The Orlando Pride — the best, brightest, most star-studded professional sports team in Orlando — opened the season Saturday night in front of a home stadium not even half-full.
The announced crowd of 9,017 for the Pride’s 1-1 draw with the Utah Royals was decent, but we can do better.
Let’s dare to be different, Orlando.
Let’s not be like practically every other city in America and ignore our women’s professional sports teams; especially a team like this; a team loaded with some of the best American and international players in the world.
“We need to spread the news,” Pride coach Tom Sermanni told me Saturday night. “I challenge you to spread the news about the type of team we’ve put together.”
In fact, the Pride are perhaps the one pro sports team in this city that actually has a decent chance of winning a championship this season. They not only made the playoffs last year, they were the highest-scoring team in the entire National Women’s Soccer League. And this year, their two star forwards — Alex Morgan and Marta — are playing together from the beginning of the season, although Morgan went out with a possible concussion Saturday night.
In a perfect world, the Pride would at least get as much fan support as their male soccer counterparts (Orlando City) and their downtown neighbors (the Orlando Magic).
Orlando City, which was one of the worst teams in MLS last year, was fourth in the league in attendance and averaged more than 25,000 fans per game last season.
The Orlando Magic, which has endured six miserable years of losing and has been one of the worst teams in the NBA, are somehow in the top half of the league in attendance and average nearly 18,000 fans per game. The Magic played the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night in a game between two of the worst teams in the NBA and the crowd at the Amway Center doubled the Pride’s crowd. Forget James Harden, the NBA’s MVP should go to the Magic marketing department.
Meanwhile, the Pride, even though they were second in the National Women’s Soccer League in attendance last year, averaged 6,186 fans per game – about one-third of what league leader Portland averaged.
As a sports fan in Orlando, I’d like to see the Magic, Orlando City, UCF, the Solar Bears and every team in this city sell out every game, but as the father of two daughters I’d really love to see the Pride catch on. It’s always baffled me that nearly 50 years after Title IX, there is still a double standard in how we root for men’s and women’s teams in this country.
The Magic haven’t had an NBA All-Star since Dwight Howard left seven years ago, the Pride have some of the most famous international superstars in the world on their team. Marta, a Brazilian legend, is arguably the G.O.A.T — the Greatest Of All Time. She’s been named FIFA Player of the Year five times and was a finalist another six times. In comparison, Kaká was FIFA Player of the Year once.
The Pride have eight national team members from nations across the globe on their roster and two members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, including Morgan — perhaps the biggest name in American soccer and the first woman to ever make the cover of a FIFA video game in this country.
“It’s a dream to show up to work every day with the caliber of players we have on our team,” star defender Ali Krieger says. “It’s so exciting to be surrounded by such great players who are so competitive, who want to win, who want to be champions.”
I get why women’s basketball is not nearly as popular as men’s basketball — because men’s basketball in this country has always been the best in the world. But if there is one women’s professional sport in the U.S. that should create as much buzz as its male counterpart, it’s soccer.
Let’s face it, in soccer you build your reputation based on how you fare internationally. It’s no secret that the best women’s soccer players on the planet reside right here in the good ol’ USA. Our U.S. women’s national team is the defending World Cup champions and has won three of the seven World Cups in history. The U.S. Men’s national team didn’t even qualify for the World Cup.
Likewise, the NWSL — comparatively speaking — is a destination for some of the top women’s players in the world whereas MLS is still trying to build its reputation internationally.
“Our popularity is growing,” Krieger says. “Obviously, we’re not going to be satisfied until we have 25,000 fans in the stadium for club games, but it takes time. The U.S. Women’s National Team really helps the popularity of NWSL and is helping it grow.”
Let’s hope it starts growing quickly here in the Orlando.
We have some of the greatest players on the planet representing our city.
Let’s literally and figuratively take some Pride in our most successful and exciting professional sports team.