Sunday, May 20, 2012

Talking women's pro leagues

Quietly this past week Women's Professional Soccer, the latest attempt at a viable pro women's soccer league in the United States, disbanded - sending its five remaining teams in a variety of directions.

The WNBA kicked off another season Sunday with defending champion Minnesota taking on Phoenix.

College softball is on the road to the Women's College World Series with its usual array of games across the ESPN brand.

Yet here's the problem: Did you know any of that? Unfortunately, the answer is likely no.

People have taken on this subject for years, in some cases very eloquently and with plenty of insight - Why can't women's sports really catch on more viably with the American sports public?

That's a question with a lot of layers to it, but any way you slice it, it's a shame.

However - and again unfortunately - the women's pro leagues just can't seem to really take root.

Women's soccer, since the popularity of the 1999 Women's World Cup staged in the U.S. and won by the host country, has had multiple attempts to field pro leagues similar to its European counterparts but with not nearly as much success and staying power.

In the WNBA, it's a fact attendance is not very good and TV ratings, if reports are accurate that ESPN2 broadcasts averaged 270,000 viewers last season, that's not good either.

And as far as softball, you would think these athletes would have a chance to move on to bigger and better things professionally. Yet people seem to be barely aware there's even a league, National Pro Fastpitch.

The biggest thing is, somehow, these leagues need to find a way to establish more of an identity and more of an interest with the casual sports fan. Forget the people who go to the extremes and spew ignorance about subjects having nothing to do with sports when it comes to women's pro leagues, because those people will never come around.

It's all about identity. How to do it, though - well, obviously there's work to be done.

But one thing is certain: If you have children who happen to be athletes, and your sons dream of competing on the biggest stages for the biggest championships, your daughters should be able to have the same aspirations. Here's to hoping it happens sooner rather than later.

- Chris Lillstrung


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