Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Any press is good press

Last week, the Washington Post published a thoughtful and measured story by Mark Giannotto on a local professional team that is quickly becoming irrelevant to the region's mainstream sports fans.  The gist of the piece was a description of a dwindling fan base and a sampling of opinions as to why the Washington Mystics have lost much of the goodwill the franchise has built up over the last fifteen years.

Giannotto's recounting of the Mystics woes is depressing, but not as disheartening as this fun fact he relays about the WNBA:
After leading the WNBA in attendance in six of their first seven years (1998-2004), including an all-time high average of 16,202 in 2002, the Mystics averaged a league-high 10,449 fans per game last season. They rank second in the WNBA through 10 home games this year with 9,207 fans per game, behind only WNBA champion Minnesota (9,272). San Antonio (12-5), the most successful team this season to employ one person as GM-coach, ranked third in attendance at 8,407 fans per game.
For the Mystics to be second in league-wide attendance, things must be horrible for the other eleven teams. 

Giannotto's article is remarkably thorough; the one measure, however, that he doesn't hit on is the resale market for Mystics tickets.  After deciding not to remain as season ticket holders, for the last several years we have not bought tickets from the club, but have instead used brokers.  The secondary market for Mystics tickets is always brutal; this year it is a bloodbath.  For the vast majority of home games this season, full corporate suites (18 tickets) have been on offer for less than $150 -- often $100 ($5.56 a ticket) -- as suite owners try to entice anyone with even a remote interest in women's professional basketball to games.  Yet even with the opportunity to use a suite at Verizon for less than the price of two 100-level seats, there is little evident interest in spending two hours at the stadium for the Mystics.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meet the Team

D.C. United's annual "Meet the Team" day is my favorite event of the season.  I love taking my eldest down on the field and giving her the chance to see up close what we see from a distance in our seats during matches.

It helps that the players are, to the man, incredibly nice around kids and fans -- and that the fans are overwhelmingly respectful of the players at the event.  Today was no exception.  We sat for about fifteen minutes in the locker room watching Kurt Morsink, Brandon McDonald, and Emiliano Dudar interact with everyone who wanted a moment of their time.  Their appreciation for supporters is disarming, and, not coincidentally, makes it difficult to maintain critical thoughts about a player's (Morsink's) contribution to the squad.

Of course, the player that went to Fred-like levels to entertain my daughter and get a smile out of a four-year old clearly not enjoying the stifling heat on the ground was Danny Cruz.  Probably the guy that I've grown to dislike the most on the team and he was incredible; it may have been miserable for the fans who showed up, but it was much, much worse for the players and yet none of them seemed put out by the obligation to entertain supporters.

The "Meet the Team" day is a credit to the club and, for me, will keep bringing us back to RFK year after year.

The club is probably disappointed that in spite of all the things it has done to enrich the season ticket holder's experience ("Meet the Team" day, Chalk Talks, PSG friendly, etc.) attendance has fallen by something like 10% (not including the last home game against Montreal, which drew 18,000+).

The product on the field alone should be enough to get people out to games.  Through 18 matches this season, DC United sits atop the Eastern Conference with Sporting Kansas City with 33 points.  The club is behind San Jose (37 points, 19 games) and Real Salt Lake (36 points, 20 games), but this only distracts from how ridiculously good Ben Olsen's squad has been over the first four months of this season: 
  •  10 wins out of  18 games works out to a 56% winning percentage.  You would have to go back to 1999 to find a version of United that won with such frequency.  Because, prior to the 2000 season, the MLS required every regular season game to be won or lost, if you adjust winning percentages to remove shootout wins (6 in 1999 and 7 in 1998), this D.C. United team is running at the best clip in the club's history.
  • With 10 wins by the end of June, Olsen's team already has more wins than the club managed total in six of the prior sixteen seasons (37.5%).  One more win and they'll have tied the season's total for wins in nine of the prior sixteen seasons (56.3%).
  • Through 18 games, D.C. United is averaging 1.83 points per match, slightly better than the 1.81 points per match accumulated by the 1998 squad and tied with the per game totals of the 2007 squad -- the best in the club's history.

What's more, D.C. United is experiencing this success in a league packed with talent.  Because of a fluke in scheduling this weekend, I got to see the majority of three MLS league games -- Seattle Sounders-Colorado Rapids on Saturday night, Los Angeles Galaxy-Chicago Fire this afternoon, and New York Red Bulls-New England Revolution this evening. These are all pretty good teams.  The addition of Montreal may have diluted last year's talent a bit, but this seems to have been more than made up by the addition of new blood into the league.  And D.C. United is thriving in this environment.

There were a lot of lines today and it was a miserable day to be standing in a lot of lines outdoors.  A common refrain in those lines was surprise at how there was a lot of doubt surrounding Bennie's appointment as gaffer and how, while questions remained, it was impossible to deny the results.  I am very much in this camp as well.  I cannot believe that they are as good as the table says they are, yet watching DeRosario, Boskovic, Najar, and DeLeon play the ball around the midfield with competent players (including an ascendant Chris Pontius) both in front and behind them, it is hard to conclude that any of this is an illusion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

European Tour

Congratulations are in order for Real Maryland alum Joe Funicello, now back with the Icelandic second team of Thor Akureyri:

Thor traveled to Dalymount Park yesterday for the first leg of its first round Europa League tie against Bohemians.  Joe started at left back, played until the final whistle, and will head back to Iceland with a clean sheet after a scoreless tie.  The second leg will be played in Akureyri (a town in north Iceland of less than twenty thousand, even smaller than the Aland Islands) next Thursday on July 12th.

At the same time as Bohemians failed to press its advantage over its Icelandic opponent, elsewhere in Dublin, St. Patrick's Athletic pulled out a one goal lead in Richmond Park over IBV before heading to south Iceland for its second leg match in Vestmannaeyjar (population = 4,000).

It has been another miserable year for the League of Ireland, with Galway United folding before the start of the season and Monaghan United collapsing fourteen games into this year, announcing their withdrawal from the League on twitter.

The Bohs had just come off a four-nil thrashing of Shamrock at Dalymount before yesterday's disappointment.  The club seems to continue to suffer through financial turmoil, but has at least weathered Pat Fenlon's departure with the appointment of Aaron Callaghan, who describes himself as an admirer of Tony Dungy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Our youngest turned one on Friday.  To celebrate, we took a group of fifteen people to the Verizon Center to watch the Washington Mystics host the Connecticut Sun.

Official attendance was 6,975.  The game was so truly awful that counting the others suffering through it in the stadium was a welcome relief.  Two or three thousand more accurately reflects the people at the game.  The attendance was more depressing than the game.

Fifteen years.  The Mystics are celebrating fifteen years in the WNBA; the attendance banners have come down from the rafters at Verizon and the once proud franchise has alienated even its most sympathetic fans

Rather than a celebration, the setting was funereal.

It is a strange setting to watch the denouement of an enterprise that everyone seems invested in failing.  We did not see the end coming for the Washington Freedom -- either time -- but it seems more cruel to have the promise of women's professional sports snuffed out by the franchise itself rather than external factors that could not be tamed.

My daughter turned one Friday.  In fifteen years, maybe it will be a different story.