Highlanders women wondering where all the fans are
By Cleve Dheensaw, timescolonist.com July 12, 2011
In a male-dominated team sports landscape reigned over by the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB and even MLS, female role models are hard to come by.
When you do rarely find them, such as locally with the Victoria Highlanders in the United Soccer League W-League, one would think female fans would respond.
The Highlanders close out their inaugural W-League home schedule tonight at 7 against the Colorado Force at Bear Mountain Stadium wondering where the fans have been.
Despite the 10 Highlanders losses, against two ties, the play on the pitch has been of a notable calibre and extremely entertaining in a league regarded as the second-highest level of women’s soccer in North America.
But while there are 4,000 female youth soccer players on the Lower Island, attendance at Highlanders games has averaged less than 300. Ownership finds that baffling.
“Attendance has been pretty disappointing,” admitted team owner Alex Campbell Jr., who must bear the costs of road trips that include flying to Colorado and Southern California.
“The fans who have come out to Bear Mountain Stadium have seen great soccer. But there’s not been very many of them. We have thousands of girls playing soccer in our community, and we have a partnership with the Lower Island association, but maybe we have been doing something wrong in communicating.”
A W-League game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders drew more than 1,000 fans last year to Royal Athletic Park. That gave Campbell confidence to go ahead with the Highlanders venture. But it seems Island fans were more interested in watching a one-off featuring the famous North American soccer name brands represented by the Whitecaps and Sounders than they have been in watching their own team.
“We had such high hopes after that Whitecaps-Sounders game here last season and thought women’s soccer of this high level showed great promise on the Island,” said Campbell.
“But if so few people are coming out to the Highlanders games, that sends a message to me. We’re not putting this on for a private screening.”
Campbell said it’s too early to discuss the future of the franchise.
“There are a lot of things to consider,” he said.
The bottom line, noted Campbell, is that if people truly believe women’s sports should be better supported, here is a prime local opportunity to do it. If you want your daughters to see excellent female sports role models, they are out there and playing at Bear Mountain Stadium.
“The fans who have come out have been very enthusiastic and supportive and that has really helped the players,” said Highlanders head coach Dave Dew.
“Yet despite everybody’s best efforts, we’re still kind of a secret around town.”
Maybe the Langford location has something to do with that.
“I saw the reaction to the men’s [USL PDL] Highlanders game last week downtown at Royal Athletic Park [more than 1,000 fans], not to mention the Whitecaps-Sounders
W-League game at RAP last year. I believe if we were downtown at RAP, we would be getting 450 to 500 fans a game,” said Dew.
“The level is high, both in talent and entertainment value, but this will take time to build.”
The Highlanders close out the season Friday in Seattle against the Sounders.