A sort-of research question...

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A sort-of research question...

Post by amg on Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:24 pm

Hello Nation-

This is Andrew Guest; I teach at UP in Social & Behavioral Sciences, and am a long-time soccer guy. I'm putting my name in here (which, I realize, is contrary to the Pilot Nation norms) because I'm posting to ask for some ideas you all might have related to some writing I'm doing. I've recently started writing a weekly essay/post for a soccer web-site that takes a quasi-academic / quasi-popular approach to the game (the stuff I've done so far is here: http://pitchinvasion.net/blog/author/andrewguest/ ). I'm doing the writing mostly because I have a fair bit of experience with soccer in Africa and am hoping to be part of the discussion in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but I also have an interest in American soccer and want to do some writing about that. So this is all a long-winded (typical academic!) way of saying that I think the UP women's soccer phenomena is worthy of some analysis.

Here's my premise: I suspect UP is the only place in the country, and maybe in the world, where there are multiple men's and women's teams but women's soccer is the single most popular sport (but maybe someone out there can tell me if I'm wrong). So then the question is why is UP such an outlier? Obviously a big part of it is winning. The UP women have had significantly more on-field success than any other team on campus. But other women's programs at other schools have lots of success, and don't attract the same fans and following as UP's team. So the key question is really what else, in addition to the winning, explains the popularity? And are there any lessons there for other promoters of women's soccer or women's sports more generally (eg, other colleges or even the WPS)?

What I'd be particularly interested in from Pilot Nation folks is any specific perspectives and anecdotes that might contribute to a good analytic essay. I know there have been some recent back-and-forths in the basketball forum about whether supporting women's soccer makes sense, and I know there was a topic earlier in the summer about how people became pilot fans (and I might sample some of those anonymously if no one objects), but I thought the fans on here might have some more direct insight that I'd very much appreciate.

So, why is it that UP women's soccer is such an outlier? And what's your evidence? (that's the social scientist in me!)

I'm going to try to write this up this week-end (Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th), and if there's any interest I'll let you all know if the essay gets posted.

Thanks very much for any input. Andrew.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by aleppiek on Wed Sep 09, 2009 8:29 am

Andrew,

As you have probably noticed from your perusal of the forums here, there are a wide variety of individuals from various backgrounds. Alumnus, Non-Alumnus, Philosophers, Engineers, Lawyers etc...

At least on its face you could attribute the success of Soccer in this community to Clive Charles individually. He helped to develop a program in which, coaches and players, and in turn the fans really do feel like community.

Without Clive's influence, we are not having this discussion. He put UP on the map, he installed a system of fluidity that is beautiful to watch.

Anecdotal evidence would say that Soccer is a game for Intellectuals, Portland has a lot of those. We tried to determine once how many of the UP season ticket holders are alumnus, I think what we found is that there are a lot of very passionate UP soccer fans who have no tie to the University. Part of this may be attributable to the big women's soccer events that PDX has hosted. With the recent success of the Timbers I would imagine we will see an influx of peripheral UP Men's soccer fans. However the Timbers do not likely turn as many heads as the run-up to the Women's world cup several years back.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by SoreKnees on Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:28 am

I"m one of the non-alum soccer fans who came to the UP women's program because it is a classy outfit that is fun to watch. I gave up my Timbers' season tickets a few years ago because they lacked the fluid balance of skill and pace that the UP women have.

But for me it goes beyond what happens on the field. In many ways, the UP women's program is a paragon of college sports. The players are serious students and model citizens as well as highly skilled athletes. The coaches work with the players not only for success on the field but to advance their personal goals and soccer players and people. That, of course, started with Clive Charles but clearly lives on in Garrett Smith and his staff.

This is such a breath of fresh air in today's world of college athletics. More typical is the kind of side-show evident last weekend in Boise: teams whose fans fret all week about what uniforms to wear, then go onto the field and embarrass themselves as athletes, then disgrace themselves afterward as human beings. I can take my seat at Merlo Field with confidence that the team will play hard (and well) and that regardless of the outcome they will conduct themselves in a sporting manner. I haven't seen many losses at Merlo, but even when I have I've usually left with a smile on my face.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by aleppiek on Wed Sep 09, 2009 11:42 am

Soreknees, Couldn't agree more, but you can also give the fans themselves in making this program what it is. I have heard time and time our fan's being described as Knowledgeable, and passionate. I think fans of Women's soccer respect the game and its tactics.

Another example of the quality of our players. About a year ago my wife, mother in law, and son were at lunch at a local cafe and the Rapinoes were sitting at an adjacent table. My son being the little social guy he is got their attention, and they ended up talking only to find out that my wife grew up in a neighboring city to the Rapinoes and apparently knew a lot of the same people. The Rapinoes requested that my wife and mother in law come meet their parents at the next home game... about 3 months later we attended the selection show at the HOF room. Megan walked in recognized my son and wife and took 5 minutes out to say hello and see how they were doing. My point is, they are "THE" team on campus, but don't have the "swagger" that typically follows those athletes around. They are approachable, good citizens, good students, and incredible role models.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by purple pride on Wed Sep 09, 2009 1:11 pm

I am not an alumni of UP nor do I live in Portland (or in Oregon for that matter). I grew up and still live in Northern California. I am connected to UP by my daughter – who is an academic freshman and a member of the UP women’s soccer team.

I think to understand why people love UP’s women’s soccer team one must go beyond mere intellectual reasoning and rely more on intuition or ‘feeling’. For example (not to speak for my daughter) but I am reasonably sure she didn’t decide to attend UP based on an analysis of data. She decided to attend UP based on the ‘feeling’ she experienced when she first toured the campus and the ‘feeling’ she experienced when she first met her future teammates. Perhaps some of that ‘feeling’ or spirit was created by Clive Charles (I don’t know because I didn’t live in Portland when he was alive) but I do know it’s real because my wife and I have felt it too.

The closest thing I can relate this ‘feeling’ to is the spirit that surrounded the Grateful Dead in the late ’60’s and ‘70’s (when I grew up). The Grateful Dead were certainly not the most successful rock band in that era, nor did they get the most press, and they certainly weren’t the most talented group of musicians. However, they commanded a fierce and loyal following primarily because of what they stood for – family, community and watching out for others. I think that same phenomena surrounds UP’s women’s soccer team. They have a loyal following not only because they play exceptional soccer and are successful (although I am sure that is part of it). It’s also because of what they stand for –team first, loyalty to each other, compassion, and giving back to the community.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by exsmith21 on Wed Sep 09, 2009 2:40 pm

I think it is quite simple-- people are attracted to greatness, especially improbable greatness, and want to be a part of it. A women's soccer team from a small liberal arts college being a national contender with sell-out crowds of extreme fans-- what's not to like? when people ask me about the game experience I tell them about a home game two years ago, I think it was the second round in NCAAs. When I was locking my bike outside the stadium the crowd was going nuts, incredibly loud, stomping the bleachers, just deafening noise, couldn't hear the drums, etc. I had no idea what was going on and I freaked out that I was late and had missed a goal. But then I could barely make out the announcer saying, "the home crowd is getting excited for the team to come out of the locker room!" And I got a really warm feeling that this was a special place and a special team.

I'm not an alum, but I drag my friends and family to these games because it's good soccer, it's a good community, and by packing the stands we can all be part of their success.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by Indigo Kid on Wed Sep 09, 2009 2:48 pm

One personal observation.
When my daughter started playing soccer 18 years ago, coaches were looking for higher level games to bring the players to expose them to the type of play that they could develop. Granted younger kids like the refreshment stands and playing with their friends more. But as more groups came, these kids grew up and they either kept coming or moved on. The other point I wanted to make is a lot of the parents of those kids are still coming to the games, my wife and me included.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by Stonehouse on Wed Sep 09, 2009 3:49 pm

A great question to look into, Andrew!

I think now that we're in the heyday of support for the women's team, it's easy to forget that the team has been good - really good - since the early 90's. Where we're at now - leading the country in attendance, women's soccer being the marquee sport - was built on the backs of years and years of continued excellence. For a long while the men's team were the standard bearers (which culminated in, oh, about 2000 when they had Conor Casey, Clive coached the Olympic team, and UP was ranked #1), but then the women's team won the National Championship, which really turned things on its head.

If you ask me, that's what really cemented the women's team's status... Final Fours and WCC Championships are one thing, but to be able to say you are the National Champion? That's BIG. No matter what the sport is. And to do it twice? Even bigger.

But really, it was the magical 2005 season that turned women's soccer at UP into the big thing. The combination of a transcedent superstar (Christine Sinclair) surrounded by All-Americans, a perfect season, and a terrific beat writer all lead to what can really only be described as a frenzy. The Pilots were on the front page of the Oregonian seemingly every day, the attendance numbers swelled to record heights, a playoff game sold out in, what, thirty minutes? Something ridiculous like that? That was just a unique circumstance, and the school has been able to maintain the momentum from it (mainly because the team has still been so good).

And when you add in the extenuating factors like a small school with no football, Portland being favorably disposed to soccer, the lack of role models in women's sports, the youth soccer phenomenon... all of those helped us get to where we are now.

In a lot of ways, it parallels what happened with Gonzaga basketball. The Elite Eight run in 1999 (or was it 98?) is what everyone remembers as the catalyst, but people forget that GU was really good all through the early-mid 90's as well and built a base of support the hard way before the watershed moment.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by Harry Redknapp on Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:06 pm

Clive Charles built a quality program. Top quality soccer, played the way the game is supposed to be played, i.e. with skill and speed and finesse and teamwork. Not brawn and brute strength. So UP has a game that uses one- and two-touch play, emphasizes passing and retaining possession and creating clear scoring chances. Not the long ball hoofed upfield to a big strong player to knock over the other team. The team is bigger than any player. The girls recruited to this program have to be good soccer players, but they also have to be good students, and they have to be good people.

That is the ethos and culture that continues to this day.

So as a coach I love to bring players to see the game because kids can learn about the game by watching it played.

As a parent of two girls they can see the game played very well and also meet the players and see what great kids they are. And the best players are just as pleasant and accommodating as any other team mates. They talk to the young girls who come to watch them; they sign autographs; they are wonderful role models.

UP has had a lot of very very good players. Too many to try to name them all. But as the program finally made it to national championship success UP had a world class star in Christine Sinclair. She was named one of the top 25 women players in the world while she was at UP. And she had a 3.4 or 3.5 GPA in chemistry and she was unselfish as a player and modest and unassuming off the field.

Any many of the other factors mentioned by others above: no other big D1 program in town; Portland has a history of soccer love; and the critical mass for a big deal in D1 soccer is not high - 4,000 fans is a big crowd.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by A_Fan on Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:56 pm

Beyond the reasons already given I'd point to the lack of football as another reason for the popularity of the UP women as opposed to the successful programs at other schools. Football is hugely popular at schools like Notre Dame, UCLA, Stanford and North Carolina and it's season coincides with soccer. I have a cousin in North Carolina whose 2 daughters played soccer growing up through high school. They both went to UNC and never went to a single women's soccer game. Football was the reason, it was the biggest social event on campus. Despite the fact that their football team has never come close to winning a championship and the soccer team has won more than any other program, it's football that is king. This is true at most big schools.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by eProf on Wed Sep 09, 2009 5:20 pm

Harry Redknapp wrote:As a parent of two girls they can see the game played very well and also meet the players and see what great kids they are. And the best players are just as pleasant and accommodating as any other team mates. They talk to the young girls who come to watch them; they sign autographs; they are wonderful role models.

I don't think that the availability of the soccer players can be understimated. During my first year as a season ticket holder, I bumped into Wynne McIntosh (Forward, '94-'97) in the stands during a men's game. We had a brief conversation. She found out that I was a new season ticket holder, and very genuinely expressed appreciation for my support of the team. It left an impression on me.

Some years later, I was standing near the corner of the stadium where the team enters/exits, waiting to give some encouragement to the team. A young girl (8 years, maybe) was also waiting. She told me that she was waiting for Kristen Rogers because "we email each other". Apparently Kristen had developed a friendship with this girl that had led to them having email-conversations between games. Imagine what it must have meant for a young soccer player to have one of her sports idols take such a personal interest in her.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by UPSoccerFanatic on Wed Sep 09, 2009 5:42 pm

Two things I'd like to add, as a non-alum with a soccer playing past a long time ago.

First, Texas A&M is the other school that has a big women's soccer following and they do have big football, so you might want to try to get a sense of what happened there.

Second, for the Pilots it's a package that has many facets that have created an "intimacy" among the coaches, the players, and the fans. A bunch of those facets have been mentioned already. One not yet mentioned, but that I think every poster would agree with, is the intimacy of Merlo Field. It was built with the intention of providing a direct connection between the fans and the players. Especially on the non-reserved seat side where the student section is, you literally can call out to the players "Man on" to let them know a player is coming to mark them. You also can aim friendly taunts at opposing players, as the student section likes to do, and know they hear it. After games on the reserved seat side, you can lean over the bar and talk to the players. Merlo thus is a significant part of the equation.

I think Clive had a total vision for the program that included the values of the coaches, the kind of soccer that was best suited to women, the kind of coaching that was best suited to women, the kind of relationship that could grow between a team and its fans (probably from his soccer days in England), and the kind of field facilities that were best suited to nurturing the team-fan relationship. that fact that the vision has come to pass is truly amazing.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by mattywizz on Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:07 pm

First off, I agree with every thing else that has been mentioned, but you can't stress enough how great the women are off the field as a contribution of their "fame" and following.

I'd like to add that their style of play is what sets them apart from the men's team. I have not been to a men's game in several years, but they have pretty much always played a very physical, long ball oriented game, while the women have played a ball-control oriented game. A big portion of the Pilot fans are parents/coaches bringing their children to the games to show them how to play the game properly. The women's game equates much better to teaching the youngins the right way to play, one-touch passing, moving the ball through all positions, using the whole field.

Basically, in my opinion parents have several reasons to bring their kids out to the games. Even after the kids are grown up and out of the house the parents keep on supporting the team. That is what happened with my parents. They used to bring my brother and me to the games and now they have season tickets with family and friends.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by Stonehouse on Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:28 pm

Forgot to add... the addition of the lights at Merlo Field was HUGE. It really contributed a "big game" atmosphere, and it's just much easier for everyone involved to go to games on Friday night than Saturday afternoon. The lights have really helped the student section get better numbers too.

As for Texas A&M, don't quote me on this, but I think for a long time (and maybe still?) they didn't charge for tickets. Actually, many soccer programs across the country don't charge for tickets, which makes UP's success even that more impressive... not only do we lead the country in attendance, but we probably have among the highest ticket prices as well. Not that they're expensive, but when most places are either free or charge $1 or $2, it doesn't take much to be among the highest priced.

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Re: A sort-of research question...

Post by El Geez on Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:49 pm

Stonehouse wrote:A great question to look into, Andrew!

I think now that we're in the heyday of support for the women's team, it's easy to forget that the team has been good - really good - since the early 90's. Where we're at now - leading the country in attendance, women's soccer being the marquee sport - was built on the backs of years and years of continued excellence. For a long while the men's team were the standard bearers (which culminated in, oh, about 2000 when they had Conor Casey, Clive coached the Olympic team, and UP was ranked #1), but then the women's team won the National Championship, which really turned things on its head.

If you ask me, that's what really cemented the women's team's status... Final Fours and WCC Championships are one thing, but to be able to say you are the National Champion? That's BIG. No matter what the sport is. And to do it twice? Even bigger.

But really, it was the magical 2005 season that turned women's soccer at UP into the big thing. The combination of a transcedent superstar (Christine Sinclair) surrounded by All-Americans, a perfect season, and a terrific beat writer all lead to what can really only be described as a frenzy. The Pilots were on the front page of the Oregonian seemingly every day, the attendance numbers swelled to record heights, a playoff game sold out in, what, thirty minutes? Something ridiculous like that? That was just a unique circumstance, and the school has been able to maintain the momentum from it (mainly because the team has still been so good).

And when you add in the extenuating factors like a small school with no football, Portland being favorably disposed to soccer, the lack of role models in women's sports, the youth soccer phenomenon... all of those helped us get to where we are now.

In a lot of ways, it parallels what happened with Gonzaga basketball. The Elite Eight run in 1999 (or was it 98?) is what everyone remembers as the catalyst, but people forget that GU was really good all through the early-mid 90's as well and built a base of support the hard way before the watershed moment.

that's how we like to remember it happened, Stoney, but I'm not sure it's true that it happened that way.

First off, we started having Christine around in 2001, and we won a Championship in 2002, which team probably had a better defense. attendance figures were pretty modest by current standards then - not a whole lot higher than our neighbors now enjoy.

Here's the average attendance records for this decade:

2001 1440
2002 1685
2003 1977
2004 2790
2005 3403 lead NCAA
2006 3408 lead NCAA
2007 3771 Lead NCAA
2008 3,622 Lead NCAA

we weren't anywhere near leading the NCAA in attendance before 2001. In fact, UNC had attendance of 3983 in 2001, which we still haven't reached.

If you graph it, it's a pretty steady upward progression. Sure there was a 600 seat bump in the 2005 season, but there was an even bigger bump of over 800 between 2003 and 2004, which can probably be attributed to the new lights and to and to a commitment from the university to promote Women's soccer and Men's Basketball as the anchors of the sports program. Promotions went up, as did advertising. So it's not just winning, it's also that UP has actually put out the effort to market the team.

There are a bunch of other factors that make watching soccer great at UP. As UPSF and 'arry has said the style of play is fun to watch. The intimacy of Merlo is certainly Unique, with only 10 yds on the touch lines and 15 on the end lines separating players from fans, you are right on the action. The placement of the benches near the fans so you can applaud players as they come and go makes it even more fun. Clive was charismatic and some is the result The effort Clive made to make UP soccer not just good, but entertaining had something to do with it. It's not boomball.

That doesn't explain why UP is the only place in the NCAA where a woman's sport is the premier sport on the campus. The men play in the same environment, and while it is true that some of the best Men's players leave early, that's true all over the NCAA. UP had the same coach for men and women until 2002, so that's not it, and when I started watching UP soccer, the men outdrew the women, and when there were doubleheaders, the men got the prime time slot. The men sold the season tickets.

So what changed?

What's not true is that woman's soccer is the premier sport on other campuses. Even at UNC, which you have to admit is the most successful program of any kind in almost any sport, women soccer players are anonymous on their campus. And while UNC did draw more in the past than UP does now, their peak drawing years are over. Even with free admission, they only averaged 1605 last year, less than half of the 2001 figure. last year was in a championship year, 2001 wasn't for them.

Christine was certainly part of it, but we also had Millbrett and Macmillan both at the same time, and they didn't draw like this. they didn't even draw what the men did.
And Christine can't be all of it. she sits in the stands now with the rest of us. attendance is higher than it ever was when she played, and other campuses have had great stars in the past. some in more quantity than we.

It doesn't explain why attendance now is more than twice what Clive ever saw. and it doesn't explai why people even care about women's soccer so much here.

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