NWSL – Note to League: Stop Relying on the Benevolence of Teams for Information

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a pretty annoyed screed directed towards the NWSL after Portland signed goalkeeper Adelaide Gay despite it seemingly running contrary to the stated roster rules. While the league eventually untangled the knot its vague declarations of what was and what wasn’t kosher in regards to team building produced, it didn’t come before fans and some in the media alike were tearing their hair out trying to wonder if the league was just making things up as it went along.

To an extent, the league has been much better with getting league information, specifically rules and regulations for the coming season, out to the public at-large. Roster rules, competition rules, and even media standards are all produced in great detail on the official league website, answering a good many question that were bound to pop up as the NWSL prepares to enter its second season of play.

At the same time though, information about preseason has lagged considerably. Unfathomably, there isn’t a master schedule of preseason matches that has been produced by the league. In particular, why hasn’t there been more promotion centrally by the league for both the Chicago and FC Kansas City match played in the suburbs of Saint Louis and the Portland Thorns’ trip to Arizona? Though the markets of Saint Louis and Phoenix probably aren’t en vogue with greater league ambitions of more partnerships with MLS clubs, what if greater league promotion of the exhibitions led to large crowds? Led to interest from potential owners with deep pockets? The clearest way forward in expansion at this point seems to be in expanding the league’s footprint both in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Franchises in Saint Louis and Phoenix may seem whimsical at first blush, but I’m not sure many pictured Houston being in the league at this time last year, nor a franchise of a pro league in Kansas City a few years ago. Opportunity lost?

But I digress. Information posted from the league on the official website has been scattershot at best, and it’s rather difficult to discern just how exactly the league is choosing what stories/releases to reproduce on the site. By my count, Sky Blue FC and WNY Flash were the only team with multiple stories on the preseason since players reported, while Boston, Houston, Portland, and FC Kansas City have no details about the preseason through stories on the official league site. Obviously, as anyone who’s been following twitter can attest to, Houston has been very active in accounting its preseason activity, while FC Kansas City was the first team to post a preseason roster last week. Boston and Portland have also been active in detailing some of their preseason activities, even through the veil of secrecy sitting on Providence Park right now (I’ll get to that in a bit).

Overall though, the inconsistency is grating. If the league is going to reproduce team releases on the official league site, do it for every team, with some semblance of consistency. If that proves to be too much of a burden (and it may well might be), why not just produce a daily post linking to the day’s official releases from teams and/or a few stories from beat reporters and blogs covering the league and/or teams?

And on to the main bone I have to pick. Rosters. Eagle eyed fans will notice quickly that A.) There aren’t any official preseason rosters to be found on the league’s official site (other than team releases reproduced there) and B.) The official team rosters haven’t been updated in ages. Through prodding and cajoling in some cases, eight of the nine teams released their initial preseason rosters last week, albeit usually a day or two after camp had officially opened.

The lone dissenter was Portland. Why I’m shocked, I don’t know, considering Paul Riley’s reputation during his time with the Independence with this sort of thing. Through communication with beat reporters covering the team, Riley was glad to praise some of his camp invitees without naming names. I can’t speak for everyone, but I also got the impression the club would be naming a twenty-five player roster on Monday as the deadline for first roster cuts passed.

Oops. Riley indicated today to the media that the club had indeed made their cuts and turned in a twenty-five player roster to the league office but that he still wasn’t about to make public the name of the camp invitees that were still with the team. Really? Can you imagine an NFL head coach, the creme de la creme of the paranoid in the profession, praising some of his undrafted free agents in camp but proceeding to not release the names of those players?

No, you can’t. Because the NFL as a league wouldn’t let it ever come to that. Operating with brutal efficiency and noted transparency, the NFL manages to report the comings and goings in player personnel in the offseason, preseason, and beyond regardless of how insignificant the transaction may seem. Insignificant yes, but there are hundreds of hardcore fans for each team combing through the micromanaging of every chess move, no matter how small. It promotes discussion, analysis, and banter, and is another cog in the money making machine that is the NFL.

Isn’t that type of manic devotee exactly the type of fan that leagues have been trying (and failing) to cultivate since the high dollar days of WUSA? It’s the type of fan that prefers tactical analysis, transaction logs and practice reports in lieu of puff pieces and flattery. And it’s exactly the type of fan the league needs to attract and keep engaged through one of the most painfully long offseasons in professional sport.

As I write this, despite the deadline for the first cut having passed, only four teams have posted their updated twenty-five player rosters. Portland hasn’t posted a preseason roster, period. Not to sound too hyperbolic, but this is not acceptable. I think a lot of people were willing to give the league the benefit of the doubt last year as far as getting information out there was concerned given how fast things had to come together.

But it’s year two. The league has had many months to get itself organized in anticipation of the preseason and season itself. The inconsistent and incomplete release of information to the media and a dedicated fanbase is getting tiresome. The league has a master list of preseason matches to be played. As per Paul Riley’s statement, the league has a complete list of twenty-five player rosters after the week’s first round of cuts. The teams have been afforded the opportunity to call their own shots as far as the timely release of information is concerned, but it’s growing increasingly clear that such trust is being abused by some. It’s time to take that power out of the clubs’ hands and for the NWSL to start operating like the major sporting league it clearly aspires to be.

16 thoughts on “NWSL – Note to League: Stop Relying on the Benevolence of Teams for Information

  1. Friend

    I think comparing the NWSL in year two to how the NFL does things is ridiculous. I imagine the front office of the NWSL is pretty thin in personnel and they most likely have a lot of items on their plate. I think your best bet is to create a good working relationship with them and hope it helps you. But with this type of post you are not making friends of them, that is for sure.

    Reply
    1. Chris Henderson Post author

      What amazing apologism. The league doesn’t need a friend, it needs people to hold it accountable. People are asking for basic functionality, not for them to reinvent the wheel.

      Reply
      1. Friend

        My complaint was your comparison to the NFL, but hey, if the NWSL doesn’t mind the comparison who am I to complain.

        Reply
  2. arnim whisler

    Chris,

    Your points are completely valid. We have much to do and some philosophical differences among the participants on how much should be done at the team level and at the league level. No excuses, except thin front offices and thin league front office. Everything comes at once 200 player contracts, registrations, funding, stadium leases, marketing, housing arrangements for half the team, intake physicals, equipment ordering, etc. etc. Again we all want to do better and I personally think you guys need to keep calling us on this stuff. Teams have the same rules, and it only hurts the league, fans and players when we don’t communicate and over-communicate with our fans.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Arnim

    Reply
  3. Friend Too

    Absolutely loved your article Chris! I don’t care if it’s year 2 or 22, the league needs to be accountable from DAY 1.

    Reply
  4. kernel thai

    Nice of the Chicago owner to weigh in.

    I have to say I agree 100%. The analogy to the NFL is a fair one. Is it as easy for the NWSL to handle things as the NFL? No. That’s not an excuse tho. If u take ur sick child to a general practitioner instead of major hospital u still expect the doctor to be able to treat ur child. If they cant they shouldnt be in business. I always get the impression from the NWSL that it’s more about them not caring than about them not being able to. When u go complain to the dictator, dont be too surprised that ur complaint was ignored.

    Reply
    1. john

      Would you really expect a GP to have the same resources on hand as a major hospital? When I was sick w/ pneumonia I wasn’t dying, just sick, but my parents knew the place for me was the hospital not a GP visit. That being said I agree there are too many instances in which the professionalism of the league and team staffs misses the mark.

      Reply
  5. Steve

    I agree with Chris’ rant, I and like Arnim’s response. One thing that really does stick in my craw, though, is Riley’s decision to withhold information. That action cannot be attributed to thin staffing or lack of resources — he’s just being a d*&k, for whatever reason. He is really, really missing the point if he believes that sort of behavior is worth whatever competitive advantage he perceives. One tendency that I hope does not develop with Paulson and Riley, etc., is a sort of entitlement attitude — e.g., “we nearly built this thing [NWSL] ourselves, and/or we’re the big boy on the block [in terms of attendance], so we can ride roughshod over these annoying league rules.” I hope they don’t creep toward the Borislow attitude — e.g., “I’m your [league’s] savior, so I can make up which rules I follow and which roles I’ll ignore.”

    Reply
    1. fdchief218

      I don’t get that from Paulson; he’s never come across as a Borislow-level magicJackass. Riley, it’s too soon to tell, but I agree with you that not releasing the 25-player roster is a d*&k move, and I hope that it’s just him being careless and not actively dismissive of the fanbase. In general Paulson has been very aware of his privileged position given the fanbase in Portland, and hopefully he’s reading this stuff and giving Riley the heads-up that he needs to remember that he’s no longer in Philadelphia…

      Reply
    2. 2bits

      Riley is also not doing the mystery players any favor by keeping them hush hush. If they are ultimately offered a full roster spot for the season, that’s great. But if they find themselves cut in the end and they aren’t even on anyone else’s radar within the league, they’re pretty much screwed.

      Reply
  6. fdchief218

    Well said, Chris.

    I write for the Portland soccer blog “Slide Rule Pass” and I’ve been waiting in hopes of putting up a preseason post discussing the team and how the Thorns look to be shaping as the season opener approaches.

    I wanted to talk about player strengths and weaknesses and how they might affect the team’s shape on the pitch, what changes we might see from CPC’s tactics of 2013, and how the loss of Morgan might affect who steps in to fill her spot next to Christine Sinclair. In other words, just the sort of fan you talked about.

    And I’m STILL waiting. Because I STILL have no idea who Riley is going to put in red on March 28th, less than ten days away.

    Adn that’s ridiculous. This isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t take a staff of dozens. The coach hands off the roster to an AA, the AA types it into an e-mail to the league and then cuts and pastes it into your website. Done.

    If the league wants to get more public attention this stuff needs to happen. Yesterday. There are WAY too many bad examples of why what they’re doing now doesn’t work for this to be ignored.

    Reply
  7. boltgirl

    If they get around to printing programs with a roster for the March 28 match in Tucson, I’ll snag one and scan it for you.

    Reply
  8. cpthomas

    Funny, notwithstanding the Portland blogger’s comment, I haven’t heard any complaints here in Portland. Anyone who looks at the current roster on the Thorns/Timbers website has a very good idea what the roster is going to be. All we’re talking about is players at the periphery who might or might not make the team. And, anyone who spent time looking to see who played in Arizona has a very good picture of who the periphery players are. And, with a big deal like the Vero one in the works, earlier information would have been deceptive since the move of Williamson to WNY casts a new light on a lot, the move of Wetzel to WNY less so. To me, maybe I have a little curiosity about who the periphery players might be, but I knew who all of them were last year and I don’t feel like I have more or less significant information now. I certainly don’t feel deprived, notwithstanding I’m a diehard fan.

    Plus, Paulsen has established a “game” culture about what the Thorns/Timbers teams are doing in relation to their rosters, using Twitter to drop hints that sometimes are easy to decipher and sometimes are more difficult. He actually broadcast the Vero efforts a long time ago when the Angerer acquisition was heating up and I feel really smart that I read his very subtle hint correctly that they were trying to get her but had a long way to go. From a fan perspective, stuff like that is more entertaining and fun than knowing who is on the periphery hoping to get one of the last spots on the team — especially if who those players isn’t going to end up being very informative of who will be on the ultimate roster.

    Reply

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