leaped to mind) a little too much.

– Players and fans need to get over their dislike of FieldTurf. World Cup qualifiers should be played at Qwest Field.

– The Seattle atmosphere is an awesome manifestation of civic pride.

And with that, he looked down (literally — visiting fans are in the upper deck) upon an unfilled lower bowl at RFK Stadium. He seemed surprised to learn that United fans, not too long ago, had filled that lower bowl on a regular basis. (Weeknights in traffic-choked, workaholic D.C. will always be tough, though.)

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U.S. Open Cup and why lower-division teams are happy

No, we shouldn’t read too much into U.S. Open Cup results. Having two USL-2 teams in the quarterfinals and no one from the USL/NASL shotgun marriage of a second tier doesn’t mean the USL-2 teams are doing everything right while the USL/NASL teams are getting it wrong. But there’s something curious happening in the USL ranks. Several years after Dave Ungrady’s Unlucky chronicled a professional team at this level that had organizational struggles (one side effect: paychecks?), we’re seeing a couple of well-established American soccer clubs that are at this level voluntarily, and they’re quite happy. You could call it … Continue reading U.S. Open Cup and why lower-division teams are happy