How to make the W-League go mainstream

by Teo Pellizzeri on Feb 01, 2012

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Splurge then wasteland. The last two significant women's football imprints on mainstream media have followed this pattern.

After capturing the nation's attention during the Women's World Cup last year, the Matildas failed to qualify for the Olympics in an untelevised, barely covered footnote of a tournament.

If you need any proof of that, just look at how many media figures have asked, "why isn't Michelle Heyman in the Matildas squad?" even though the W-League top scorer did in fact play all five Olympic qualifiers, three as a starter.

Now after the feel-good women's soccer moment of 2012, Canberra United completing an unbeaten season in front a record 2500 crowd, the game enters a nine-month off-season and virtual wasteland.

Things were already pretty bad. The national under-17 and under-20 teams both flunked in Asian qualifying for youth World Cup tournaments to be held this year, in addition to the Matildas missing the Olympics.

Now any Aussie players hoping to forge a career in America have learnt the bad news that Women's Professional Soccer has suspended operations for the 2012 season.

The executive summary of the WPS situation is that the league suspended operations because it is being sued by the owner of expelled club Boca Raton magicJack, Dan Borislow. Worth a Google if you want to know how not to run a club in any league, never mind a supposedly professional one.

All these factors certainly cast a shadow over the future of women's football in general, so let's look at two (realistic) things the W-League can take care of in the near future to try and keep its own competition alive and well.

Let's not forget that for those fans who don't take an interest in the politics and business of the game, this W-League season did end with the all-time high watermark for the competition.

1. Select Appropriate Sized Venues

It's not really possible to say that playing curtain-raisers to A-League games is a "realistic" improvement that can be made to the W-League, given the current financial obstacles involved.
Never mind the games having to be played so much earlier than the A-League kick-off that any fan boost is negligible.

Suitable sized venues for the fans attracted, realistically a peak of 1000 per game, is possibly the most important thing for next W-League season.

Canberra knew its limitations on grand final day - there were no thoughts of over-extending and going to 25,000-seater Bruce Stadium - they stayed at McKellar Park and sold out a 2500 capacity venue.

Contrast this with Melbourne Victory who have had three cracks at playing at Kardinia Park in Geelong over the last two seasons and drawn a peak crowd of, generous estimation, 300.
Kardinia Park seats 28,300 fans ? that?s 28,000 empty seats in a cavernous, windy arena.

Even Campbelltown Stadium - which has hosted a grand final - fits into the oversize category with its 21,000 seat capacity.
Booking venues is not easy, especially if it's the TV game. But it's time for the W-League to give up on grossly oversized arenas for what needs to be a niche product.

2. Time For A New Poster Girl

There are two big reasons that WNBL Basketball holds down the column inches, TV time and radio airplay that it does.

One is something that football can't do much about for another four years - The Opals are perennial Olympic and World Championship medalists, and the media loves an Aussie winner.
The other is something that the W-League needs to consider, there is always a superstar present in the WNBL.

The identifiability and marketability of a Lauren Jackson in the past, Liz Cambage right now, and no doubt Rachel Jarry in the future, has given the WNBL a "name" that more than just die-hard fans of the game care about.

A player who when they do something, is significant mainstream news.

Right now the W-League's biggest name is Ellyse Perry, who didn't even play in the finals series for Canberra United after choosing cricket instead.

Football needs to concede that the Perry train has sailed. She can do things on a cricket field that most other women cricketers can"t.

Unless she does an about-face and commits to playing soccer year-round by landing a European contract, it's time to give up on her as the marquee name of this league.

It's time for the W-League to take its best players, brightest national talents, and start promoting and marketing them like they matter, like a Jackson or Cambage.

Even if initially it seems like grossly overstating their standing in the Australian sporting landscape. Say it for long enough and loud enough, and eventually it'll catch on.

However that's easier said than done.