Wednesday, August 10, 2005

MLS and 'sports' fans

Over are, Jamie Trecker has an excellent first article about soccer in the states (including a nice op-ed about MLS stadium names). Here is a great summary of the problems facing MLS during their current attendance slump:

"My understanding is that MLS is still feeling the effects of several disastrous first seasons, when Latino fans were discouraged from coming and play was poor. New stadiums are slowly building back that fan base, but MLS day in and day out still fails to connect to sports fans. How many fans, for example, know that the quality of play in MLS — when two good teams are playing each other — easily exceeds that of many European leagues?"

That last sentence rings so true. One of the things I really enjoy about MLS is the way any team can win on any day (or maybe I'm just making excuses for my horrible able at predicting the winners). There is a lot of good soccer being played on American soil, but not enough people know about it. Strangely, I don't think the MLS has much control over the way Americans view our native soccer league.

I think people the idea that it is a so-so league not because of the play in the first 2 or 3 or 6 seasons, but because they don't see the US as a world soccer power. That started to change a bit in 2002 with the national team's run in the World Cup; however, those games were on in the middle of the night, which really lowered viewer ship. Next year the matches from Germany will be on in the afternoon (for the most part). If America does as well in 2006 (especially if they beat some European teams), then more people will be willing to see what the MLS has to offer. On the other side of things, if the US sinks, it will only reinforce the idea that this county cannot play soccer.

Basically, just like the Tour de France and cycling, the World Cup is the only opportunity soccer has to break into the mainstream of American news. But one thing to remember is that the main reason the Tour has been covered so much during the last few years is that an American was winning it. People like to back winners (see Las Vegas for more on this). If the men's side can clam the spotlight next summer, the MLS will, at least for a little while, be easier to see.

On a completely different subject, I really enjoy Trecker's call on the stadium name game.

"Yes, owners get a few million for selling the name to a company. But what they lose is a chance to connect directly with the fans. There's a reason that places like Anfield, Highbury, Old Trafford and the Azteca have international resonance. They connect directly with a team, a place, and a family of supporters."

So true.


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