Ten years ago they brought their helmets, their shoulder pads, their cleats – and their garters?!
The Lingerie Football League roared into Abbotsford like a meteor with the BC Angels team, igniting controversy and fuelling debate about women’s sports and how they should be marketed.
But just as fast as the LFL lit up discussion, it was re-branded and left town – rarely to be referenced, spoken of or remembered.
One decade later, did the Angels break barriers or did they just push the envelope on how sports should be sold to the public?
The LFL’s original concept began in 2004 as a pay-per-view spectacle alternative called Lingerie Bowl that occurred during halftime of the NFL’s Super Bowl.
The inaugural Lingerie Bowl took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 1, 2004 and featured seven-on-seven teams of scantily clad models in full-contact football. Team Dream defeated Team Euphoria 6-0 in the debut contest.
After several years of the Lingerie Bowl, sports executive Mitch Mortaza transformed the idea from a single exhibition game into a 10-team league. The Chicago Bliss, Dallas Desire, Denver Dream, Los Angeles Temptation, Miami Caliente, New York Majesty, Philadelphia Passion, San Diego Seduction, Seattle Mist and Tampa Breeze all were original franchises beginning in the 2009-10 season.
The 2011-12 season saw the first Canadian franchise enter the fold, as the Toronto Triumph joined the LFL as a preview for the LFL’s Canadian league that would be arriving in 2012. Abbotsford’s team, known as the BC Angels, was part of that northern expansion that also included the Saskatoon Sirens and Regina Rage.
The news was officially announced on Feb. 9, 2012 and the Angels were the second Canadian team in league history.
“Our team at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre are thrilled that our incredible city and building have been selected to be part of the inaugural season of LFL Canada,” stated Global Spectrum’s Jason Blumenfeld, general manager of the AESC. “It’s an exciting sport with a proven track record in the States.”
The league, who owned the Angels and the other Canadian teams, rented the AESC for $9,000 per game. The LFL received 30 per cent of food and beverage revenues, and split suite revenue 50/50. The AESC also received a $2.75 facility fee per paid ticket.
There was chatter that the LFL initially wanted to go to BC Place or Rogers Arena, but a deal could not be struck with either Vancouver venue.
“While we have enjoyed unprecedented success in the US, we believe LFL Canada will actually have far more success,” Mortaza said at the time. “The fanatical culture that exists around sports throughout the country was the primary catalyst behind the formation of LFL Canada.”
The first open tryouts for the team occurred on March 23, 2012 at Richmond’s Sportstown Sports Complex. Forty players from that camp were chosen and advanced to a BC Angels mini-camp in Vancouver in May. That number was whittled down to 30 for the Angels’ official training camp in June, and just 20 players made the final roster.
Two of those 20 players on the Angels’ opening-day roster were Stevi Schnoor and Kate Marshall.
For both women, the LFL wasn’t a beauty contest or a way to achieve fame – each had lengthy athletic backgrounds and wanted to compete. The LFL was one of the few platforms at the time for women to be showcased, and the uniform was simply that – something you had to wear in order to perform.
Schnoor, who grew up in Coquitlam, had a remarkable career in rugby throughout high school and represented British Columbia at national events. She was selected to play for the national team in 2009 at the Nations Cup and also wore the red and white at rugby 7s tournaments across North America.
She admitted she didn’t have a ton of football experience, noting she played with the boys in middle school during lunch and played a little bit of flag football. Schnoor said an old friend from college told her about the LFL tryouts and encouraged her to check it out.
“He messaged me and said I think you’d be really good at this and that’s literally where it all started,” she said recently. “So I dragged one of my rugby friends and we went.”
Schnoor said she didn’t find the early tryouts all that difficult, but she did question the purpose of wearing lingerie while playing football.
“Coming from rugby where you are fully clothed – and back then it was the cotton jersey – it was a little weird but the only time you had to wear it was the game,” she said.
But even putting the jerseys on – they were ‘one size fits all’ and I remember thinking, ‘How is this going to fit me and the girl I’m looking at next to me?’ And then you think how do I even play with no clothes on? Obviously you’re also worried about your boobs popping out or your butt hanging out. If you watch the first few games we’re all picking at our clothing the whole time because it was uncomfortable.”
Schnoor said some girls chose not play because of what they had to wear, but she decided that a little bit of awkwardness was worth it.
“It was a personal thing for each player,” she said. “I was definitely uncomfortable but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying the game and experiencing it all.”
Marshall, like Schnoor, had been an athlete for most of her life. She played soccer, basketball and volleyball growing up, but was a star in rugby. After high school she also developed a passion for flag football.
Marshall said she heard about the tryout from a friend and then quickly became the face of the team after being interviewed by The Province newspaper. That story was on the front page in early 2012. She remembers the first tryout as featuring a wide variety of athletic skill.
“You literally had people like myself who had been in athletics for awhile and were looking for the next thing to do as an adult and there were some who were models who just kind of thought it would be fun,” she said. “Then there were some randoms who were none of the above.”
She said the first tryout encapsulated the issues the LFL had in terms of legitimacy.
“If you have a guys’ football tryout, you aren’t going to have guys rolling up who think it’s a Sports Illustrated photo shoot,” she said. “And that was the struggle of the league – trying to earn respect when some women were not about that.”
She agreed with Schnoor that the original LFL uniform was not something she enjoyed wearing.
“It was pretty ridiculous,” she said. “To be honest I was never like, ‘This is so cool’ or ‘I can’t believe I get to wear this.’ But at the end of the day we practised a lot and we practised hard and in our very intense training we never had to wear any of that sh*t. We were only forced to wear that during games. For me, it was pretty easy to look past what we were wearing and I just thought – whatever, let’s just do this. We were all in it together.”
She said the uniform did cause issues for potential injuries. Players’ legs were completely exposed and there was no rib or back protection.
“A lot of us had really gnarly turf burns from games,” Marshall said, noting she and her teammates would have preferred pants. “Like wearing one-tenth of a sports bra I guess we can get down with that. They had to try and sell it and that’s what they thought they had to do.”
For inaugural head coach Kevin Snell, the LFL was no joke. He initially attended the first tryout as a fan because he knew several of the girls from his time playing and coaching in the Vancouver flag football community. He was not impressed by what he saw and convinced LFL officials that he was the right man to lead the team.
“To be honest with you, me and some of my friends went to make sure the girls were protected properly because there are a lot of grease balls in the sports industry,” he said.
“I knew how much these girls wanted to learn football from a technical perspective, and the original tryout was just horrible. They weren’t being taught the fundamentals, and it wasn’t what these girls needed. I went up to the president at the end of the practice and told him my name and why I want to coach this team.”
Snell became the BC Angels head coach shortly after that encounter, and he said he wanted the girls to not only have fun, but also be safe. He said he quickly realized that many of the skills the players possessed from other sports like rugby, basketball and soccer could be transferable to the LFL world.
He said the uniform was what it was. Snell wanted to concentrate more on what his players were achieving on the field.
“I didn’t care so much about that,” he said. “The girls knew what they were signing up for and that was more about the marketing side of it. They had to make a decision about what they wanted to wear and they knew they would face some criticism. It’s something we couldn’t control. If you’re writing the history books, we were the first league and maybe we wore the wrong uniform and went down the wrong path, but we were willing to do that work so things could evolve to what we have today.”
Players were not paid a salary and were also forced to pay a small registration fee to participate. Travel was covered, but teams in LFL Canada only played four games total, which included two away from home.
Reaction from the community at the time was mixed, with citizens speaking out about how they didn’t appreciate a city facility hosting the sport. Local advocate Gerda Peachey spoke out about the LFL on several occasions, and she also delivered a presentation to Abbotsford council on Nov. 5, 2012 about the issues she had with the LFL.
The very same week that the LFL announced its arrival in Abbotsford also saw Peachey and others celebrate the cancellation of the 2012 Taboo Naughty But Nice Sex Show, which ran at Abbotsford’s Tradex from 2008 to 2011.
Local politicians at the time also did not get behind the team.
Coun. Bill MacGregor stated: “It isn’t good football. Would I go and see it? No … But you know, thank God we live in a democratic society, most of the time, and people can choose.”
Coun. Simon Gibson also spoke out against the sport, and Mayor Bruce Banman said it was not something he would go watch, but it was up to the public to decide if it was a success. Banman did express some concerns about the game’s safety.
“I’m a chiropractor and concussions are an issue,” he said at the time. “There are those people who think the violence in hockey is offensive and needs to go … I’m not the morality police.”
Despite all the hand-wringing, debate and discussion, the BC Angels took to the field at the AESC on Aug. 25, 2012 for the franchise debut.
The opener saw approximately 2,500 watch as the Angels dominated the Regina Rage and won 41-18.
“I remember us all being so excited but so nervous,” Schnoor said. “I also remember there being so many people in the stands. That’s the whole thing about the LFL – you get to run out into this arena and it feels like there’s 20,000 people there. It gives you a feeling like no other sport, especially women’s sports, has ever been able to give me.”
Snell said he recalled a raucous atmosphere on opening day. He noted that the players often were tasked with promoting games and they did an excellent job selling the sport.
“I remember people taking limos from downtown Vancouver to Abbotsford,” he said. “It was the talk of the town and it was a party in the stands. But that first game you can never take that away from them. They got to play in front of a crowd like that. This was 3,000 people hammered and cheering for them. They’ll always remember that forever.”
As the short season carried on, the success continued for the BC Angels. They scored another win in Abbotsford on Sept. 29 with a 31-27 victory over the Toronto Triumph. A crowd of approximately 3,000 took in that game.
The Angels lost twice on the road, falling 22-18 to the Saskatoon Sirens on Sept. 1 and closing out the season with a 22-8 loss to Toronto on Oct. 27.
Marshall said the level of play increased as the season went on.
“We definitely were serious from day one but we kind of started off 10 steps behind as far as earning respect because of what we wore,” she said.
The physicality of the league was also serious. Marshall said she suffered concussions playing the sport, including a very serious one in the Toronto game on Oct. 27. She said her many injuries made her question the risk of the sport.
“You go back to your real life where you actually have a job and you’re mangled from a sport you don’t get paid for,” she said.
Despite the challenges, the BC Angels’ results led them to qualify for the first-ever Lingerie Bowl Canada, which occurred in Abbotsford on Nov. 17. The Angels took on the Saskatoon Sirens and BC won the historic game 25-12.
Schnoor said it was a fairy tale end to the first season.
“The bond that we created as a brand new team, it was literally like a script to a movie,” she said. “All of the work we put in and all the sacrifices we made were worth it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
It really was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, as after that season the LFL never returned to Abbotsford.
LFL commissioner Mortaza told The News after the Sept. 29 home game that the LFL would be returning in 2013. He also spoke of an expanded schedule, possible television coverage and major national sponsors.
But none of that happened.
The LFL Canada, which was re-branded to the Legends Football League after the 2012 season, saw its season cancelled after acrimony between league management and players in new expansion teams the Calgary Fillies and Saskatoon could not be resolved.
Player safety was a key issue and Calgary reportedly only received shoulder pads and helmets two weeks before their first scheduled game. There were two games scheduled for Abbotsford in 2013 but they were not played.
“You can only get so much for free out of the athletes,” Marshall said, noting that even a small salary for players could have saved the league. “There were also a lot of promises made after year one and none of it came to fruition.”
Schnoor cited a lack of organization and more focus on the American LFL.
Mortaza told The News in an email that the league did not continue because of the state of women’s sports at that time.
“LFL Canada’s time was coming to an end, much like most women’s sport, due to a lack of support from mainstream media platforms and corporate sponsors,” he said. “It’s great to see that climate is changing in Canada as well as the States in recent years where female athletes and female sports are being given a greater opportunity.”
He also said that the coaches were crucial to LFL Canada and that many fans want the sport to return.
“There were many challenges in not only debuting a brand-new sport but doing so in an international market for us, compounded by athletes who did not grow up playing the game,” he said.
“The coaches were the real heroes alongside the athletes that made our short, yet memorable, time in Abbotsford for the BC Angels impactful for fans. We received a lot of correspondence following the folding of LFL Canada nationally that truly missed the league, including Abbotsford.”
The LFL continued until 2019. They announced they would not be having a 2020 season on Dec. 13, 2019. Mortaza said there are plans to bring back the LFL as a touring brand playing all-star games featuring women’s athletes across the world.
Mortaza has now moved on to a similar commissioner role with the X League – a women’s football league that started earlier this summer with eight teams across the United States. He said Canada is part of the X League’s eventual expansion plans.
Schnoor continued with the LFL and went on to become arguably one of the best players in league history and the most dominant Canadian to participate in the league. She won three LFL championships with the Seattle Mist and also competed for the Nashville Knights.
She capped off her career winning the 2019 league championship with Seattle, earning the regular season most valuable player trophy and the championship game MVP. In between her time with the LFL she also represented Canada at the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
Schnoor is now a teacher and coach and recently had her first child. She said she is grateful for her time with the LFL.
“The LFL has given a lot of women opportunities and a stage to play a sport they love and those opportunities are not really there to play elsewhere,” she said. “Lots of leagues have tried but they stood the test of time.”
She also said it provided her with many friendships, including teammate Kate Marshall.
The 2012 LFL defensive player of the year never returned to the sport, but she did follow an entrepreneurial route by opening a number of businesses and going into marathon running. Marshall now owns her own yoga and fitness studio in West Vancouver as well as a supplement company.
Marshall was more skeptical about the LFL’s significance. She agreed that it did provide opportunities at a time when there weren’t as many for women, but that the impact may not have been that great.
“I think 10 years later I definitely haven’t heard anyone saying that the LFL inspired me to pursue female athletics,” she said.
The Angels remain the only professional sports team in the history of the Abbotsford Centre to win a league title.
However, that championship banner was never raised and the team was never honoured or recognized for their success.
But for some fans, the players and coaches, the year 2012 will not be remembered as the end of the Mayan calendar or for a disaster movie – rather it conjures up thoughts of a championship team, loud crowds, good memories and women in lingerie playing football.
A League Of Their Own: Looking Back A Decade Later At Abbotsford’s BC Angels Lingerie Football Team Source link A League Of Their Own: Looking Back A Decade Later At Abbotsford’s BC Angels Lingerie Football Team