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Americanizing Soccer for the U.S. Sports Fan pt. 1

In order for Soccer to find the success it seeks in the U.S., it must make changes to the traditional rules without changing the integrity of the sport.  Soccer can be that viable alternative for sports fans in the U.S. if it plays with American rules and also promotes the game to fit U.S. sports fans expectations, not the expectations of soccer enthusiasts.

The game of Soccer, like all other American spectator sports, must be tinkered with from time to time in order to maintain its entertainment value for the newest generation.  But, the sport must not be altered significantly to where it is not recognized as Soccer.  The integity of the sport must be kept intact (10 on 10 where no one touches the ball with their hands and one Goalkeeper for each side).

In sport, it is common for rules to vary from country to country.  FIBA, the International Federation of Basketball plays its games under its rules, including a trapezoid key (paint).  The U.S. adheres to these rules during international play and reverts back to its own rules for play in the NBA.

All strategies for delivering the product must adjust to the spectatorship landscape of the U.S. sports fans.  If done with an American flavor, soccer can be an enduring spectator sport in the U.S.  It has the ability to provide unique drama, escape and entertainment.  It is definitely possible to raise the American consciousness for the appreciation of Soccer and it can become the 4th most dominating spectator sport in America. 

Soccer needs to be serious, competitive, fun, and unapologetically American.  The rules changes and marketing schemes must take responsibility in perfecting the art in the sport.  They must make sure that the skill involved in the sport is showcased and that every match is played with contemporary sports drama and theatre.  Action, tension during the contests and common sense in the rules must take precedence so that every game has the potential to rise to the occasion and be an unforgettable sporting spectacle.

There is a lot that must be done for American soccer to succeed.  Sports fans in the U.S. expect more from their spectator sports.  They are different than sports fans from other parts of the world.  They are more sophisticated and they have been spoiled.  The greatest moments in the recent history of sports have occurred in American sports or with American athletes.

The sport has been built-up significantly over time at the youth level and upwards through high-school and college levels.  But, in order for professional soccer in the U.S. to derive the most amount of fan support possible, the marketing must become event-driven and reach the diehard sports fans.

Soccer can become a fabric of the American sports fans environment just as football, basketball, and baseball have consistently achieved from year to year.  Soccer must think progressive in their rules amendments and consider what makes 4th down, the 3 and 2 count and the last-second shot so appealing to sports fans.

21 Responses to Americanizing Soccer for the U.S. Sports Fan pt. 1

  1. huricano says:

    Normally I very much and agree with your (majorleaguesoccertalk.com) pieces, but this one is daft. Why change the rules? The first seasons of MLS proved that such a move provides no benefits. What soccer in the US needs is more youth development, more league development (maybe tweaks to the current MLS format to make it relevant all summer long, as you have mentioned other days. my vote is for the Brasil model, only shorter), more youth development, and creative players that shine on a world stage. Changing soccer will not help it.

  2. Pingback: sports » Blog Archive » Americanizing Soccer for the US Sports Fan

  3. Cavan says:

    Those other leagues have had the same rules for the century of their existence. They have only changed the rules within the context of maintaining fairness during play. The only rule I can think of that was changed for viewership was the adopting of the 3point line from the ABA. Those other leagues have had a century to build a fanbase. It's not fair to directly compare them. It will take a while for the older generations who didn't grow up with the game to be supplanted by generations who, if they didn't play, at least had friends who did and are familiar with it.

  4. undrafted says:

    First off I'm not sure what changes you propose.

    Secondly, FIFA will allow very limited changes. Back in the beginning, MLS discussed using bigger nets. IIRC, FIFA said no. The game is fairly standardized in every country across the world. FIFA sees to that and has the threat of World Cup banishment for anyone who dares oppose them.

    The mild tinkering allowed would probably only serve to drive away “hardcore” fans. MLS already tried a shootout (PKs with a running start), a backwards clock, no stoppage time, etc. I don't think any helped.

  5. Lee says:

    Huh? You said that the US must change its soccer rules abot 12 times in your piece, but didn't offer even one suggestion.
    Why did you waste your time and ours?

    And frankly, I don't agree with your premise in the first place, I feel it has taken so long for soccer to catch on here in the US exactly because up until the very recent timeframe soccer did nothing but pander to people who barely gave two farts about the game.

  6. LV says:

    Man you've deviated from your past posts. In the past you constantly said American sports were silly for their complex rules and complained that the games are inconsistent. Now you want Football to change.

    You are a total hypocrite.

  7. Jeff says:

    What irony. After repeatedly ripping American sports as stupid and the rules as a way to manipulate results you turn around and write a piece saying the rules of football should change? Didn't you say a few months ago the beauty of the game was that it was so simple. Perhaps I should stop reading this site if you've allowed the pressure from the American sports lobby to get to you.

  8. The Gaffer says:

    Gentlemen,

    I just went to step in to let you know that Kartik Krishnaiyer didn't write the article. Mitch Howard did, so if you have any criticism or praise, please direct it at Mitch not Kartik for this particular post.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

  9. huricano says:

    Who is Mitch Howard? Will he be allowed to post again?

  10. Tyler says:

    It's not the game that needs changing, it's the coverage. You can't generalize American sports fans by saying they need more excitement in their games and that they need to be more fast paced. You only need to look to the fact that baseball and american football are the two most popular sports. Both sports are pretty slow paced, with all the stopping and starting, but yet Americans eat them up. What soccer needs is better coverage on television and in the media. If Sports Center had highlights of MLS games, Champions League games, and key European club match ups presented by their regular hosts (in a non-condescending fashion) we'd be in business. They could edit out all the “boring” stuff and only show the exciting parts and people might get hooked. Also, how about some European soccer in HD! People will watch anything if it's in HD! I can watch poker in HD on ESPN, but not the Champions leauge? Come on!

  11. Glenn Csonka says:

    What the MLS needs to do is win consistently. Now that the CONCACAF Champion's League has become a reality, a 4-0 drubbing at home by Joe Public over New England doesn't do anything to support the sport in the U.S..

    While the other major sports in the U.S. boasts the world's best players, MLS (or any league in Europe for that matter) can make that claim. It's important however to try to hold on to good players in MLS, rather than creating a perception that MLS is a developmental league for the rest of the world..

  12. jhholda says:

    Didn't they try that with the NASL? And we all know where that ended up…..just saying….

  13. not nuts says:

    Are you fucking nuts?

  14. kofi_x5 says:

    The spark needed to provide that excitement for spectators and the delicious carrot to lure in the best of our youth athletes is money. Serious money. Multi mill contracts straight out of the development leagues and colleges.
    Changing the rules of Football makes no sense. And would further lessen the respect we've barely achieved over the last decade or so. What gives us the right…From where does our audacity flow that we should think we know enough about the beautiful game that we could 'improve' it by adding rules? We already have a game that's all about rules–its called American Football. Thats the game with so many rules the commentators job is to explain the rules of the game throughout its 3 hour duration.

    Improve and develop our style of football in this country by letting our players play and paying our best very well when they deserve it. From this will come incentive, and inspiration and excitement. This will take time.

    Basketball in the US has been around for 100+ years and American Football for about 80. They are our games and they've had time to blossom into something amazing on their own. I've seen some old BBall games from the the 60's and 70's. Yuck! Please…they were soooo slow and boring. No tricks, no jams, no dunks, no 3's for petes sake! Look what we have now! Incredible. PointyBall was more like rugby when it started out. Who knows how or why they chose the name Football when they could've called it Cricket or Tennis. I'm getting away from my point here. When 'football' started there was no forward pass. The concept of the forward pass came about after something like 20 years.
    These elements add excitement to these games but they are our games. However, Football, the Beautiful Game, the World Game,is not for us to alter. But maybe one day, in my lifetime, the world will want to play the game the way the US plays.

  15. Jonathan says:

    “Americanize” soccer and the potential viewers of MLS will be more inclined to not watch. Note that it is easy to watch FSC , GolTv, and ESPN Deportes. They are direct competitors that give the viewers a higher quality product.

    The fans of foreign leagues are the ones that MLS should view as their potential viewers. Converting other sports fans would be harder. Of course MLS TRIES so hard to alienate those with knowledge of the game (see CONCSCAF CL games).

  16. Terry says:

    It won't work. The reason Americans have not taken to football (the real football!) with the same passion as other nations is that they are not the best in the world at it.

    Their NBA is the undisputed no. 1 of its kind, their NHL is also the elite tournament (even if Canadians are actually the best at it!), there is only one NFL so obviously it is the best and their baseball was a “World Series” even when there were nothing but American teams in it. Get the pattern here?

    If their football League was recognised by all as the best on earth, they would not only attract the best players, but the fans would flock to it. Why do you think Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Moore, Muller, Best, Eusebio and countless others went to the US of A in the '70's? It was to give star quality to the young NASL. Much the same with Beckham today.

    Now if they could only do it while the greats of the game are at their peak instead of retired from internationals, they would be on to something.

  17. stooge says:

    You have no clue what you’re talking about.

    Soccer was dying until MLS started following the international standard. Now it’s finally starting to take off.

    Appeal to soccer fans. They’re the ones who stay and are loyal.

  18. Mohammad says:

    Nonsense! Absolute nonsense!

    Americanizing Major League Soccer is gonna take you 10 steps back to how the league was during the mid-90s.

    Apparently whoever wrote that article didnt know MLS had its OWN sets of rules before 2003 season. The Americanized version of soccer isolated American soccer fans from the rest of the world. Every other country in the world follows FIFA’s standardized rule system, the most simplistic and beautiful system of football so far. America, on the other hand, was experimenting with its own rules for far too long, and it proved to be unsuccessful. Finally in 2003, MLS board decided to adopt the FIFA universal laws of the game, and since then the league has kicked off, attracting more and more people into its doorsteps.

    If MLS goes back to its Americanized, pre-2003, rule system, it will destroy everything that they have built for the past six-seven years. Do you honestly want that to happen?

    Forget about basketball or other sports. In soccer, the simpler the better. Changing rules every single year, or isolating yourself from 5.7 billion people out there is complete nonsense.

    Why do you think the english premier league and spanish leagues are popular? its because everyone can pick them up and enjoy the matches without having to learn about the “new rules”.

    In Asia, football is played the same way as Europe. In Europe, football is played the same way as Africa. And in Africa, football is played the same way as south america. This makes things homogenous and easier to follow-up. It links the world together, and nobody feels isolated.

    But in America, the sole reason why soccer has failed in the past was because many traditonal soccer fans didnt bother reading about America’s soccer league. They didnt care about an egotistical league with its own “version” of the game. And American soccer fans didnt wanna follow up with a local league which wasnt recognized or given a toss about from the outside world. So it made them more isolated, and it discouraged even the Americans from liking it. The Americans wanna feel theyre part of something bigger than them, they wanna feel they are part of the world. Having your own Americanized version of soccer is rediculous. And a true testament to that is how NCAA Soccer is failing. If NCAA decides to follow FIFA rules one day, itll gain more recognition from the world, and people would enjoy watching it more.

  19. eplnfl says:

    Very good insight Mohammad. I think you hit right on something most American’s feel but can’t say well to others, we want to be thought of as part of the soccer world. MLS following standard rules will help to foster that sense of belonging to the world game. That does not mean that as Kartik says we should try to be EPLUSA, no that would be a mistake. Also, lets make it clear that a fall/winter/spring league can not work here. Too much cold and snow. When it comes down too it I think most American’s will not support a promotion/drop down system. However, things like avoiding draws by penalty kicks were just stupid for MLS.

    Part of the success of the Women’s team in the US has been that when it won the World Cup in the US we could feel part of the world. The MLS as well as the USMNT need to still capture that feeling for the public at large.

  20. Mohammad says:

    eplnfl:

    If competition formats are different, thats a-okay.

    But the problem is when different countries adopt different rules. Itll overcomplicate things.

    The seasons which MLS is being played, the no promotion / no relegation issue, the golden goal overtime replaced by full extra time, etc. – those are all “competition formattings” and they differ from tournament to tournament around the world. Changing that, or sticking to the one America currently uses, is alright by all means.

    But the problem begins when Americans, or any other country, decide to play by their own rules of the game. This is different.. this concerns timing, countdown clocks, stupid 35-yard penalty shootouts, etc. When people change formats, its natural. When people change rules, it ruins the homogenous medium of the world game. Whats played in England should be played the same elsewhere.

    The fact that Major League Soccer was not recognized by FIFA before 2003 is what made it almost fail and decide to implement standardized world soccer rules. It was a clown show back then, where 204/205 countries belonging to FIFA, as well as FIFA itself, had no recognition or support to the league. And only America actually spoke about it. And with that, it failed to attract any American. Why should an American be bothered following up with a league that is only recognized within his four walls. That was the problem…

    And MLS today is totally different. Part of its success is that it “standardized” itself to accomodate the world criterea. It decided to follow what the rest of the world was doing for well over a hundred yrs. And this is behind their success story. I am very ecstatic about it, and I hope people dont come with these devilish ideas of “Americazning” their league, because itll ruin so much that they built for in the past six years. :-)

    All in all simplicity is the key. Football is successful because its simple, and effective. It offers players more freedom than any other game in the world. No shot clocks, no backcourt violations, the freedom to truly express yourself, defensively or offensively, albeit its this fluidity and freedom which defines it a sport. Otherwise itll be another carbon copy of scripted wrestling entertainment. Its a beautiful simple game, and the fact its currently homogenous worldwide is attributed to its purity. Fact is, we should encourage standardizations, rather than “Americanization”, “Anglicization”, “Hellenization” or whatever othet term different countries wanna use for themselves. :-)

  21. Donk says:

    I agree with the writer of this article. There is nothing wrong
    with making a few rules changes to make the game more appealing to
    American audiences. If FIFA doesnt like it then they can go fly a
    kite, we’ll still follow FIFA rules for international matches, but
    when it comes to the American market they can’t tell us what to do.
    Jack Cashill wrote an excellent piece over this in 2010. Here is
    the link: http://www.wnd.com/2010/06/167681/

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