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Emotional State of Matt #6: HISTORIC

Updated: Apr 15

I sat in the back corner of the Choctaw Casino in Idabel, Oklahoma choking down a country-fried steak akin to wet cardboard smothered in sausage gravy. The sad Loggers Bar & Grill was clearly not designed for comfort & ambience, but for chronic gamblers to get sustenance without leaving the casino. It was the closest thing to a sports bar I could find within an hour of my hotel in Broken Bow.



I was there to watch the NCAA Women's Basketball final. What I saw was history being written as the landscape of American sports was changed forever. 


Americans are crazy about their sports -  the US sports industry generates roughly $70 Billion per year. But women’s sports account for only $1.3 Billion of it. Only 5% of all sports coverage on TV focuses on women’s sports.


(not my photo)


I used to believe the myth that there wasn’t TV coverage for women’s sports because no one watched them, and I never questioned it much until I moved to Portland.


The people of Portland, a.k.a. Soccer City USA, love their soccer teams - the Timbers (men) and the Thorns (women). A few months after arriving, my ex and I, eager to embrace our new home, got season tickets that included all games of both the Timbers and Thorns. 



It was a great year to start watching the Timbers. They went all the way to the final, which was held In Portland. We cheered them on in quintessential December PNW weather. 40 degrees, rain, and fierce winds.  



Although the Thorns didn’t play in the championship that year (they won the following year), I was blown away by their play. Outside of the World Cup, I hadn’t watched women’s soccer before. Their young phenom, and future US national team captain, Sophia Smith was sensational to watch.


(not my photo)


Thousands of people attended every home game and the atmosphere was just as electric as the Timbers. I would even say that the Thorns supporters’ group, the Rose City Riveters, are more intense than the Timbers Army


(not my photo)


Both the Timbers’ and Thorns’ games were exciting and physical. All the players on the pitch for both teams were gifted. The big difference I noticed between the games however, was that the women played hard non-stop while the men would rely on flopping and dramatic antics as a tactic. Brush a men's player and he’d fall, rolling in the grass, clutching his leg. The women would get knocked to the ground, bounce back up, and go running after the ball. 


I’m not the only one who has noticed this. A 2011 study found that men soccer players feign injury much more frequently than women. As a spectator, these bogus injuries break the flow of a soccer game. It’s not fun watching grown men roll around in the grass with a fake injury.



The women’s game is more fun to watch and they’ve had more success. The US women’s national team has won two of the last three World Cups and four overall. The US men have only ever made it to the semi-finals once…in 1930.


What a shame, I realized, that the NWSL gets so little media coverage and attention. It was practically impossible to find road games on TV or streaming. It’s no wonder the league and the teams in it barely managed to survive financially year after year.



I watched dozens of soccer games in Portland, but one sticks with me more than any other. This past September, a month after our separation, my ex invited me to watch the Thorns host Seattle in what was going to be Megan Rapinoe’s last game in Portland.


It was an awkward outing. I’d been living out of our house for weeks and we were navigating this new reality. Were we on a date? How do I behave? Do we hold hands? Were we now just friends? Were we going to reconcile? And yet, this flood of intense emotions and thoughts couldn’t distract from the power of the moment. 


(not my photo)


If you don’t know Megan Rapinoe, she was a star of the US women's national team when they won their last two World Cups and became one of the most recognizable faces in womens’ soccer globally. 25,000 people sold out Providence Park to honor one of the GOATs and when she was subbed out in the second half, the crowd gave her a three minute standing ovation. University of Portland star. Bitter NWSL rival. US national team legend. The intensity of gratitude and respect was palpable. She had moved the sport forward.


(not my photo)


Portland has been ahead of the curve in supporting women athletes. The Sports Bra, the country’s first sports bar exclusively for women’s sports, opened in Portland in 2022. The food is exceptional, it’s usually packed, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Another women’s sports bar, A Bar of Their Own, just opened in Minneapolis and there are many more planned in cities around the US


(not my photo)


2022 was also the first season for the NWSL expansion team in Los Angeles - Angel City FC. Founded by a group of female owners and investors including actresses, athletes, and business titans, ACFC set out to make a splash and get more attention on the league. They sold over 15,000 season tickets before their first game. There is an inspirational three-part documentary on HBO/MAX I highly recommend. 



The NWSL and other women's sports in the US have been steadily gaining in popularity, but over the last few weeks Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso, Cameron Brink, Paige Bueckers, Juju Watkins and others stars of NCAA Women's Basketball have shattered the glass ceiling and suddenly changed everything.


(not my photo)


Ever since March 3rd, when Caitlin Clark broke the 50-year NCAA all-time scoring record (men AND women), the media hype for the NCAAW March Madness had been building. The tournament's TV ratings went up round after round.


Clark lost to South Carolina in the final but finished her college career with 45 records and was the 4th highest paid athlete (NIL Contracts) in all of college sports. She is already influencing the WNBA broadcast schedule and she hasn’t even been drafted yet.



The championship game I had to watch in Loggers averaged 18.4 million viewers and peaked at 24 million. To put that into context, it was the most watched basketball game - men or women, college or pro, regular season or playoff - in the last 5 years!


It looks like the truth is that people didn’t watch women’s sports on TV because they weren’t being promoted the same as the men’s. 


A handful of insanely talented 18-22 year-olds just shook the country and proved to the media old boys club that there is big money to be made in women's sports. You can bet we’ll start seeing a lot more of them, and it's about time. 



The past few weeks have been HISTORIC, and I have enjoyed the hell out of watching everything unfold. 


Yes, and…

Matt


PS - two days after posting this, Caitlin Clark appeared on SNL's Weekend Update



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