The sports story over the past week has the success, and yet ultimate ‘failure’ of the United States Women’s National Team reaching the Women’s World Cup finals. After two thrilling victories against Brazil and France, the team was minutes away from the championship in both normal and extra time before Japan tied it up, and the ladies of America lost in penalty kicks (Brutal to watch.)
Upon returning home, the leaders of the team (goalkeeper Hope Solo, striker Abby Wambach, captain and centre back Christie Rampone and midfielder Megan Rapinoe) have led the team on a whirlwind tour of media in the past two days (Sportscenter, First Take, Sportsnation, Good Morning America, Today Show, Rachel Maddow and the Daily Show). Obviously, this is the most publicity the team has gotten since 1999 when the women won the Cup on penalty kicks. The team’s Twitter accounts have gained thousands of followers; hell, Abby Wambach’s head and *Megan Rapinoe’s hair have their own Twitter accounts.
*There is nothing you, the reader, could ever do that is as awesome Megan Rapinoe’s hair. Her hair, pinpoint long passes, and general badassery made her my favorite player on the team*
As people are apt to do, there has been some backlash against this sudden publicity. The hardcore fans of the team, who rooted for them during qualifiers, who follow women’s soccer in America, can get resentful of newer fans who don’t know as much. I’m sure more than one older fan has gotten irritated from someone saying ‘oh my god I am such a soccer fan! What is the offside rule mean…’
The word bandwagoning has been thrown around a lot in this case, and it’s only the latest case of that accusation. It happens whenever a team enters the spotlight – the most notable recent example was with the San Francisco Giants after their World Series win last year. All of a sudden you had fans of other teams, or non-baseball fans giggling over Tim Lincecum’s hair or Buster Posey’s baby face.
But what is wrong with bandwagon fans? More fans of your team are good right? Especially for a team like the USWNT, which desperately needs support in both a cultural and financial sense for their league. But there is still this backlash.
The problem of bandwagon fans isn’t necessarily joining a successful team; it is giving up on them after the success goes away. For the game of US women’s soccer to really profit from this World Cup run, fans needs to keep paying attention to the team. They need to buy some jerseys, attend some club games, buy hats for their kids, etc. However, that rarely happens. This fall, when the Giants in all likelihood either miss the playoffs or get knocked out early on (as they probably will: it’s so damn hard to repeat as championships), a vast amount of these bandwagon fans will stop paying attention. And that is what is frustrating about bandwagon fans – they don’t really root for the team. They just enjoy the success and social relevance of a successful sports team, and then they drop it when you actually have to care about the team through hard times.
I believe the backlash comes from the idea that, as sports fans, you are expected to be closely linked with your team. You have to experience the ups and downs equally. The Pittsburgh Pirates are finally in first place, and all the old Pirates fans who have suffered for the past 2 decades are finally being vindicated. When fans start following a team after they have success, something rings hollow. At the end of the day, it’s just too easy to be a sports fan of a team only when it is successful. There is a masochistic part of fandom where you have to suffer with your team.
I fully admit I did not pay attention to the US Women’s National Team before the World Cup. I got in to the team as knockout play began, and partially because a Twitter friend (@fuddlecuddle) is the most passionate and knowledgeable fan about the team. I will do my best to keep track of the players: watch their club teams play when I can, follow their training for the 2012 Olympics, etc. Hopefully other people will do the same – because these ladies deserve fans who will follow them through thick and thin.