Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why the World Cup Won't Help Soccer in the US

As many of you may know, on July 11th a little tournament called the World Cup wrapped up in South Africa. With over 1 billion viewers, this is the most popular event in the world. With increased ratings here in the US, there was speculation that soccer may finally be ready to take off. You know the last time that claim was made? 2006. And before that? 2002. What about before that? 1998. Every time the World Cup happens, everyone thinks, "This is it! Finally! The US will embrace the world's game and it will change the landscape of professional sports in this country!" I'm going to tell you why this will once again fail to happen.

Last night I attended a SuperLiga game between the New England Revolution and Pumas UNAM of the Mexican professional league. This is supposed to be a big deal. It wasn't. The fan turnout was minimal, as Sam's Army couldn't even fill their section. The majority of the stadium was closed off because otherwise it would appear embarrassingly barren. At least 40% of the fans at the game were donning the Pumas or Mexican national team jerseys. When you can't even draw enough fans to have the significant majority at a home game against a team from another country, how am I supposed to believe that this game is on the rise? Here are the major reasons why this year will be no different than any other World Cup year here in the States

Low Quality of Play
Watching the World Cup for a month and then being subjected to the MLS was like sipping on Patron for years and then being forced to funnel 3 PBR's. Painful, sickening, and ultimately depressing. There were so many bad passes I thought JaMarcus Russel was out there. The shots were rarely on net, and neither team could construct a strong attack. Revolution keeper Bobby Shuttleworth could not have done less as he watched a Pumas strike from outside the box ring off the crossbar. Here in the States we are used to watching the best of the best compete. Why pay to watch a low level of competition?

Lack of Connection to Teams
One of my buddies at the game said "I'd rather watch our old high school team play, because at least I'd know the kids and feel some sort of a connection." When our nation's best, our team's heroes, are off competing abroad, who are we left with? I can't blame them for going; there's more money, larger fan bases, and a stronger level of competition overseas. However, why would we watch soccer here, or care at all, if we didn't have the opportunity to watch our best players?

Too Many Choices
One of the benefits to living in the greatest country in the world is the freedoms which we are allowed. We have more opportunities here than most people can even dream of. We should be incredibly thankful for that, but it has hindered our relevance on the world stage in soccer. Many countries play soccer because it is easy to play, and it is so cheap. The low cost is an incentive to nations that don't have the capital to invest in basketball courts or hockey rinks. With so many choices of sports to play, our best and brightest young athletes choose games that are more financially sound than soccer. Why would any young teen choose the MLS when he could get a multi-million dollar deal from the NBA before his 20th birthday?

Once the hype has died down, this year will be no different than any other. Soccer is still waiting for it's big break here in the states, and I wouldn't hold my breath.


  1. You're wrong to think about soccer in terms of a "big break," like everybody's about to go start liking it instantaneously. That would be ridiculous. It will never be "America's game," because it's already the world's game, but it's naive to think that the World Cup didn't help an already growing sport.

    Just look at the attendance numbers:

    1. NFL - 67,508.69 (2009 season)
    2. MLB - 30,213.37 (2009 season)
    3. MLS - 18,452.14 (2010 season, as of 04/11/2010)
    4. NBA - 17,149.61 (2009/10 season)
    5. NHL - 16,985.31 (2009/10 season)

    Last year, the Seattle Sounders averaged 31,200+ per game. And there have been 7 new soccer specific stadiums in the last 5 years, with 3 more on the way. The World Cup WILL help soccer, but what's helping soccer even more is soccer.

  2. What you aren't taking into account with those numbers are the size of the stadiums that these teams play in, as well as how many teams are in each league. There are only 16 MLS teams and many of them play in NFL stadiums. They completely close off the upper seating because they can't even sell all the lower level tickets. For the amount of seats available, all of these sports sell significantly more. Most soccer specific stadiums cap out at about 20,000 seats, and they rarely sell out.

    NFL - 32 teams / 67,000-80,000 seats
    MLB - 30 teams / 37,000-56,000 seats
    NHL - 30 teams / 18,000-19,500 seats
    NBA - 30 teams / 17,000-21,000 seats

  3. That MLS teams play in NFL stadiums can't be used as an argument against them, all teams would play in smaller, soccer-specific stadiums if they could. There are baseball teams that draw less fans than the Seattle Sounders. Maybe all the fans there are starving ex-Supersonics fans, but they're developing a solid soccer base that will live on whether their team is any good or not. Drawing 18,000+ fans a game around the league cannot be discounted.

    It has to be a good sign that more big name stars are coming to the US. David Beckham was the best thing to happen to the MLS. Theirry Henry is coming to the Red Bulls and his presence alone will significantly boost ticket sales around the league.

  4. What you are all forgetting is arguably the most important point: the viewing audience.

    Advertising is what makes a sport successful and it's difficult to sell ad time when there are five people sitting at home watching an MLS game vs. several million watching an NBA match up.

    Also, attendance really doesn't matter as much as you think it does. If 20,000 fans show up to watch the Red Sox at $50 a ticket and 37,000 show up to watch the Sounders the Red Sox are still making more money. They therefore attracting better talent that is more desirable to watch. I wont even get into merchandising.

    What we really need here in the U.S. to promote soccer is more showings of ELITE teams on bigger networks such as ESPN. The problem is that this will never happen due to the fact that the networks would literally lose money on advertising. What we need is not better soccer here in the U.S., but the assimilation of World Class Futbol (yes I said Futbol) into mainstream American sports programming.

  5. I meant to say watch the Sounders for $25 per ticket.

  6. I still think it's a very unimpressive argument. Your logic was basically "I went to a soccer game (that didn't really count) last night (in the rain) and there weren't a lot of people so therefore the World Cup didn't help soccer in the entire country. I think you're overlooking a lot, and you provided almost no evidence to support your point.

    And I'm not saying soccer is bigger than the NBA, it obviously isn't, but the attendance records are simply a testament to the fact that it's growing.

  7. Growing? In Seattle, yes. But hey, it is Seattle. Bottom line, until elite US athletes start playing soccer and not football or basketball, people are not going to get excited about watching euro-weenies flop around on the ground.