A scientifically sound Top 20 Women’s Soccer Players List. First of its kind! Ok, so science had nothing to do with it. I based it on this year’s performance, big stage opportunities, roles on their club/NT, personal achievements, and the eyeball test.
Nadine Keßler [wiki / video] WCQ, Algarve Cup Winner, Bundesliga Champ, 2014 CL Winner, 2015 CL Quarter-finalists, UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe
Lotta Schelin [wiki / twitter] WCQ, D1 Feminine Champ, Coupe de France Winner, Top Scorer for Sweden, Daimantbollen Winner, Sweden Forward of the Year
Jessica Fishlock [wiki / video] Wales highest FIFA ranking, 2015 CL Quarter-finalists, 2013-14 W-League Champ, W-League Grand Final Player of the Match, NWSL Shield winner, NWSL Best XI, NWSL Assist Leader
Carli Lloyd [wiki / video] WCQ, NWSL Second XI, 7th in All Time USWNT Scorers
Ali Riley [wiki] WCQ, OFC Nations Cup Champ, Damallsvenskan Champ, 2015 CL Quarter-finalists
I bought season tickets to the Houston Dash this year. They’re an expansion team in the NWSL women’s pro soccer league. The ninth team in the league that is in its second year. I bought them the day they came out and trusted the roster and the schedule would be favorable. I figured I’d be able to go to some of the games at least but in the end between so many weekday games and night games the travel from Austin didn’t work out. (Also they passed on Kelley O’Hara in the expansion draft…err…how?) I basically made a donation to support the club nearest to me, but was unable to go.
I did have one date I circled and planned, hell or high water, to attend. The one time in the season my team, the Seattle Reign, would be in town. Hope Solo’s birthday game even. A Wednesday night which meant I had to take off work for it to make the drive in from Austin on time and would be getting back home well past my bedtime. With my various health issues it was quite the adventure, but my sister agreed to be a passenger on the trip and watch her first pro soccer game so I had a safety net in case I got sick. I took vacation off at work, punched the coordinates into my garmin Majel, and packed safe-for-me-food to eat for the trip. Almost four hours later and we were there. Houston wasn’t as big of an armpit as I was warned it would be either. All in all an auspicious start to the evening.
The stadium was awesome. It was way easier to get in and out from than Toyota Park in Chicago had been. Parking was just $10. The staff and everyone around was nice. They even gave me bubbles to blow onto the field for some reason. I did not do this when Hope was on my side.
The seats were great. Front row behind the visiting bench as I had planned. I sat front row at Toyota Park before but they had VIP seating right in front of me so it felt like I was actually six back or so. These were real front row seats.
I got to watch them warm up right in front of me. Hope had 4-5 camera people taking shots of her during all of this. It was kind of funny seeing people warm up with everyone staring at them. Lost in their own worlds even when annoying tweens are yelling their names the whole time. I suppose they tune it out with practice. Everyone looked like they did on tv only narrower I want to say. In a fit, wiry way. It’s hard to describe but it catches me off guard each time. Athletes are lean. At one point Hope stood behind Kop for a second and the people near me thought she had left the field. Vanished.
Side note: Amanda Frisbie was doing most of the warm ups with the team. She’s getting better from her injury, but probably not in time for the end of the season. Hrmph. Carm also did warm ups despite being officially out for the season now and helped players warm up before being subbed in. Coach Carm!
As usual my iPhone camera made everything look super far away. I didn’t take a lot of pictures after I saw how bad they were and mostly just enjoyed the game with my own eyes as it should be. I made friends with the Dash fans around me. Everyone was really nice. There was a group of Reign family and friends in our section so the cheering was happening in an oddly syncopated way. Despite the scoreline everyone seemed to be having a good time in the stands. It was a beat down, but at least it was against the number one team I suppose.
After the game I estimated my chances to get Hope to come over and sign my kit as fair, but not good. She could literally go anywhere to sign and just as easily work her way away from me as towards me. I draped the kit over the wall so she’d at least see a Reign fan was in my section if she felt inclined to come this way.
Hope started signing at the goal on my side and slowly worked her way around the bend and towards my seats near the center. Things looked to be going my way, but she was speeding up a little bit as it wore on and I was starting to think it would be a repeat of the infamous 6 Feet Rejection in Chicago.
Hope saw me holding her kit and stopped to sign it. One of her hands was full of birthday notes and things so as she was eyeing the kit she gave me a look (the one below) and said she needed flat surface to write on. Her hand was full and she mimed signing in the air with her one free hand. Everything I planned to say went out of my mind as I tried to produce a flat surface. I had actually brought a clipboard with me for that very reason, but one of the tweens from the flood that followed her around the stadium had gotten past my guard and had stepped on it (AND the poster I had other Reign players sign…arg!) and wouldn’t get off. I finally shoved my own hand behind the kit and she wrote her sig over that. I was so focused on making sure I didn’t mess up the flat surface and lose my chance that I forgot to say anything but mumble “thank you”.
The girl next to me took the photos of her signing the kit and emailed them to me. That’s my hand there holding it. I said she captured my best angle. Hah! So it finally happened! My years (YEARS) long quest to meet my favorite sports star. Hope was above and beyond nice to people, signed for a long time, and made this fan very happy. Maybe next time I might actually say more than just “Thank you” while looking like an idiot. A new goal!
The drive back was long and dark and not much else. I was all geared up to going to another game until it was nearly three in the morning and my passenger had requested no music while she slept and it was like I was entombed in darkness. Hours after hours and I had to go to work the next day. These 8pm start times do not work for me.
It is easy to be envious of a team that far ahead of the game on and off the field, but not everything they do is unreachable.
The majority of women’s soccer clubs don’t have the resources of Lyon on or off the field. The support of the men’s club and literal oil money isn’t likely going to be an option for many teams in the near future. Give or take a plot twist by a Texan oil tycoon or Mark Cuban. That kind of ownership isn’t there yet. Off field resources like their online presence is enhanced by the existing infrastructure of the club as well. It’s like adding a new wing on a mansion. Electric and water hookup is a snap and afternoon tea is served promptly at four.
It is easy to be envious of a team that far ahead of the game on and off the field, but not everything they do is unreachable. Not everything they do is pricey either, but rather common sense content that either already exists and just needs to be disseminated or requires a little footwork to create. Perhaps the old idiom “she put her pants on one leg at at time” might be the better sentiment. If Lyon is a look into the future why not start with what they do that is attainable right now?
Vision: First Appearances
The first thing you see on Lyon’s homepage is that the front page intermingles news items for the men’s and women’s club. Right off the bat that sets the tone on how they view their women’s program. There isn’t a special section for women’s club news somewhere off to the side or bottom widget. Content circulates through the main site’s architecture equally. Even for the main heroshot of the front page.
Navigation links to the women’s and men’s club are right next to each other too. The women are not excluded from the homepage or shuffled off into a secondary navigation. There seems to be no thought to sparing fans of the men’s team from running across content for the women’s. It’s everywhere. Even information like injury updates are right in the main ticker.
No over pandering to the youth segment in function, color scheme, or content.
If this content equality was by thoughtful design or simply a web developer promoting an easier architecture it is hard to say, but in whatever spirit it was done it is one of the few clubs in any sport that integrates their men’s and women’s teams so completely on the web.
Details: The Due Diligence
Once you navigate to the women’s lander you will see that it is identical to the men’s lander. An interesting side effect of using a preexisting architecture is that it does away with some traps that women’s teams often fall into in over targeting young girls. They get to have same adult appearance and appeal that men’s sports have had for years. No over pandering to the youth segment in function, color scheme, or content.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the type of content important to fans of male sports are important to fans of female sports too. If you are into stats they have stats. Going all the way back through team history of achievements and a player’s career. They give a weekly schedule of practice times, travel days, and matches. Everything is punctual and there is no waiting for a match highlight after a game that never comes. Photos and videos are plentiful. The site is set up with different languages based on IP or a switch in the navigation. A feature every club should consider seriously.
If you can’t find a roster on the website, the headshots are from a Google image search, or its lacking an up-to-date injury report it isn’t for the lack of money.
Getting the details right is supremely important and when it comes to content it is just a matter of figuring out what can be applied. For Lyon it means the content a longtime sports fan expects to be there is. It seems like a little thing, but not everyone does it. Much isn’t difficult content to obtain, but it is so often skipped by those who could afford to do it. What they do in every page simply involves dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. Information based content is a must have for every team. If you can’t find a roster on the website, the headshots are from a Google image search, or its lacking an up-to-date injury report it isn’t for the lack of money.
Implementation: Spend Like Old Money, Not New Money
Frivolous spending is something that can plague the rich or not so rich clubs around the world. Frivolous is not exclusive to those with larger budgets. A budget is a budget and if you go over it or waste it on low impact content you’ve made a mistake. The basic thought process for any club should be towards intelligent investment no matter the financial resources. What Lyon does well is when it invests money is it gets all of the details right. That is obvious when you look at their roster but it is also obvious when you look at their premium content.
Lyon makes their premium content accessible through broadcast on their television station and online behind a paywall. It is interesting that such a rich club charges for some content online, but it is the trade off for livestreaming a paid television channel to the web. They aren’t in the business of undercutting themselves between the two mediums.
Fortunately there is new content every week, even for the women’s team, and everything is archived so you have access to old matches and interviews as well as fresh content and a livefeed of OLTV. The film quality is excellent. It comes out to a little over six dollars a month US and can be easily charged to your credit card on a per month basis or other longer term packages.
They make the woso universe feel more interconnected.
Recently OLTV launched L’Hebdo Féminin which is a weekly program that airs on television Mondays and online a day later. Content includes:
In studio player interviews.
A word from the coach.
Featured segments on international players / national team news.
Recent match highlights.
Domestic league standings.
Match updates and standings from women’s leagues around the world including video footage.
Champions League news.
A full match. Either the latest one from that weekend or a classic from the vault.
They could have done half of that and people would be happy but they decided to go all the way to provide content for their fans. Even general current events that major news outlets should be covering but don’t. This club is filling the gap. What most impressed me is that they discuss women’s soccer beyond their club and even beyond their borders including video footage of other leagues in Sweden, Germany, England, and the USA. They make the woso universe feel more interconnected.
While that is .001% of coverage men’s sports get it is still comprehensive and done right and is providing a service to soccer fans. A weekly television spot is definitely out of the question for other clubs, but video itself is doable as is the spirit of promoting knowledge of woso from around the world.
Example 2 The type of content they make doesn’t have to be hour long segments. Here they’ve filmed Lotta Schelin and Lara Dickenmann lightheartedly going over old footage. Camera set up, old footage, and willing participants and you have something that could be part of a series of videos spread across the season.
Example 3 Premium content is a good investment if done correctly. Lyon was followed throughout the preseason and low-cost photos and stories were shared on the website and pushed through social media as it was happening. Along with the more traditional media that came from the preseason they also filmed an episode for a show called Dr’OL de DAM (DDD) that lasted well over an hour.
It was content that had usefulness throughout the season as a promotional tool and it gave a good impression of the players and their commitment and preparation for the upcoming season.
DDD featured an extensive interview with Lotta Schelin, introduced new and returning players, showed video of preseason training like the bike race in the mountains, team building rock climbing, merchandise photoshoots, and sponsor activities. The video gave them something to show their fans as well as an attractive record for the archives. It was content that had usefulness throughout the season as a promotional tool and it gave a good impression of the players and their commitment and preparation for the upcoming season.
As more money is being invested into women’s clubs around the world the picture of what a fully professional and supported women’s club looks like is forming. Progress of all kinds are happening each year from leagues switching over to fully professional training schedule to players being paid a reasonable wage to experimenting with men’s club supported teams and federation run leagues.
The clubs that are ahead are just that. A little further along the road but on the same road. Instead of saying they should slow down and back track consider them on the front lines and doing the prep work. Some of the things they do can be applied to any club.
Vision. Figure out your identity and set weekly and monthly content goals from the mundane to the long term projects that support that. Take step back and see what your site architecture is really saying about your priorities.
Details. Do your due diligence. The sports cycle is fairly predictable but fleshing that out with content requires effort and planning. The team building off season, preseason build up, the drama of various rivalries, cups, and in some cases the post season or Champions League is something clubs can tap into when preparing content. Copy, photos, and video are essential, but a plan on how to execute that content is just as important.
Implementation. Spend like Old Money. Plan and execute. Whatever you do make sure it lines up with the goals you set as a club. Live within your means where you can and invest in premium content wisely.
Check out what these clubs have done online. They show a spectrum of men’s club supported, associated, and fully independent teams: Liverpool, Portland, and Seattle.