Promoting Soccer in the USA

Promoting Soccer in the USA


Last week, Ahmed wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece on why Americans suck at soccer. I believe he enlisted seven points to back his claim — some based on truth whilst others said in jest. Of course, a lot of people thought he actually believed most of what he wrote and hence received a less than complimentary response.

[I don’t do humour all that well, so I’ll assume a serious tone in writing this piece. Therefore, you will be justified if you attempt to rubbish the rest of this.]

There have been countless debates on the state of the world game in the United States, and the growing noise has been more apparent ever since I set foot on American soil, a couple of years ago. I was of the impression that Americans didn’t really care for the game, but closer observation and time spent in the country taught me otherwise.

Let me get the obvious out the way first: Soccer is the most popular recreational sport in the US. Everyone grows up playing the game here. It is only in the teens, when they reach high school where peer pressure and lot of other factors, which we will get into in a minute, causes the more athletic and capable ones to use their skills in more glamorous sports like Basketball and American Football (we’ll call it football here after).

And now this becomes a vicious cycle. If you are in the east coast or up north, soccer competes with baseball, ice-hockey, football and basketball — lot of glamour games where there is promise of big money and profile. So young soccer players move on to greener pastures. And as long as these established sports keep their collective hold of the sporting market and public perception, soccer will get second, third or fourth choice athletes who couldn’t quite cut it at other games.

But we are here not to debate on the state of soccer; not even how to just improve the state of the game — but to make it take off in a big way, sort of like giving it steroids to really launch and fly [Note: Steroids, metaphorically speaking]. And I’ll say it now itself — bringing Beckham was not it.

My solutions, I believe, haven’t been discussed on Soccerlens previously, although I have seen it mentioned in other sources.


Let me give some background here. According to stats I managed to dig up, this giant of a sports network has a penetration of 58% of the American household. This translates to about 65 million homes, and if you assume, conservatively, an average of 1.5 people per household watch the channel, it adds upto about 97.5 million people. That’s close to one-third of the country’s population.

If ESPN pick up rights to the English Premier League, soccer will explode over the course of a nine-month Premiership season. FOX Soccer Channel and Setanta are doing a good job, but their penetration is minuscule. And, actually, even they have managed to generate buzz about the game.

ESPN is the one big answer to any questions raised about how to make soccer huge in the United States

One may talk as much as he wants about MLS having done little despite ESPN’s coverage, the fact that the Premier League (and La Liga) display football at a much superior level to the MLS — with packed houses and deafeningly loud crowds — makes a Premier League game instantly watchable. I have seen MLS games and they don’t do much to me, except perhaps, the atmosphere when Chicago or Toronto play in their respective stadiums.

Another factor that goes against the MLS is its scheduling where, at times, it’s played late night on working days. The same could be said of ESPN’s coverage of the Champions’ League where it plays in the afternoons on weekdays. The Premier League that way is perfect: it’s in the mornings on a weekend, usually before any of the NFL/NBA/college football games kick off and so fans would be able to take in a few games of soccer rather than having to watch them instead of other sports.

A case in point is the coverage of the Euro 2008 championships, which was a success thanks to commentators like Andy Gray and Adrian Healey (in addition to the peerless Derek Rae). I actually had people, soon after the tournament, asking me which clubs some of these soccer stars play for; some of them have actually started furiously refreshing Newsnow for updates on transfer rumours!

Americans love television, and if ESPN brings top level soccer to the living rooms of a big chunk of the American audience, and for a good part of the year (unlike the once in four years nature of the Euros and the World Cups) soccer is in for a revolution.

The Trickle Down Effect

So how is all this going to help US soccer? As I said, Americans need idols to look up to. Growing up playing soccer is one thing, but growing up playing soccer whilst watching your top stars play for the big clubs makes it an entirely different situation.

[As an aside, I think girls should find guys playing soccer in high schools hot. Otherwise they are going to play football or basketball… you know the adage of a woman always behind a successful man!]

To put it simply, more people playing soccer would increase, by way of probability, more quality players coming up. Which would enrich the MLS.

Men’s Team in College Soccer:

I was astounded when I heard that a men’s soccer team in college sports is a rarity in the US. For those who aren’t aware, the major factory of youth athletes in the US is the college sports system.

There is a reason why the US women’s soccer team is among the best in the world — and the reason, in no small part, is the presence of women’s soccer teams in colleges. I can’t believe why there are no incentives given by MLS clubs to colleges to develop a men’s soccer team.

Yes, some colleges do have men’s teams, but most of them don’t give them their due and exist more out of the community than being officially sanctioned by the respective University — typically relying on the likes of the NSCAA for sports scholarships. It benefits the MLS to have an actual college draft system from the big colleges that actually have good athletics programs, rather than using feeder clubs.

At the end of the day, Americans are natural athletes and have a strong sporting culture, however you see it. Their will to succeed can rival the best; about that there is little doubt. The question, however, is how many of them can actually start caring about soccer enough to generate a buzz, and hence increase the talent pool of American soccer.

RR runs Red Rants — a Manchester United blog.

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  1. agreed, until MLS gets salaries that kids want, were not going anywhere. That’s why bringing the premiership is key. That’s a league where you can make a lot of money. This however, doesn’t address the issue of getting poor inner city kids to play. many of them don’t have cable and therefore, they won’t be able to see the games. Those kids are generally the best athletes too.

  2. is this week “USA week”?
    coz we’ve had so many articles abt their football…
    I would rather watch the Antarctic Football League than watch MLS.. Why? coz I watch football, not soccer.

  3. If ESPN got the rights to the EPL there would be LESS footie coverage. FSC is a dedicated channel for football and if it went to ESPN it would have to slotted in with their other content (such as ten pin bowling, hot dog eating contest and the NFL draft).

    It would be better for them to create a dedicated ESPN soccer channel. Would they do that ? I say no.

    They could though, buy out FSC and rename it, but remember that FSC is Fox which is owned by the billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch who also owns $ky Sports in the UK.
    He wants to keep his bony tight grip on what he has and expand it, not sell out.

    From his cold dead hands.

    The only other thing I could see is if there is some sort of financial deal that brings a token gesture amount of games to ESPN as long as FSC gets to do the coverage and is also a plug for them.

    I myself like the current arrangement and would like to keep it as it is, but I agree that some sort of ESPN involvement would be great to increase the awareness but I wouldn’t want to see ESPN total exclusivity.

  4. Wow, you really need to do some research. Almost every university/college has a men’s team, and many MLS players are chosen from the collegiate ranks. However, the US Soccer Federation also started an academy, modeling it after other programs around the world. Players like Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley (and many others) came out of that program. Now MLS clubs are creating youth sides and residency programs, like the ones in South America. So, the American talent pool is getting larger and larger.

    And if ESPN picked up EPL rights, I doubt “soccer will explode” in this country because most of the matches are played early in the morning Eastern Standard Time. Regular Joe American Sports fan isn’t going to get out of bed to watch a bunch of Europeans prance about. I will concede that the level of play in EPL is higher than in MLS (although not as high as the English think and how come we always beat EPL clubs when they come over for friendlies. Preseason or not, shouldn’t they be able to take care of MLS teams easily if were so inferior), but how exactly will watching another country’s league help develop the American player. We don’t lack for couch potatoes.

    Finally, the reason why the American women’s team is the best in the world is because they invented the bloody sport. Very few countries even had women’s teams before the US started winning World Cups.

    Interest in soccer in this country is on the rise, despite the patronizing, arrogant hit pieces like your friend Ahmed wrote. There are plenty of American soccer fans. Plenty of MLS fans. EPL has its fair share of games with smalls crowds and little atmosphere. They aren’t all Liverpool v ManU matches. MLS is a young league, but it is moving in the right direction. But that’s OK, write your little posts, I’ll see you in a few years when your clamoring to get on the American bandwagon. Losers.

    Go Yanks!

  5. So how would showing more EPL matches help US soccer?? Wouldnt that just create EPL fans?? I have co-workers that despise MLS because they have been watching Euro-League Soccer before that their own foray into the soccer world was when Kobe plays keepy-uppy with a basketball during a timeout. Answer is less EPL and a bombardment of MLS matches on ESPN…24 hours a day of non stop American soccer.

  6. YankeeHooligan…I don’t think MLS will ever be big enough where Europeans will hop on the American bandwagon. Its just not gonna happen. But yes, most college/universities do have men’s teams.

    I too am not sure how much of an impact ESPN will have. On Saturdays, you have like 5 hours of college football previews, then on Sunday…the same with the NFL. So at least from Sept-Feb, that would be a problem. March to May, it could work.

    aykay, its the same sport. i’m not sure why that’s so hard to follow for some people.

  7. Yankee Hooligan,

    Ok, regarding men’s college soccer it did not come across as I intended. My point was colleges with really strong athletics department don’t invest as much in soccer. For heavens’ sake there is NO Big 12?!! That’s ridiculous. One of the big conferences of college football have NO soccer teams — that an entire conference doesn’t exist for a major sport — and this is not lacrosse. Look at the top 25. Ohio State stands out and so does maybe 10 colleges at most.

    The reason I am saying ESPN would do a better job is because of its penetration. I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of Americans who got hooked on to soccer with Fox soccer channel alone. And by ESPN covering it, I meant doing so by buying one of the other channels and going main stream. Or turning ESPN Classic into ESPN3 or something.

    And really, I don’t belittle the MLS. I am saying that the MLS would cash in on the popularity of soccer. Because when one sees a growing interest in soccer, they will try looking homeward especially when there is a good structure in the form of MLS in place.

  8. And to add to the above, my point regarding college soccer is that it’s given a step motherly treatment in the colleges. I am aware of the academies, but at the end of the day, you want more people to get into soccer, and more good athletes specifically — and that can be done if the sports networks showed soccer more widely and responsibly. We need twats like Jim Rome to shut their gob instead of showing arrogant indifference to that sport.

  9. ESPN is more likely to promote Lacrosse than soccer and that is an issue. You would think after the ratings that the Euro 08 drew ESPN would look for more coverage of the sport in any facet, but they don’t.

    FSC is a premium channel, Setana is too. To make soccer more succesful it needs to be viewed by the people that can’t afford to pay to watch. Right now it is a sport of privelage to many. Besides our spanish speaking population you can watch one game a week on a thursday night. Thats it! Why is superliga only on telefutura….I don’t get that channel(and its in spanish) Here is a major tournament started to try and bring more consumers into the sport and its only shown in spanish on a channel most don’t get.

    What about the Lamar Hunt US Open….is that televised(yes on FSC)but once again the average american doesn’t have this channel. This year two lower division teams have made it to the semi-finals…thats seems to me would be a great story but unless you are interested no one is talking about it and unless you have FSC your not going to be able to watch it. MOst sports bars don’t have FSC!!! Thats a problem.

    The major sports are big in america cause i child watches their father or family and friends take it so passionately. The same way a child in europe watches their father and family root for their favorite club, it inspires them and makes them dream of playing for that club. Today in the MLS we have soccer parents and local soccer clubs taking their kids to games, but besides a few cities like Toronto and Chicago its a limited few that are truly passionate about their club team. Pride in America is one thing, but we as americans don’t worship our soccer clubs the way many do their football teams and baseball teams. Kids inspire to be what their role models desire and right now their role models(fathers and family friends) don’t care about soccer. This is where your problem lies…you have to get the average american to care, to actually root for a team, to go to a game and have fun.

    To do this you have to make the game more watchable, you don’t change the game you just put it places that more people can watch. Get the SuperLiga on ESPN and Telefutura, show more world cup qualifiers for America and the teams we will play. Get FSC on more basic cable subscriptions. SHow the Beach World Cup! Show a MLS game on weekends and not just in spanish! The Lamar Hunt US Open championship should be on a major network and promoted better! We have to give soccer the chance to be viewed and right now it is not. I live on the west coast watching EPL games means waking up early on sundays…if I wanna watch any soccer on a weekend I have to watch the Mexican league games on Univision and other spanish stations that is where your problem lies…even if you wanna watch their is no place to watch!

  10. There are a LOT of top colleges that don’t have a men’s soccer team.

    Like RR said, besides there not being a Big Ten, only a couple of SEC teams play men’s soccer, and they do it in Conference USA.

    Also, I went to school at Florida State, and while the women’s soccer team is one of the top in the country, there’s no official men’s team outside of a club team (if it still exists), which is an absolute mistake.

    Title IX is a big reason why the balance is that way at certain schools, but some schools may also just not think there’s a financial benefit of having a men’s team.

    There’s a great deal of soccer support in the US…the right people just have to find a way to tap into it. If someone like me, from deep in the heart of (American) football country, could become a diehard soccer fan without really having much personal access to it, then anything’s possible.

  11. Why the continued lamenting on the state of US soccer by those from across the pond? Do you really want soccer to take off in this country, or is this just an easy way for you to poke fun at a perceived weakness of America. The skeptic in me says that it is the latter. If you really wanted the game to take off in this country it would be the end of the game as you know it.

    What Americans become passionate about we dominate. We have not even broken the surface of the talent pool in this country in terms of the sport, yet our national team has been competitive at times, and is looking pretty good currently. There are thousands of kids who are just not talented enough to play football, baseball, basketball, golf, or whatever, that could possibly play soccer. The problem is they don’t, and they simply quit sports altogether.

    If these kids start gravitating to soccer, you will see the game in this country explode. I will agree with the point that more exposure to the game through ESPN couldn’t hurt. I don’t think the EPL is necessary though. Outside of Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea, and Liverpool it is not much different than the MLS. I was able to watch all the big EPL games on FOX Sports reruns, as well as Champions League and the Euros on ESPN. I think the coverage will suffice.

    For my part I have my 6 year old, and 4 year old signed up to play this fall. What we need in this country is more action at the grassroots level, and it is getting better. When that happens, and the game really takes off in this country I predict the MLS will become the greatest league in the world. Just as with every other major sport all the greatest international players will come here to play. So, go ahead, be arrogant and belittle the state of the game here. Go ahead and feign interest in our improvement. In the end you’ll push the issue to the point that we take over the game. Then what will you have to be arrogant about, Cricket?

  12. I totally agree with RR. To make the game bigger, we must get a major channel like ESPN or the major networks to cover games, but they aren’t going to do it, because they don’t see the profit. They would have to take a hit in their ratings for a while before soccer actually caught on, and they aren’t going to do that. ESPN has a chance if they do it like they did for the EURO. Put it on a small channel and give soccer a chance, and this might make the execs at ESPN and all the others see that soccer can be profitable. Until then, no major network is going to take it.

    Also, I go to school at Texas A&M and we have one of the best woman’s teams in the country, and the national champion men’s club team, but we can’t get a men’s team because it would make more men’s sports than woman’s and that is against title ix. All of the Big XII is like that. Texas is in dire need of a big soccer school, and we don’t have one.

    There is a lot to be done to make soccer in America big, and sadly, not much of it can be done by us. We can fight and yell, but it will take a diehard soccer fan who is also a big exec in entertainment to get something done.

  13. Soccer, or football will succeed in the US, but not for any of these reasons. The only reason it will succeed is demographics. The demographics in this country are changing, and changing rapidly. In the next generation, the influx of hispanics in this country will lead to a soccer boom.

  14. BG,

    Why the continued lamenting on the state of US soccer by those from across the pond? Do you really want soccer to take off in this country, or is this just an easy way for you to poke fun at a perceived weakness of America. The skeptic in me says that it is the latter. If you really wanted the game to take off in this country it would be the end of the game as you know it.

    The point of my post is to suggest solutions on improving the game. I have neither attempted to scoff at the Americans’ attempt at playing the game. Nor have I tried to big them up unduly. Yes I agree it will change the game.

    But that’s not the point of the article.

  15. Seems a bit dodgy.

    ESPN would never pick up premiership rights because they need time to broadcast American sports and all of our pointless commentary shows ABOUT those American sports. The only way I can watch football here in Chicago is through a friends ESPN2, and even then its champions league. Sadly, we just have too much crap on already, gentlemen.

  16. Why don’t all you Euro wankers go back to your country and watch your soccer. Soccer will never get big in this country.Not in our lifetime.The only chance is if American Football,Baseball and Basketball disapear.

  17. Good article. I’m from India and this is the case here as well. As you would know we are a cricket fanatic nation. Football does not affect a normal Indian. However, things have definitely started to change since ESPN (and another channel which ESPN has a tie up with, STAR Sports) brought the EPL and the champions league to India. That is how I started watching football(that was around 1994-1995). It became really popular and now you have school kids and college goers like me who have started to appreciate football better. I like football better than cricket even though I’ve played for my college and university. I guess only when you start watching a sport played in a better way you would start loving it.

  18. I grew up in North Texas, I believe the Soccer capital of the USA, which has an abundant amount of quality soccer players. Many of these young players choose another sport, due to the large number of College teams, especially kids who might not have enough money to afford college. This is a conscious choice kids make, it is why so many few quality soccer products emerge. THe reason is a dumb law that keeps more sports from being in college. The rule is there has to be an equal number of male and female sports. Which means not allowing a male soccer program, only female. Hence why SMU, a private school in Dallas, TX, has quality players (many from North Texas) and a winning record. If this law can change I believe more and more quality soccer players will stay in this sport. This will come with a continued effort of getting soccer in more inner cities, and opening up soccer opportunities in the NCAA

  19. Robby, I have to disagree. Most NFL, NBA, and even Baseball fans are fans of multiple sports. I just want to remind you that sports fans just need to have quality soccer to watch. I think the Euro rankings where good, and Turkey’s comeback was rated as the greatest sport moment of the month on ESPN. I think soccer is growing in this country and more people are gaining interest. Our league won’t become better over night, we need quality European soccer as well as MLS. Which is why I have to agree with this article in every way. I remember the U.S. soccer on TV was so minimal, now we have three soccer only channels with decent viewer ship, ESPN is showing more and more soccer, and it seems more is being done everyday to get more and more on. We realize are problems now and can work on changing them. The first has to be adding soccer programs in the NCAA, than go have those soccer games on ESPN, and possible get more and more European soccer on tv as well as South American internationals.

  20. NCAA soccer (that’s college soccer) is actually an impediment to the growth of a high-level pro game in the US. NCAA games have unlimited substitutions and are tactically arid owing the fact that most schools have a team (through four divisions, no less) thus spreading the competent coaching talent razor thin (my college coach’s real job was the lacrosse coach). The US needs a for-real academy like they have in France and Portugal (but not England — you’ve seen the results of that lately, I believe) that plucks 14-15 year olds and turns them into pros.
    TV is TV — millions of fans have access to FSC, GolTV, and Setanta. What matters with TV is the casual fan, who will only watch the NBA Finals, World Series, and a Stanley Cup here and there. TAhose people need to turn into the MLS Final and Copa to get mmarketing heads turned here.

    Curiously, your mostly (all?) Euro writing teams likes to bag on the term ‘soccer’ — then why isn’t this site called Footballens? Too German sounding for all you Limeys, eh?

  21. Pretty good article. I see things a bit differently though. The most important thing in growing the game in America is the MLS.

    I agree that the lack of money is why top American athletes don’t play football. Agree that ESPN is not doing the MLS any favors by showing them on Thursday nights.

    I disagree that we need more exposure to La Liga and Premier League the like. To be honest, the MLS does not need that competition. The vast majority of American fans of those leagues I have dealt with will not watch the MLS (which frustrates me to no end). So while it could peak more interest in the sport overall, if it’s not growing the MLS in the end it won’t help us as a footballing nation. Those athletes that grew up loving soccer are still going to jump to another sport if there is so much more money to be made.

    You are right that Becks was not the “answer”, but he was needed. I’ve been trying to explain this since Beckham first said he coming here; Beckham was not brought here to popularize the sport, he was brought here to buy time. There are only two MLS teams that currently operate without losing money (though three more are expected to be operating in the black by the end of this year). Despite the hype dying down, Becks is still putting butts in seats (even if they are teen girls) and his ability to sell shirts helps ease the financial drain. In four years when he gone, most teams will have a SSS, which so far looks to be the key to operating a team without losing money (both teams that make money have them, all three that are projected to start making money have them), and he’ll have done his job as far as I’m concerned.

    Once the stadiums are built, and more teams start making money, we eventually can start paying better wages. Better wages could possibly lead to our young potential stars staying a while longer (giving the youngsters their idols), and more top athletes playing in the first place.

    And don’t get me wrong, it will take a while. Even after teams get in the black we’ll still be years and years away from being able to offer money that could dissuade athletes from playing Basketball or American Football.

    There is no easy, quick solution. At this point it’s all about supporting the MLS, taking pride in the fact it is OUR league and dealing with the quality issues for now so we can have a brighter footballing future.

  22. Your points about college teams are really moot considering the avenues that truly gifted American players have now with development teams and club teams in the USL and MLS. It is a shame that Big 12 (not big 10 as another poster said) do not have college teams, but really if a player is good enough he’s not going to college (at least not for long). He’s going to a development academy. Colleges aren’t doing an adequate job developing players, so the answer is to move toward an academy system like they have all over the world. Many of the players that MLS has that went to college didn’t stay for four years (take Taylor Twellman for example. He went to University of Maryland and then dropped out sophomore year to go to Germany).

    The point is (or should be) that soccer is already growing exponentially in this country. It wasn’t too long ago that we couldn’t watch any soccer on TV, now we have a league and weekly broadcasts. Could ESPN promote MLS better? Certainly! ESPN is a network dominated by the gray-hairs who no nothing about soccer and love, love, love baseball (or as I like to call it competitive farming). But why would I want these no nothings covering another league at the expense of MLS. There is only so much room in the sports market. They aren’t going to dump college football to show EPL matches.

    The issue I take with you article is that you imply that most Americans don’t like soccer because they haven’t seen a brand of it worth watching (i.e. EPL). This is not true. Many Americans do like soccer and their numbers are growing everyday. Average attendance in MLS over 15,000 per game. Sure we have a Wigan Athletics (like Kansas City who have terrible attendance), but we also have three teams that attract more than 20,000 per game (and sorry Chicago isn’t one of them: LA, Dallas and Toronto). MLS is comparable to NBA average attendance. Would you say that the NBA isn’t popular in America? Plus, given the affordability of MLS as opposed to other pro sports in this country, as the economy struggles more families (and therefore future soccer fans) are introduced to MLS.

    The truth is every year MLS and American soccer is getting stronger, and not because we televise the Euros or the Champions League or German Soccer in the mornings on FSC. Did you ever consider that increased rating for the European Championships had something to do with the increased interest in MLS? Many Americans are being introduced to soccer through MLS and then they seek out additional matches to watch. Everyone assumes that it must trickle down, but there are plenty of trickle up fans.

    I don’t want to be snarky. If your intention as your say is to help American soccer grow, I applaud you for it, but realize that the revolution has already come. The sporting landscape in this country isn’t going to change overnight, but one day you’ll wake up and wonder whatever happened to that cute American version of cricket called baseball (ok, maybe I’m going overboard, but you get my drift).

  23. Presentation, my good friends is everything. Technical engineers in the trailer, all the way to the pitch. Replays, was that a hand ball? Was the line judge to eager to raise the offside flag? Dive dive, that was not a penalty. Good engineers who know what to bring to the screen. Also, now that I’m at it, no GRAPHICS!!!! Nothing more irritating then needless graphics. All I need is the score every 7 minutes or so. Good announcers are also mandatory. They have to call the game like a boxing match or a horse race. I should be able to close my eyes and, by their play by play, picture everything in my head. Forget analysis or stats during the game, save that for half time. You ever check out a game being called by a Spanish speaking announcer? Their going out of their minds. The pitch should be perfect. Platini had every right to be concerned about the newly implanted pitch in the C.L. final. Not only for playing conditions, but how it looks on TV. Remember MLS games with American Football yard lines on the pitch? Horrible, horrible. ESPN showing EPL,I’m salavating now, EPL in H.D. WOW!!! It’s all in the presentation, it has to be perfect! Now about the product itself The Game, The Players. I’m sorry, but we need a combination of inner city tough kids, first generation kids from foreign countries where Futbol is king. We need heart, flair, flavor. You ever watch playground B-Ball, where the kids are getting their game on. Nothing Like It!! Now can you hear those same kids saying “got my game on” about Futbol.

  24. I think soccer just isn’t as organic as it is in other countries – you rarely see people playing pick up soccer in America, be it low, middle, or upper class. Its just not as ingrained in our country as it is others – we invented or innovated many of the sports we appreciate most. Soccer might get there, it just takes time, and like a lot of things in America, it needs to overcome some serious stereotypes and misconceptions. Its just more of a paradox be/c America is the “most powerful nation.” You don’t see French basketball (joue au basket?) getting as much slack despite that it may pale in comparison to the NBA (i’m speculating)… the best thing we can do is to hook people on the sport, be it MLS or EPL. EPL is more glamorous than the MLS and as Americans are prone to be, we may be more lucky with attracting new soccer fans with a more well known team or league. Its unfortunate that the MLS has such a hill to climb, but its not impossible to overcome.

    Also, MLS’s structure is fundamentally different than any other league, internationally – the limited ownership (not as many individual owners or as much individual team freedom, league controls more of the team) and the dreaded salary caps coupled with the fact that there just isn’t as much money goes inherently against the bigger, best, throw a bunch of dollars at it mentality that Americans seem to know and love. I’m not saying its bad, but its probably another reason why the MLS is not growing as fast as some would like.

  25. Just a quick point:

    Most people in the U.S. over 35 did not grow up playing soccer and are not as open to new, different, things. However, most people under 35 did grow up playing soccer and are more aware, and interested, with what’s going on in the rest of the world. This ladder group will always have at least some knowledge of the game and will be very unlikely to criticize it. They will also put their kids in youth soccer and the cycle will continue. Like the first guy said, soccer has now become the most popular youth sport.

    Soccer will continue to grow in the U.S.

    And I have to say, while Beckham did not “revolutionize” the game in the U.S. like some people expected, there can be no question that he increased the popularity a great deal.

    One more thing: just the fact that we are discussing this so much lately has to say something…

  26. I think a lot of people are expecting something to happen overnight, but it’s all about baby steps, and the baby steps are happening.

    After several attempts at a professional league, there’s finally one that is staying around. The men’s national team is in much better shape than it is a couple of decades ago. The sport is taking off at younger levels.

    It’s going to take time, and there are a lot of things that need to happen, but there’s no reason why football, soccer, that no-hands sport, the beautiful game, whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t succeed on a large scale here.

  27. I was born and grew up in England and still keep close tabs of the game there. At the same time I’ve lived in the US over 30 years and have seen the steady rise in the game both in terms of participation, support, coverage and quality of play.

    I think the biggest misconception is that soccer is still trying to make it in the US when in fact it has already MADE it. True, soccer is not the Number 1 sport in the country but that doesn’t mean that it is not passionately followed by many throughout the country.

    MLS has grown by leaps and bounds as compared to its modest beginings back in 96. During the first 5 years those of us who followed the game wondered from week to week if the League would survive. Today, that’s not even an issue as the League continues to improve at every level from the Sponsorship, to Stadiums, to Coverage, to Attendance to Level of Play. MLs is rapidly expanding from 14 teams this year to 15 next with Seattle and 16 in 2010 with the addition of Philadelphia (and a waiting list of cities after that).

    While not all teams are at quite the same level, the other huge misconception in England relates to the level of play. There is this constant drumbeat to compare MLS with the EPL but its not a fair comparison because the EPL is almost 3 different Leagues in its own right, with the top 4 super clubs, the next 6 to 8 Euro hopefuls and the remaining relegation avoiders.

    MLS compares very well with that bottom group. MLS is not comparable with the middle group and no surprise is light years behind the superclubs.

    MLS is driving the sport in the US. The new soccer specific stadiums are providing the right atmosphere and revenue for the long term. The new reserve teams and each club’s youth academy is establishing a development path for truly elite players.

    The increase of strong ownership around the league is providing resources to increase the Salary Cap and bring on Designated players that is helping to improve the quality of play on the field.

    I have no doubt given its current growth rate that soccer in the US will move from the firm foundation it has established to date to being a major force in World Football in the next decade or two.

  28. Red Ranter,

    Thanks for the unusually well thought out blog. I only noticed the occasional rant in this string.

    A couple of points:

    1. I seriously doubt that Ahmed meant anything “tongue in cheek”. The tone was not humorous and just another anti-american hate speech that we ignore.

    2. I agree with most of my countrymen that lack of college programs is not a severe hindrence. In truth, the majority of the largest (300 or so) colleges do have soccer programs. While it would be nice for them all to field teams, it is not a major issue.

    3. Much has been said in this string that US will or will not develope into a first rate soccer power and why it will or will not.

    The reason that is hasn’t as of yet has been touched upon. Unlike Europe/Africa/SA/Etc, there is no tradition of professionalism in American soccer. For various reasons, soccer failed in the 1930’s when it had the best chance to succeed. By the next time a real league was attempted (late 70’s and 80’s, there were already four major sports and few nations (no matter how sports-mad) could keep from choking on anothe one.

    Some say that soccer fails in the US because of speculated “cultural” reason – American’s are somehow more attracted to “hands” sports, it isn’t a “statistics” game, and some sort of general insanity that is endemic to America that keeps us from realizing that soccer (I’m sorry, football) is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    In the end, four other sports have had decades-long followings that are passed from one generation to the next. Four other sports have rich millionare stars which children aspire to be. Four other sports can be on TV at any time.

    Soccer is stuck in a chicken or egg situation – No network will broadcast it if few enough people will watch to justify the expense of the programing. And there will be no following for the game unless it is constantly available on television.

    Any sport trying to get into the US market will encounter the same problems be it cricket, rugby, table tennis, sumo wrestling or elephant racing.

    I believe all sports are created equal but the fact remains at this:


    I’d love to see the sport grow. I enjoy the odd Premier League game on FSC but still prefer MLS or USL1 despite the obvious differences in skill level.

    I don’t blame people for watching Manchester United (I do) but don’t really see foreign soccer as a substitute for domestic soccer. Most of the people watching Chivas, Club America, Madrid and Chelsea in the US are either expatriots whom only care about the home country’s league (perfectly acceptable)or American soccer snobs.

    In truth, it will take soccer another twenty to forty years to develope into a significant competitor (assuming it doesn’t fail as soccer has consistantly done for a hundred years).

    MLS shouldn’t have an inferiority complex about the skill level. While not AC Milan, the quality of play in MLS has gone up steadily.

    We should remember this:

    If you were to count up the total salaries of every professional player in the US (and Canada) at every professional level (MLS, USL 1, USL 2), that total doesn’t match up to the aver Major League Baseball team’s payroll.

    And that includes David Beckham’s 30 Million Dollar (or whatever) paycheck.

    Soccer’s total revenue (as a part of the overall professional sports market) makes up about 1% of the US total.

    And that doesn’t even include the massive amateur sports market (primarily college Football and Basketball).

    Realistically, soccer in the US should aim for 5% of the overall market over the next 20-30 years. Unfortunately, there are going to be idiots (both domestic and foreign) whom will continue to demand that it reach 95% of the overall sports market like it does in Brazil and Italy.

    Not going to happen and I wouldn’t like it if it did.

  29. A point on the skill level of US youth players:

    One of the reasons why US players don’t develop the skills that Brazilians do is the fact that we (I’m including me) may play the game for decades but don’t actuall play in their backyards.

    I’ve been in youth and adult recreational leagues for the better part of twenty years. That meant a couple of two hour practices every week which was mainly working on formation, throw-ins and the like. Little on the ball skill was or could be taught by the coach. Then, there was a one hour game on sunday.

    That was it. No other contact with the ball was in place.

    The American kids don’t get home from school and kick the ball around in the street for hours on end. That is where skill is learned: by playing 1×1 for hours in a game where you just can’t pass the ball to one of your ten teammates. Those Brazilian street kids have to learn to dribble well in order to make it around an opponant.

    Since American kids don’t generally play “pick-up” soccer, they don’t learn the skills of a Zidane or Ronaldinho.

    Instead, American kids have two hours of homework, practice for two or three other sports (which generally don’t exist elsewhere) and various other activities offered to children in rich countries: cell phones, internet, computers, video games, television, trips to the mall, etc.

    I’ve played soccer since I was 5 years old. In all that time, I don’t believe I’ve ever played more than 5 hours of pickup soccer in my life.

    In America, youth soccer is popular as a relatively cheap and injury-free (less than other US sports anyway) social actively and exercise opportunity for middle class children.

    It is not played in the streets or yards except in select ethnic communities (i.e. Mexican).

  30. Anti-American hate speech? Oh please. What amuses me is that if he had been as humorous as he could’ve been, people would’ve been just as offended.

    Maybe I would’ve been offended if it’d been written by a complete stranger, but I know his intentions, and they weren’t anti-American in the least.

    If they were, you would’ve known it. If he’s going to offend someone with something he writes, it’ll more than likely be to get under the skin of a delusional Arsenal/Chelsea/Liverpool/Manchester City supporter.

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