The Thorns lost 1-0 in dreary Cary, North Carolina. The gameday atmosphere was dulled by a chilling steady rain and a small crowd. Attendance was reported at 4,210 but appeared to be about half that, as many of the not-so-Courageous waited for a nicer day to see their first match of the season.
While there were undoubtedly some Riveters in the stands, they were not featured on the Lifetime broadcast. The Oak City Supporters could be heard occasionally, but also not seen. This rematch of the final was ultimately a disappointing spectacle. Perhaps when the Thorns visit again in August things will be different.
At the bars in Portland, there was plenty of noise. Reports I heard said that both the Riveters’ (Oaks Bottom) and Thorns’ (River Pig) watch parties were packed as were Bazi, 442, Toffee Club, and presumably the other popular Riveters haunts.
League-wide, attendance was pretty good. Houston hosted Chicago and drew 5,846 which is almost 1,300 more than their 2017 average. Orlando exceeded their average by almost 3,000 (9,017 versus 6,186 last year) as they welcomed the newbie Utah Royals to the league by handing them a goal after just two minutes, and a road point after ninety. Mentioned above, the Courage drew about 100 fans short of last year’s average. Unfortunately, the most entertaining match of the weekend – Seattle hosting Washington – drew the smallest crowd. It was almost 500 below last year’s average (3,561 versus 4,037) without any bad-weather excuse.
In total, average attendance for the weekend was 5,658 which is about 500 more than last year’s season average. Since Providence Park represented 1/3 of the 2017 league attendance, seeing a higher average without a Portland home match is encouraging. But the Seattle numbers are worrying; perhaps the Reign will win a few games and folks will start to show up.
On the Air
The Lifetime broadcast was a mixed bag. All the 2017 on-air talent returned. Jenn Hildreth was solid on her play-by-play while Aly Wagner managed to cover the on-field happenings and stay off her high horse. Dalen Cuff lobbed his usual softballs at the coaches and NWSL managing director, Amanda Duffy. Duffy offered nothing new in her half-time interview except a fairly direct promise of 2019 expansion.
The broadcast direction seemed a bit off from last year’s relatively high standards. For example, there seemed to be no 18-yard-line cameras. Replays were mostly not very helpful relative to offside. Often replays were not provided at all or left out the crucial moments. By halftime, I was convinced that the folks in the truck hadn’t been to very many soccer games. The conditions did not help the broadcast effort – the field mics mostly picked up constant raindrops, the visible stands were largely empty, the crowd was all bundled up in dun and black coats. The noise and color and excitement we equate to an important match like this was missing entirely. Ratings are not yet available, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t great.
Over on the GO90 side, the webstreaming was largely uneventful. This is a major improvement over last year’s opening weekend. All three GO90 webcasts featured former players as color commentators, which I believe to be a first. More post-playing opportunities for women athletes is a good thing.
The Rose City takes on the Windy City this Saturday in a first-ever same-day MLS/NWSL doubleheader. There will another in Seattle later this season. If the format catches on, we may see quite a lot of those in 2019.
Onward Rose City!