By Jim Carlisle
There’s more to soccer than soccer. It has a culture of music, art and fashion surrounding it that no other sport can match.
Ramsey Abushahla ’16 admits that when he became involved with the soccer website Urban Pitch, he was pulled in more by the aesthetics of it than by the sport. The site is more about what soccer looks like and sounds like than about the game itself.
The communication major from Woodland Hills had served on the staff of The Echo and also played four years of baseball for Cal Lutheran. He had dabbled in freelance journalism after graduation, reporting for the Ventura County Star and the Thousand Oaks Acorn. Abushahla had shown himself to be ready for anything, even handling football analysis on livestream broadcasts of Cal Lutheran football.
Then, in his job search, he came across Urban Pitch.
“Growing up, I was not a soccer fan,” Abushahla said. “It was always on the periphery of my sports fandom, but the thing that drew me into the site was the cultural side of soccer, which was pretty unique compared to other sports. There’s this whole off-pitch side, whether it’s art, music or fashion, that is inspired by soccer and that really isn’t prevalent in other sports.”
Abushahla had interest in that side of it, so he applied and was hired.
“I figured I could write some of the lifestyle and cultural stories first and then try and learn soccer on the fly,” he said. “So I started watching a little bit more soccer and was quickly taken in. I was already a sports fan, so it wasn’t really a hard sell for me. From there, I was doing a story every once in a while, maybe two or three a month.”
Then, in the summer of 2017, the editor of the site resigned and Abushahla was asked to step in as the interim editor. “Things just kind of worked out,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time and I wound up being brought on full time, which was really, really fortunate.”
Along with providing match coverage, Urban Pitch reports on events that happen at UrbanFutsal LA, an indoor soccer facility with which it is affiliated, in downtown Los Angeles. The facility was closed in March because of the pandemic, but Abushahla says there still has been plenty of material for the website.
Futsal is a big part of Urban Pitch’s coverage. It’s a hard-court game usually played indoors where the emphasis is more on the technique, artistry and flashiness of individual players than on how many goals are scored.
“The target that we’re going for is sports fans who care about things that go on outside the lines of the pitch, people who care about soccer and they have a club that they support, but also they’re into who the cool soccer player is, who has style,” Abushahla said. “It’s not just like straight-up analysis of sports and going over X’s and O’s.”
Having a diverse repertoire has come in handy for Urban Pitch. When the pandemic started, the site published such things as movie and TV reviews along with things to do at home.
Its coverage of actual soccer competition took a hit. The site would normally cover Major League Soccer rivalry matches between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Los Angeles Football Club.
“We have good working relationships with both L.A. Galaxy and LAFC,” Abushahla said in September. “We’re still trying to talk to them to see different ways that we can cover the teams, and we’re trying to come up with some new innovative ideas.”
Urban Pitch has anywhere from 10 to 15 regular, mostly freelance contributors, reporting from such places as Barcelona, the United Kingdom and Ghana. The audience is just as global, Abushahla said, attracting readers from Argentina to Spain.
“Obviously, it’s a global game, a lot bigger in Europe and South America where it’s more ingrained into everyday life, but it’s starting to take hold in the United States as well,” Abushahla said.
The site doesn’t carry advertising, relying instead on securing sponsor content for its business model. The site carries labeled write-ups and videos of products from brands such as New Balance and Red Bull.
“With the game being global, there’s a large audience potential,” Abushahla said. “We are not for every soccer fan out there, but there’s a large group of those soccer fans that we can tap into and write stories for and tell the stories of. That is the most appealing thing when we’re pitching ourselves to different businesses. It comes across as a little more authentic than something that a big brand would portray.”
Jim Carlisle is a former sports columnist and reporter for the Ventura County Star. He has been the public address announcer for Cal Lutheran football since 2001 and lives in Simi Valley, California.