July 23, 2010

5 Ways for Soccer to (Continue) Growing in the United States

It's been almost 2 weeks since the end of the World Cup, and even longer since the United States was knocked out of the tournament. For Americans and American soccer fans, this year's World Cup was relatively speaking a success. The national team improved on its dismal 2006 showing, reaching the round of 16 after crashing out without a win in Germany. Even more importantly, soccer has found a foothold with American fans in a much more tangible way than before. Whereas in the past soccer could be said to be growing, this year we can definitively say that soccer, at least in the form of the World Cup, is a genuine American pastime. Television ratings back this up: when World Cup viewers, during the middle of the day, rival NBA playoff games and eclipse the NHL Stanley Cup finals, your sport is part of the mainstream.

Yet just because soccer is finally stable and safe in America doesn't mean it doesn't have room for growth. The MLS still has room to grow. Local teams can improve in quality. Here are some tips and advice that could propel soccer, if not into the front of America's minds, at least past the NHL into the 4th most popular sport in the U.S.

1. Switch to Versus. Yes, it would seem like the natural fit for Major League Soccer would be to stay on Fox Soccer Channel. However, the production quality on MLS matches on that channel are terrible: the graphics look like they came straight out of the 80s, and in general the ability of FSC to adequately cover the league is lacking. Versus, on the other hand, showed with its coverage of the NHL that it can more than deal with professional sports coverage. It would be a good move for Versus, expanding its potential reach. More importantly, it would be a good move for the MLS, by making it look more professional.

2. Take up the vuvuzela. One of the major problems with American soccer right now is crowd enthusiasm. Good teams average somewhere around 20,000-25,000 people per game, with one team, the Seattle Sounders, coming closest to European levels of enthusiasm with about 35,000-40,000 per game. However, no matter how many people are at the game, the audience just isn't very loud: it wouldn't matter that most teams can only get about 15,000 people to show up for a game, especially since their stadiums seem full. What seems to be problematic is the fact that many of the fans don't seem to be excited about the game. But the vuvuzela changes that. Despite all of the hatred that people put in for it, one advantage of the vuvuzela is that it makes crowds seem louder than they actually are. 15,000 people with vuvuzelas sounds like 30,000-50,000 regular fans. Games that are loud are more fun to watch, which leads to more people coming to games, and so on.

3. Win the CONCACAF Champions League. If the MLS wants to be seen as a best league in the world, good luck with that. But being seen as the best league in North America should not be nearly as hard: the only real competition that the MLS has is Mexico. Other leagues just can't match their money, as salary capped as it is. By being the best league on the continent, the MLS would be able to attract the best talent. With talent comes viewers, and with viewers come money.

4. On a similar note, make the U.S. Open Cup and the SuperLiga more important. 4,512. That is the number of people who attended a match between the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup. To be fair, the game wasn't held at Qwest Field. But that might just be indicative of the larger problem. The U.S. Open Cup predates the Superbowl and the NBA. Any team affiliated with U.S. Soccer can qualify and compete. It should be, and in fact is, the United States' FA Cup. Yet the very fact that two of the most popular teams in the league competed in what amounted to a secondary facility in front of less people than go to some high schools in the U.S. indicates how little respect the Cup gets from MLS. It shouldn't be this way. 15 years into the league's existence, there should be no reason why Maccabi Los Angeles and Bethlehem Steel should still hold the record for the most Cup wins. Clubs should treat these matches as seriously as they treat regular season games, including tickets for the Cup in season ticket packages and holding all of the matches they host at their primary stadium. There's no excuse at this point. The SuperLiga is relatively new, but is still exciting, and is another way for the league to gain respectability among soccer fans in North America.

5. Build soccer stadiums for every team. There's no reason that any MLS team should still be playing in large stadiums that make it impossible for the fans to really be able to get a good soccer experience. These large stadiums make the attendance figures of the MLS look really sparse, and turns off television viewers. There is really no reason to still be in football stadiums, 15 years into the league.

No comments:

Post a Comment