Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Perhaps part of MLS's problem is sports writers who don't do their homework

Another day, another "this is why MLS sucks" type article. This time the author is question is Jerrod "The Sound Guy" Kingery out of San Antonio, Texas.

He spends the first part of the article talking about other US sports, but lets cut to his take on the MLS:

Bottom line: Expanding the fan base is going to be tough and you are probably going to have to make concessions to fit American sensibilities. Might I suggest doing away with ties? Does anyone at all like a tie? The NHL did away with them, and I couldn’t be happier (if I cared about the NHL). Or what about letting the viewers at home know how much “stoppage time” is left at the end of the game? Referees aren’t exactly the most trusted figures in American sports, you know, so keeping us in the dark about stuff like this isn’t a great idea. Oh, and one more thing…

See this is where he starts to lose me. Obviously he does not know the history of MLS. Okay, that is not a sin, but if he would have taken the, um, five seconds to look at a site called wikipedia and typed in "Major League Soccer" he would have found this:

In an attempt to "Americanize" the sport, MLS experimented with rule changes in its early years. The clock, which counts up in international soccer, would instead count down, and would stop on dead ball situations, at referee's discretion. Once the clock hit 0:00, the game would be over. The other major change was the inception of shootouts to resolve tie games. If the game ended in a draw, a situation similar to a penalty shootout would ensue. A shootout attempt consisted of a player getting the ball 35 yards from the goal and five seconds to put it past the goalkeeper. Just like with penalties, it was a best-of-five competition, and if the score was{sic} still tied, the tiebreaker would head to an extra frame. The winning team would get one point (as opposed to three for the regulation win), the losing team zero.

Unfortunately for MLS, the rule changes, especially the shootout, failed to bring in a wider American audience, and alienated some traditional fans. The tiebreaker was gone after the 1999 season. MLS experimented in settling tie games with golden goal overtime periods from 2000 to 2003 (the tie would stand if no team scored after ten minutes), but in 2004 dropped the extra session, turning to a more traditional model of letting ties stand.

So let's see, the MLS did do away with ties and the whole 'stoppage time' thing and it did not work. Another thing about stoppage time, I don't know how many MLS matches Mr. Kingery has watched, but they do tell you, usually around the 44th and 89th minute, how much stoppage time will be added. You see, there is an official on the sideline that holds up an indicator that tells fans and players alike how much extra time there will be.

The fact that Mr. Kingery cannot figure out these two simple things truly calls into question his ability to speak on this issue. I also find it interesting that he suggests doing something that hockey did even though it doesn't seem to have made him care any more about the sport.

He continues:


Yes, I will take advice on naming things from someone calling himself "the Sound Guy." Was "the Bear" or "the Mad Professor" already taken?*

Anyway, back to you Mr. "the Sound Guy":

You want to be accepted, you want to be taken seriously, and you want to put butts in the seats, right? Tell me this then: can anyone say the name “Real Salt Lake” with a straight face? I mean, its Utah, for crying out loud! I don’t think Utah even has a Taco Bell, so I’m not real sure what a soccer team there is doing with a Spanish name. That makes about as much sense as “Academy Award winner Eminem.”

With names FC Dallas, C.D. Chivas USA, and now Houston 1836, you create a rift between yourself and the casual fans you know you want who prefer their teams have decisive names like Cowboys, Rangers, and Spurs. With these goofy names you’re screwing with grammar itself. American sports fans like to throw definite articles like “the” in front of the name of their favorite teams, like “the Steelers” or “the Nuggets.” The nutty name given to the Houston team lends itself best to this usage, but you went and made it a point that the team’s name is not, and should not be called, “the 1836.”

Okay, he doesn't like the names, I can understand that. However, to say that you have to have a name like Cowboys or Spurs to make a team a hit is a bit of an overstatement. I mean, 'the Spurs' is a good name? Spurs are a boot ornamentation used by a rider to kick a horse (or maybe they mean it as more of a medical term , i.e. a projecting body, relating to a bone spur, associated with degenerative arthritis). The team is wonderful, but is it really a great name? Names don't make teams; play on the field does.

But let's look at the MLS teams he points to as having bad names. Let's start with Chivas. Mr. "the Sound Guy," it is again obvious that you didn't do any research while writing this piece because even a simple search would let you know that Chivas is, itself, a nickname. The full club name is Club Deportivo Chivas USA. Perhaps 'Chivas' isn't good enough for you because you cannot place an English "the" in front of it. All right, then let me translate it for you. Chivas is a colloquial term that is used in Mexico regarding a kid goat. So you see, they do have a good "the" nickname, it is "The Goats."

Next up, Houston 1836. Who would put numbers in their team name. Never going to work. Um, let's see, how about the Philadelphia '76ers. What is their nickname? Oh, "The '76ers" or "The Sixers." But there has to be another one out there somewhere. Let me look over your article and see if I can find one?


Oh, San Francisco '49ers. You mention them right there in your piece. What is their nickname? "The '49ers." So what could people call Houston 1836? Now I'm going to on a limb here, but how about "The '36ers." I know, grammar is falling apart as I type this, but it might just work.

Finally, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas. I will give Mr. Kingery a point for noticing that Utah has not been the most historical place for Spanish culture in the country, but who knows, maybe it's just a Utah thing. I don't really think of Jazz when I think of Utah**, but yet people seem okay with a basketball team called the Utah Jazz. By the way, the Jazz has the 11th best attendance record (out of 30) in the league this year. More proof that people will go see an oddly named team.

So how about Dallas? The fun thing about teams like Real Salt Lake or FC Dallas is that there is no set nickname. Such a name will develop over time. Look at the Manchester United (Mr. Kingery, this is a famous English team). They are known as "The" Red Devils. This name was developed not in a marketing boardroom, instead it came from the bleachers. Over time Dallas and Salt Lake fans will do the same thing.

Mr. Kingery is right, the MLS does have problems, but sadly he seems to miss real issues in favor of cheap thought. I would like to put forth to "the Sound Guy" that one big problem MLS has that they cannot do anything about is lazy reporting by sports writers.

If you are going to advocate for something, maybe take a minute to do some research to make sure it has not already been done. If you did this, you could use your column to educate your readers instead of reinforcing incorrect 'common wisdom.' I know that it is a little harder to find this information in comparison to the NFL and NBA, but it will make you better at your job.

I am happy that you say that you would like to be a soccer fan. That is a great start. I welcome you to the fold. However, you will find it harder to be welcomed by others if you insist on making statements that are wrong instead of asking questions to find out what is right. If you show respect for the sport, most fans of the sport will respect you.

* I'm guessing he calls himself "The Sound Guy" because he has a sound off column, or maybe it is due to you being able to get the story on your cell phone. I looked for more information, but could not locate it.

** I know, a little different story, but the team moved from New Orleans to Utah in 1980, so they've had plenty of time to come up with a new name


Anonymous Joe said...

Hey Mike, you've really been crankin' on the blog here, nice work...

I saw that piece too, and actually thought it was encouraging. He says he wants to be a soccer fan... It's only a matter of time for guys like him. I'd rather encourage them than shut them down, but that's just me.

And most of the things he criticizes about MLS, except for the foolishness about goals, are debated often enough among the hard-core fans. Real Salt Lake really is stupid name.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Jerrod said...

Hey, the for real "Sound Guy" here. I was Googling my own name, as I'm a narcissist, and I stumbled across this blog here. Since you have some issues with what I wrote, I thought I'd chime in.

First, the name "Sound Guy" comes from my having been an audio engineer for a TV station, a "sound guy" as it were. "The Sound Guy Sounds Off" makes sense that way, and it also relays the opinionated nature of what I write about straight away. So that's that.

Second, with regard to my not knowing about the shootouts, that's my bad. To be fair, though, my research started and stopped with the official MLS website, which made no mention of past rule changes. I admire the Wikipedia, but I tend to avoid it for "official" facts since lots of it stinks of someone's opinion, like, well, the final paragraph of your example there. Conjecture is something I try to avoid when I'm presenting the facts to back up my opinion.

Third, some of the names are dumb. Sorry, but its a fact. That's not exclusive to soccer, by the way, but soccer is the only "American" sport to shift toward "international" names.

The beef I have with Houston 1836 withstands your comparisons. See, the official names of the '49ers and the '76ers are just that: the '49ers and the '76ers. The idea that the team has a name that is awkward to throw into a conversation (try it...its weird) is what I find foolish.

The bottom line is that I think MLS is sort of retreating, that they are becoming less innovative and resigning to the fact that they'll never be more than a niche sport here. I thought the idea was to bring soccer to America in a way Americans would enjoy it, not to set up an American branch of European (or South American) soccer for the people who were soccer fans anyway. Of course established soccer fans weren't gonna like the "Americanized" rule changes, but it was admirable for MLS to try something new. Its not easy to break into the crowded sports market here in the US, and maybe the rule changes didn't help bring in non-soccer fans, but what does the league expect to happen now? Are they just hoping not to lose fans? Do they not care about growing?

Is going back to "normal" soccer rules and "traditional" club names a white flag? An admission that Joe Football won't ever embrace soccer, so we might as well cater to establish soccer fans?

I don't mind soccer, but I do take issue with stupid, narrow-minded management decisions of Major League Soccer.

8:50 PM  

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