Watching soccer, and by “watching soccer” I mean watching any game you want, in any league, has been getting incrementally easier for American fans over the past few years. The cable networks have expanded their offerings and more is offered streaming online. There are still snags, though, particularly if you are a) unwilling to buy big cable packages, and b) hesitant to frequent online pirate streams with their terrible resolution and porn pop-up ads. While it’s not a natural right to have immediate access to all MLS, EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Eredivisie, and Brazilian League, part of the joy of being a soccer fan is the gigantic scope of sport on offer. You don’t want to be left out in the cold, which brings me to my point: while the major international leagues are all accessible to the pioneering viewer, what about our brand new domestic women’s league? What about the Portland Thorns?
The stars of the US Women’s National Team have every ounce of star power their male counterparts do, probably more. The Thorns, of course, have one of the biggest national stars in Alex Morgan. For a couple decades now, the USWNT has had remarkable media draw and charisma, but celebrity hasn’t translated into a stable domestic league.
It’s a little bit perverse, but television is a big part of the growth of the sport in the US. As a child of the 1980s and 90s, aside from the World Cup, it was very difficult for me to see live soccer on TV. Next fall, the English Premier League will be on NBC. The leagues, and cable providers, are now battling fiercely for our time and attention, our bandwidth. This wealth of options has even lead the MLS commissioner Don Garber to suggest, ludicrously, that other leagues be blacked out to keep Americans from straying from his domestic brew. In the midst of all this noise and money-grubbing maneuvering, the National Women’s Soccer League is doing its best to find a toehold in its inaugural season.
Part of the new league’s strategy is modesty: low salaries, level-headed expectations for crowd draw, a small number of teams. Basically, they want to make sure their books stay balanced, which the preceding women’s pro leagues failed at. In the last six weeks of the season, Fox Soccer will broadcast one NWSL game a week, with each team in the league appearing once (check out the schedule). I, for one, hope people tune in.
Of course, when I think much on the industry that cocoons the sport, I feel ill. I mean, who wants to think about cable packages? I just want to watch people kick around a ball. This, wonderfully, is something you can do with very little interference on the Thorns’ website. There are all the usual highlight reels and also streams of the games. Right now, you can see the recent match against Sky Blue FC. The production isn’t fancy, there aren’t multiple cameras, and a lack of (thank God) Gus Johnson’s voice. You’re just watching women play the sport. It feels ... new.