With the announcement of two new women’s franchises in this week, it may seem a little cantankerous to find fault in the name of one of the new teams. Critics may even say that type of thinking is missing the broader picture. Well, those people are wrong, at least in part.
It’s true, 2015 has been the year of women’s sports. (Hell yeah!) Between the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the World Cup and in the process much deserved recognition, Serena Williams’ awe-inspiring, albeit failed, attempt at a Grand Slam, and other well-publicized moments, there’s been a lot of reasons for women’s sports advocates to be optimistic about this year.
Just because the needle is moving in the right direction that doesn’t mean that fans should unequivocally accept the decisions made by women’s sports teams, leagues, organizations. If anything, it’s more of a reason to question the decision-makers – to ensure the momentum continues. Criticism, after all, is a hallmark of traditional men’s leagues and teams.
When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced the addition of its 10th team, the Orlando Pride on Tuesday, it and its new franchise sent a very unfortunate message.
Why? Well, there’s already an existing women’s professional sports team in the same metro area with the same name – the USSSA Pride of National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). Ooof. Seriously?
The moniker Pride in women’s professional sports is equivalent of Tigers in college sports, it’s seemingly everywhere. Aside from the now-defunct FC Gold Pride of Women’s Professional Soccer, there’s also the Boston Pride of the nascent National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).
Until the announcement of the addition Scrap Yard Dawgs into the NPF on Friday, a person could be forgiven for thinking that some very limited word bank existed for naming women’s professional sports teams. For whatever reason, women’s sports teams seem to favor names stemming from abstract concepts and ideals, but that’s a topic for another day.
Back to the topic at hand, does anyone else see the problem with this? Creating a brand is difficult in women’s sports given the general lack of resources and exposure. Having two teams in the same city with the same name certainly doesn’t help, especially when the playing seasons overlap. The NWSL season runs from April through September while the NPF season runs from June through August. If nothing else, why create the possibility for unnecessary confusion?
Not to worry, though, the Orlando Pride isn’t concerned about this. On a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, the Orlando Pride had this to say when asked about any potential marketing or brand issues:
Q: As you guys probably already know there’s an existing women’s professional sports team that currently using the name “Pride”, the USSSA Pride of the National Professional Fastpitch League. Was there any dialogue between that team as far as using the name Pride? And do you guys foresee any issues as far as marketing or branding with having two women’s sports with sharing that name?
A: No, we don’t. I mean we went through your requisite and necessary trademark searches in order to ensure that we’d be able to register those marks and the name and the brand. No, we don’t think it’s an issue from our standpoint. We vetted that out.
Of course, the soccer Pride aren’t concerned. On Wednesday, one the worst kept secrets in women’s sports was finally revealed. Alex Morgan, the sport’s most marketable star will be traded to the new franchise in a deal in which her current club, Portland won handedly. No need to worry about marketing when you’ve got the biggest name in the sport at your disposal.
Yes, Orlando went through the legal process for securing the name, but is that really where the query should end? Is what’s legal the only that should be considered when making these types of decisions?
Orlando saw the name Orlando Pride as a logical extension of its men’s team that uses a lion for a mascot. The fact that Orlando can’t use lion imagery for its women’s team due to the fact that the NWSL and MLS have contracts with different apparel companies definitely undermines the continuity argument. In other words, the Pride in Orlando Pride has nothing to do with felines. Again, it’s the abstract kind of pride.
And yes, the NWSL and the Orlando Pride is not obligated to care about the USSSA Pride, the NPF or any other women’s professional sport for that matter. On a macro level, it’s disappointing that the parties involved don’t seem to, though.
Although soccer and fastpitch softball are completely different sports, the NPF and NWSL have a lot common. Low salaries, short average playing careers, woefully short playing seasons and little media coverage are all issues both leagues face. Then, there’s the whole issue of having to deal with sexist trolls who, despite it being 2015 and ample evidence to the contrary, refuse to see women as legitimate athletes. In short, women’s professional sports have enough issues already without adding to it themselves.
By making the decision to use a moniker already in use in the same city, Orlando Pride is sending the message that it doesn’t see the USSSA Pride as legitimate. Let’s face it, this would never happen in men’s professional sports today! What a kick in the teeth to an organization that has spent the last six years toiling away at building a brand while dealing with having softball removed from the Olympics, which provided the sport its biggest spotlight.
Having a variety of women’s professional sports leagues is good and something that people who support a particular sport or league should support. If people see women competing at the highest level on a wide array of playing surfaces, they’ll be more prone to accept it and maybe even support them. Multiple leagues can a long way in normalizing the concept of the female athlete, especially the female professional athlete.
On this front, the synergy between women’s professional sports teams seen between the Spirit and the Mystics in D.C. and the Bandits and the Sky in Chicago this summer was positive to see. Given the seemingly acrimonious introduction between the Pride franchises, don’t expect any such displays between these two teams moving forward.
So yes, NWSL fans you don’t have to care about USSSA, the NPF or any other women’s professional sports team or league. Just remember the next time you complain about some dudebro who’s upset that his MLS team is putting funds that could be used for the men’s team into a women’s club, he doesn’t have to care about the NWSL or women’s soccer either. Wouldn’t be nice if he did care though?
Final thought: Since the deed is done and there’s no turning back, how about turning lemons into lemonade? With the two teams in the area sharing a name, there might as well be a real kickass Nelly circa 2000 mashup jersey, am I right?