As the NWSL season is about to get started, and the USWNT are preparing for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Her Pitch is (unfortunately) going on hiatus.
Bad timing, right?
Last season’s sudden demise of the Boston Breakers meant that all of the work that I had done to carve out a tiny niche for Her Pitch over the prior two seasons wouldn’t be able to be replicated during 2018. Absent 12 home games at which to meet and talk with players and coaches and team staff and referees, I knew that getting a feel for the energy around the remaining nine teams would be a big challenge. I’d also not be able to continue to improve the video work I was doing with post-game interviews, which had drawn a considerable audience both to the site and to the YouTube channel (naturally, I’d just invested in better gear a couple of weeks before the Breakers news in preparation for the 2018 NWSL Draft).
One of my favorites from 2017:
To add insult to injury, YouTube came up with a new scheme for monetizing video content that tossed entities without substantial subscriber bases to the curb, thereby reducing the already meagre flow of ad-revenue pennies from Google. Like a great majority of the people who care about and promote and create content about women’s football/soccer, I didn’t do it for the money. I’d anticipated just floating all the costs for the site, and had designs on slowly growing as the league became more widely watched. I planned on attending playoffs and finals, and worked that into the budget (when day job considerations didn’t get in the way).
I had not planned on losing the Breakers.
Over the course of 2018, I wasn’t able to attend a single regular season match, though I watched every minute of every match possible. The final in Portland was as energizing as it was depressing. Here were two thriving programs with vibrant fanbases playing top-class football in the only league game I saw in person all year.
Somebody call the Waaaaaambulance.
When I started Her Pitch, my hope was to tell stories that weren’t available anywhere else. What did a player have to go through to make it in the league? What sacrifices was she making? What else did she have to do to make money while being criminally underpaid? Why had she retired now, when she was in top form? How was her experience with a rural European side? What was it like to be forced to quit playing due to an off-field injury?
I found this nearly impossible to do well last year without at least some access to players on a weekly basis. I’m an in-person person, perhaps to a degree I wasn’t myself aware. Interviews I’ve conducted on the phone or via video chat just don’t sparkle the way they can while talking over coffee or while driving to the airport. Stories worth telling are there, but the special parts are harder to extract and distill and serve with the craftsmanship I expect from myself. Though others do wonderful work over the phone, I apparently need the eye contact and body language to get a full picture. I find those interactions are often revealing in ways words sometimes aren’t. I prefer to build relationships in person, which sometimes involves something as small as sharing gummy candy after a crappy loss or chatting with a player’s spouse during warmups or helping a player get a picture with her parents. Without a local team to cover in person, I lost the ability to cultivate those types of relationships. That was a bigger challenge for Her Pitch than I’d anticipated when the Breakers collapsed, but it’s one that I can now see had a big impact on 2018 content.
2018 was personally challenging for me as well.
Not long after the Breakers folded, I was t-boned in my Volvo wagon by an elderly driver who accelerated through a stop sign. The car, last remaining Breakers sticker and all, was totaled. I got hauled away to the hospital but wasn’t seriously injured.
In the fall, I had a chance to attend a talk given by one of the Breaker’s former owners. The event, while publicized on the college campus where it took place, turned out to be nothing more than a guest speaker for a business class (topic: “the future of women’s sports,” without apparent irony). After talking with said former Breakers owner and consulting with your only other (and, let’s be honest, far superior) Breakers-beat media person who’d sped to the site in her Zipcar, we agreed to let the class have their speaker without making him feel apprehensive about what he might say that could run afoul of his non-disclosure agreement with the league.
On the way home, I was passing the school where the Breakers former GM is the soccer coach (I kid you not) and was hit in my replacement Volvo by a person who’d just picked up her kids at the school (this Volvo was repaired, and nobody was hurt, mercifully). Though the former Breakers owner had agreed to meet over coffee and I’d planned to track him down the next day, the chaos of the accident meant that I simply never called.
One week later, my father died suddenly shortly before his 70th birthday. So, you know, fun times.
So it’s time for some changes to Her Pitch. We all deserve better, and the subjects of the site deserve much better.
For the time being, everything will remain as-is, and I may write something intermittently as inspiration strikes. I’m not planning to continue weekly previews or recaps, so you’ll have to learn to survive without the worst predictions ever published. Twitter and Instagram will probably be about as active as ever, especially during USWNT matches.
But eventually, unless another outlet makes me an offer I can’t refuse, I plan to re-launch with a different format. Things that are worth reading or listening to or watching, infrequently. Articles or a podcast or videos that won’t waste your time, or mine (unlike this one, but keep going, there is a puppy soon). It’s exciting, though obviously I’d prefer if Boston had a team again and I could have stuck with the original plan. It will take some time to build and launch, but I’ll tweet about the progress as it’s happening (or if it’s not).
I will be in France for the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, and hopefully will have interesting stories to share as the Semis and Finals approach. That’s going to be great fun, but I’ll be attending as a “supporter” as they say in Europe.
Disclosure: I’m bringing home this Spinone Italiano puppy-beast next weekend, so it’s possible that #Paolo might feature prominently in future work.
In the meantime, I want to thank the many people who have been supportive of the site over the past three years. There’s no way to list everyone individually, because I’d inevitably neglect to mention someone who is extremely deserving and that would suck.
Everyone formerly involved with the Breakers and the Armada: thank you all.
Comms staff at the league and US Soccer: thank you. Other media folks, especially Steph Yang, RJ Allen and Jen Cooper: thank you.
Photographers who’ve helped fill the site with incredible action, especially Amy Pearson, Daniela Porcelli and Anya Button: thank you.
Players who’ve been extremely generous with your time, whether or not I was able to eventually publish the article that we’d discussed, especially Sinead Farrelly, McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem, Tiffany Wiemer, Christine Nairn, Yael Averbuch, Natasha Dowie, Elise Krieghoff, Rosie White, Emma Coolen, Jasmyne Spencer, Amanda Dacosta, Caitlin Friend, Abby Smith, Sammy Mewis, Tabea Kemme and Kaycee Gunion: thank you. Oh, and thank you to Rose Lavelle for not blocking me for the great screaming goat video of 2017.
To my partner and former varsity WoSo athlete Cari, who probably still has her much-loved Mia Hamm poster in a box in the attic but nonetheless almost knocked over the poster’s beer-in-hand human counterpart without noticing who she was at a tailgate in Boston (and who is forced to arrive first and depart last from every event we attend without complaint): thank you.
Most importantly—you, dear readers. Both of you. Thank you both, so much.