I used to think that people knew I played soccer, because they could always read about it.
All through youth, my name was constantly scattered throughout various publications of the Burnaby Now, mashed in between elementary school track meet results and 100m breaststroke qualifying times. Lord love a community newspaper.
College was even more impressive – qualifying for two national championships meant guys like Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Walker and Vancouver Province writer Steve “School Zone” Ewen penned a few articles about our team. The exposure was now at a provincial level. Lord love the dailies.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the VMSL. Nobody knew a damn thing about the teams. Or the players. Or the results. People “in the know” sure did, but it seemed as though the same reporters who so blissfully covered high-school, college and university soccer suddenly forgot about the players they once interviewed.
Then, it got even more confusing. Dan Stinson and Steve Ewen started covering the Whitecap teams with reckless abandon. These were, for the most part, many of the same players who, when not going through the trials and tribulations of the North American second division, were lining up for their respective VMSL and MWSL club teams.
During those dog days of summer, readers were inundated with the antics of Andrew Veer, Oliver Heald, Steve Kindel, Gordon Chin and David Morris. Yet when the fall season rolled around, it all changed. Stinson went back to the UBC girls volleyball beat, and Ewen started his preseason highschool football rankings – with both under the assumption that all the Caps had gone into hibernation until training camp started up again in the spring. Yet the Veers and Healds and Kindels and Chins and Morris’ all pressed on, applying their trade in a highly-competitive amateur soccer circuit which runs well over six months long. One slight problem. Nobody seems to notice.
Lord…where did the media exposure go?
It has never ceased to amaze me the complete lack of coverage the VMSL gets in the mainstream print media. And I’m not talking about front-page spreads with Gary Mason’s cute little insights – I’d just like some bare bones stuff. Like the games being listed in the upcoming events section. Or the weekly scoreboard being posted on the stats page. Maybe throwing in the golden boot race every now and again. Give me Azzi’s Weekly Report!
You’d figure there’d be some interest there. With the staggering numbers BC Soccer has registration-wise each year, someone at one of the major dailies should have realized that there is more than a minor interest in soccer throughout the Lower Mainland and the rest of B.C. Given the lack of a professional league in Canada, it could be said that the VMSL is the highest level of competitive men’s soccer available to soccer enthusiasts in this Province.
To further complicate the issue, both papers dedicate half of their summers highlighting the exploits of the Vancouver Whitecaps. This “professional” atmosphere seems to make the players more media-viable – more so than they would be with a recreational team. But given Stinson’s summer fling with the Caps, you’d think he’d at least do a courtesy piece on them in the fall – you know, the one letter you actually write – to show that this vested interest in soccer is about the players and not about the “authentic European flavor” provided by the drunk ingrates in the end-zone beer garden. How hard would it be to whip up a quick “Where Are They Now” piece, highlighting how many of your beloved Whitecaps keep in A-League form during that long winter break? Last time I checked, Tiarnan King the Whitecap was remarkably similar to Tiarnan King the SFU Alumnus.
Now, the inevitable question pops up – why does the VMSL need any media coverage? Is it a vanity thing? Do we like to see our names in print, simply to see our names in print? Are we depressed by the undersized crowds?
There is a very logical explanation to promote exposure of the VMSL - Money. The blueprint would read something like this:
- Exposure means recognition.
- Recognition means people paying attention.
- Paying attention means watching the league.
- Increases in people paying attention to the league opens up a variety of possibilities which include:
- Sponsorship opportunities.
This is where the VMSL braintrust capitalizes on an opportunity. With local football seasons drawing to a close, soccer is second only to hockey in terms of mass participation throughout the winter. By getting their league into the public eye, the VMSL can capitalize in a variety of ways:
- By getting their weekly schedule into the paper. This is done solely for the purpose of increasing viewers and sideline crowds. If there is a noted increase in attendance, it would be an easy transition for league executives to promote various businesses at the fields – billboards, signage, etc. – and make some decent coin in return.
- Utilizing the “Weekly Reports.” Despite the repetitive use of the words “veteran” and “superlative,” these are, for the most part, useful and informative reports. Newspapers love having pieces presented to them where research and copy have been provided beforehand. With increased exposure comes another possibility – Why not have the Soccerwest Player of the Week, or the North America Sports Team of the Week? Increased exposure means increased possibilities. (In case you’ve all failed to notice, companies really like attaching their names to objects that pop up on the regular – every time someone mentions their going to see the ‘Nucks game at “The Garage”, some General Motors exec smiles.)
In this regard, the onus is not on Dan Stinson to dig for a local soccer story – it’s on the VMSL to provide him with one. Admittedly, I have no first-hand knowledge of the VMSL’s efforts to promote their product to the local media. I do know that on the VMSL board sits four “directors”, yet nobody even close to holding a title that has anything to do with public/media relations or promotions. Having been privy to the world of unpaid internships necessary for completion of post-secondary journalism programs, I can tell you that there are several bright, well-rounded J-School students who are keen to enter the wage-less world of Public Relations. Adding a free, part-time staffer (we pay you with “experience”) couldn’t be that hard, could it?
I could see a major windfall from monies brought for by potential sponsorship. The income could be put forth to better the game, by increasing the level of officiating either through further education or by sheer volume. Taking on more game officials means we could one day have proper referee’s assistants at both the first and second division levels. With another viable source of income through sponsorship, the league can cease from raping and pillaging their players with massive suspension fees. This could also lead to things like an improved VMSL website (how a league can go without divulging player rosters in an easily-accessible form is beyond me), more field allotments, moving out of the Vista View Apartment Complex on Douglas street and essentially any other monetary-based issue that has arisen in the last few years.
All the aforementioned scenarios do not seem that implausible. On a weekly basis, both papers run columns on curling, horse racing, equestrian and high-school sports – could competitive amateur men’s soccer be as viable as these compelling topics? I’d hope so. The situation here is not unlike any other where a product could really improve with a little more recognition, in the hopes that it spawns a variety of new capabilities and possibilities. Vancouver’s sports market is so incredibly one-sided with regards to hockey, it seems as though any type of secondary sport simply needs a push to get it going in both the provincial and local papers. While the on-field product may not be the most enthralling, the VMSL is home to a large number of players who play the world’s most popular sport at the highest level possible in this Province during the fall, winter and spring seasons.
It’s too bad that nobody ever gets to read about it.