Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Wall Street Journal on Beckham - How to miss everything and just rewrite the same story

The every so wonderful Wall Street Journal blares the headline David Beckham's Injury Hurts More Than Just the Soccer Star. See if you can guess, without reading a single line, how this story goes.

If you guessed that Beckham's absence is killing the league, you are correct.

While reading this piece by Stephen Barbara, I had to keep checking the date because it seemed like something from August, not October. Read this paragraph about his August 29th injury and tell me when you think it was penned:
The latest news is the most significant yet. Mr. Beckham was diagnosed with a sprained right knee, suffered in the Galaxy's Aug. 29 SuperLiga final loss to Pachuca, and will be out of action for as long as 10 weeks, the rest of the Galaxy's season. Make no mistake: His injury is indeed disastrous news for the Galaxy, a nightmare for MLS, and extreme ill fortune for American soccer.
Anyway, let's look at Barbara's reasons for why this is such a major hit for MLS and soccer in America: "Business will be affected: attendance, ticket sales, merchandising, network ratings, buzz. With no Beckham on the field, there will be no Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in the stands, no Los Angeles where the hot ticket is to a Galaxy game."

The problem with the attendance (and thus ticket sales) argument is average MLS attendance has stayed steady (actually it has grown) since Beckham was injured. The average attendance to matches through the end of August was 15,942, but after this past weekend the average number stands at 16,432 (this is for the whole season, weekly numbers are also up). So the season average number went up 3% , which is even more amazing when you look back at the last 10 or so seasons of MLS as the average attendance decreased during the tail end of the season.

But what about merchandising? LA has sold around 500,000 jerseys with Beckham playing only a few games so do you really think the number of jerseys sold is equal to the amount of play? And just because the star isn't playing right now, people are smart enough to figure out that he will play again. I could see the possibility that if Beckham was on the pitch a few more would be sold, but injuries happen in any sport yet the main players always seem to sell jerseys.

The last two items (network ratings and buzz) might be the most likely to have been hit, however the ESPN2 ratings for MLS have remained about the same as what they were last year, even for the league game Becks played in, so maybe there might be a different reason for the problem. The one game that did see a noticeable up in ratings was the LA-Chelsea friendly. Now what was different about that one? Well it featured a big international team, it was Becks premiere, it was on a Saturday evening and ESPN promoted it heavily. Since the first three reasons cannot be repeated, perhaps the bigger one to look at is the promotion by the networks.

Mr. Barbara also says, "Mr. Beckham's absence will be a blow to the ailing Galaxy."

Again, doesn't this sound like something from August? The month of September was the best month of the season for the Galaxy. There went 4-3-1 for 13 points. It is true that Beckham would bring something else to the team, but when you look at results, it is hard to say his absence has been a blow.

Finally, Mr. Barbara tells of the woes facing American soccer because the best American talent goes to Europe to play while no other big names, except for Blanco, have come to the US.
Meantime, there are disturbing trends in American soccer. Such promising young talents as Carlos Bocanegra, Freddy Adu and Clint Dempsey are going abroad to Europe to ply their trade. And with the notable exception of Mexican player Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the signing of Mr. Beckham has not caused a string of new marquee arrivals to MLS.
The best players in the world are going to Europe to play soccer, that is one heck of a disturbing trend indeed. I'm sure Brazil, Argentina and all of Africa is worried about this one as well. Did Mr. Barbara really think the signing of one player would suddenly make MLS the best league in the world? The fact of the matter is obvious, the best soccer (for the most part) is played in Europe so that is where the young talent goes so they can develop into the best players possible. Perhaps in a decade things will be different, but for now, the game is as it is and MLS is not on the level of top European leagues.

As far as signing other big names, Mr. Barbara doesn't mention Angel, Reyna and Denilson. They might not be the big names like Beckham and Blanco but Mr. Barbara seems to forget what the main reason for signing a designated player should be; results. Denilson has yet to produce any such results with Dallas, but Reyna and Angel have been very vital to making New York into a quality side this year and what do you know, the team's attendance numbers are up.

There are only a handful of players like Becks and Blanco (big names that still have some play left in them) and the fact that MLS has both says a lot. Also, this is only the first year of the dp rule, so suggesting it has failed is a little early.

So just how plagiarized is this piece from the hundreds that have come before? Well it ends with a dig at, wait for it, Victoria Beckham. Wow, the originality that falls from the pages of the mighty Wall Street Journal is amazing.

But enough of that. Mr. Barbara is right to suggest that things would be different if Beckham was playing right now, however he is very wrong in suggesting that the league is taking a big hurt from his absence. Perhaps he is one of the people who thought that Beckham would overnight make soccer into America's game and if so, I can understand his disillusion. However, Mr. Barbara needs to look past such thoughts and see what is actually going on. There are millions of soccer fans already in the US but, for whatever reason, a large percentage of them do not follow MLS. One of the main hopes of signing Beckham and Blanco was to catch those eyes and let them know that some quality ball is getting played right here. MLS doesn't so much need to turn people into soccer fans as much as they need to turn soccer fans into MLS fans. The verdict is still out on if they have done that but looking at some early data, it suggests that it might just be happening.

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Blogger Kinney said...

This is why people were upset at Rupert Murdoch buying the WSJ.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Laurie said...

Good post. You put words to the thoughts that hadn't quite coalesced in my head when I read the article.

This WSJ piece was almost as annoying as the Brits who keep telling us that Becks is here to "save" American soccer.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Slyde said...

I guess everything that glitters is not gold.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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9:48 PM  

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