How In These Cleats promotes women’s sports through comedy

Credit: Sarah Pierpont
Paige Nielsen's In These Cleats is diversifying how women's sports are covered.

Almost every week, Paige Nielsen, Tien Tran, Lauren Walker, and various guests joke, share their experiences, and more while recording an episode of In These Cleats. But behind every laugh and made-up song, Nielsen and her crew are changing the future of women’s sports. 

In These Cleats is a weekly show that releases on Wednesdays. Nielsen described it as one highlighting “female badasses” under a comedy lens. It is one of the first comedy shows about women’s sports.

“It’s a unique and new entertaining way to draw an even wider scope of fans to women’s soccer,” Nielsen said. “There haven’t been a lot of comedy and soccer mixes. And it’s supposed to be a fun and entertaining way to draw more people into the game.”

Nielsen, one of the creators of the show, is 29 years old and has played for Angel City in the NWSL for two seasons. Before coming to Los Angeles, she played for the Washington Spirit (where she won an NWSL championship), among other domestic and international clubs. She also attended and played soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Despite still playing at a high level, Nielsen created In These Cleats because of the lack of media coverage surrounding women’s sports. And instead of a traditional podcast, Nielsen felt comedy was the perfect genre for her show. 

When Nielsen and her team sold In These Cleats to Megawatt Productions, she noticed another podcast recorded in their studio, The It’s Always Sunny Podcast, a comedy show. As Nielsen listened to their episodes, she figured comedy could be an engaging way to highlight women’s sports.

This is a perfect opportunity to make soccer and comedy,” Nielsen said. Just because there’s so much drama already on Twitter about women’s soccer, and it’s kind of a perfect mix.”

However, Nielsen did not view herself as a comic. She expected to be the “soccer expert” on the show. Little did she know, her humor is one of the main reasons many tune into the show. 

In These Cleats launched during the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which broke countless attendance and viewership records; it had a total attendance of over 1.9 million fans, which was a jump from the previous most of 1.35 million in 2015. Various viewership records for individual games were broken, too. 

“[The records are] completely amazing. However predictable,” Nielsen said. “Now it’s broadcasted in more countries… And I think it’s going to take off after this.”

As women’s soccer increases in popularity on the world stage, Nielsen hopes her show can bring more viewers to the NWSL, America’s most popular professional women’s soccer league. One of the reasons she launched the series during the World Cup was because of the excitement surrounding women’s soccer and the potential to increase the NWSL’s interest during the event. 

“Any team in the NWSL could compete with the 32 teams in the World Cup. So if you watch that, you’re gonna have a really good time watching the NWSL,” Nielsen said.

“We decided to launch around the World Cup, not just to be World Cup-based, but because it’s super exciting. And I wanted to celebrate how amazing it’s been but also draw fans from the World Cup to keep watching the NWSL.”

One person recruited to watch the NWSL is Walker, a standup comedian and writer. She has little soccer-viewing experience and joins In These Cleats in every episode during their “We Will Recruit You” segment.

Nielsen interviewed Walker for a co-host position on In These Cleats. Despite excellent chemistry, she wanted a co-host with some soccer knowledge. Instead, Nielsen and her team added Walker as the soccer newbie to the show, making it appeal to a broader audience.  

During Walker’s segment, Nielsen and Tran explain to Walker their favorite parts of soccer and share their experiences, among other topics. In the fifth episode, Nielsen and Tran gifted Walker a pair of Adidas Sambas, an indoor soccer shoe that has become common in streetwear, among other soccer-related gifts. 

“[Walker] was honest and vulnerable, super funny, and knew nothing about soccer,” Nielsen said. “So we’re like, ‘maybe our cohost should know something about soccer.’ And then our writers were like, ‘oh my god, this is perfect.’ She’s gonna be a new recruit because not a lot of the US even knows about soccer. And so that’s also a part of educating in a funny way. And drawing a different fan base to soccer.”

To find the best-fit cohost, Nielsen interviewed eight female comedians. She asked about their childhood, athletics experience, comedy background, and more. If their conversations became “super serious,” she did not consider them a good match. However, if they were feeding off each other’s energy, the comedian would be considered a better fit. 

Tran was the co-host of choice for Nielsen because she stood out from the crowd. Nielsen and Tran immediately hit it off despite being the last to interview. They shared laughs and excellent chemistry as Tran discussed her background and interests.

“Tien [Tran] was the last one, barely made it, and she was on a trip to Europe,” Nielsen said. “She is a huge soccer fan as well; she played all while growing up. She is really knowledgeable about the game. But she was hilarious. And our chemistry was instant. So it was incredible. And she’s a great co-host.”

Tran plays Ellen in the television show How I Met Your Father and has appeared in other shows, films, and more. Now, she is now the co-host of In These Cleats. And Nielsen and Tran’s chemistry is evident in the series as they fluidly incorporate jokes into their engaging discussions.

Aside from the hosts, In These Cleats features a guest in every episode. So far, they have filmed with United States and Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and Angel City investor and former soccer star Julie Foudy, among others.

As needed, In These Cleats releases “bonus episodes,” too, where Nielsen and Tran break down current events and/or speak with guests in shorter episodes (usually around 10-15 minutes long). One bonus episode included Rachael Rapinoe, former soccer player and sibling of United States and OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe. 

“We have really amazing guests that we’re like, we don’t know how they’re gonna fit in the show, but we would love to do something,” Nielsen said. “To get to know them, to get them on our pod, to get them actually invested in soccer.”

As Nielsen records weekly episodes, she is amid a playoff push with Angel City. Her team is six points off a playoff position with six games remaining in the NWSL season. Despite training almost daily, she finds time in her off days to film. And while filming takes up most of the day, she does not mind doing so because it gives her a task during her off days.

I don’t balance. In college, I was a lot more successful, very singular, and straight-minded because I did have a schedule. And this actually makes me better at time management and planning things out for my day, knowing when I need to rest, and really being present in each moment,” Nielsen said. 

Nielsen’s Angel City teammate, Christen Press’ also hosted a show during the World Cup. Press’ series, The RE-CAP Show, was more geared towards World Cup coverage as it was only released during the World Cup. 

Press began The RE-Cap Show as she missed playing in the World Cup for the United States because of a knee injury. She hosted the series with National Team teammate Tobin Heath, who is also injured.

Nielsen and her Press checked in with each other about what it is like to run a show. And they both came to a similar conclusion: it is difficult. Still, Nielsen has enjoyed the experience because she has discovered new favorite players and more. 

Moving forward, In These Cleats will continue to cover women’s sports in an original way. In upcoming episodes, Nielsen and Tran will interview British storyteller Jay Shetty and former alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn. 

Nielsen also hopes to interview actress and Angel City co-founder Natalie Portman, among other guests, saying her team is “working on it.” Additionally, In These Cleats will feature more Angel City interviews and content because the World Cup has ended. 

Angel City head coach Becki Tweed has watched parts of In These Cleats and enjoyed what she saw. She especially loved the songs Nielsen and Tran sang during the show. 

I keep calling [Nielsen] In These Cleats… I enjoy listening to the sing-along with jingles. They’re my favorite. So I’m hoping she continues to write the songs. But it’s brilliant for players to be able to go out and raise not only their profile but the women’s game is really important. So really happy that she gets to put herself out on more of a public platform,” Tweed said.

Tweed said if Nielsen ever asked her to appear on the show, she would say yes. However, only if she did not have to participate in the “jingles.”

“Only if I get to sing. Just kidding. Only if I don’t ever have to sing,” Tweed said.” There’s importance of raising awareness and continuing the growth of the game and women’s sports in general. Anytime that anyone has an opportunity to do that, I think it’s important that we can support our players and support the process along the way.”

As In These Cleats adapts its coverage, the show is diversifying the landscape of women’s sports coverage through comedy. Nielsen’s series takes a distinct path to bring more attention to women’s sports.

Editors note: A previous version of this story referred to Heath as Press’ wife. This information was inaccurate and has been removed.