Can MLS Survive the Increased Domestic Interest in English Football?
Fox Soccer Channel has become a Nielsen rated network for the first time this month. These ratings have shown at least to this point that my personal public boasts that a silent majority of football fans in the United States were more interested in MLS than the vocal minority that follow the English Premier League were flat out wrong. In fact, MLS ratings on FSC this month can only be described as embarrassing.
FSC’s English Premier League telecasts have garnered a respectable average viewership of 179,000 homes on average this month through last Saturday’s Arsenal-Everton match. The MLS this month has averaged 34,000 viewers this month through the RSL-FCD match this past Saturday. That’s a glaring difference especially when you consider the English matches are at odd times. While MLS has averaged 261,000 viewers on ESPN 2 this season, that network is in over 100 million homes while FSC is in just 20 million homes. So do the math: it’s not difficult to comprehend the impact of these numbers from where I sit.
“Eurosnobs” as we call them I have long believed to be a vocal minority of fans in this country. These snobs frown on the indigenous forms of the game that we have grown in the US and that have been developed in other parts of the globe. Many of these snobs want every football match to resemble a match from the English Premier League. They want every match to be played at the EPL’s pace, with EPL like tactics and EPL like players. These fans often disparage not only MLS and USL but also the Latin American leagues on television in this country because the pace is “too slow” and teams spend too much time “maintaining possession in the midfield instead of going forward.” These fans entire perspective on football, home and abroad is skewed by watching one league with its biased announcers and its well produced propaganda machine. These “fans” are encouraged by media here in the United States and those like Derek Rae who when calling MLS games in the past has routinely attacked its quality and used the blanket term “Premiership standard” to describe the what a player should aspire to. Some in the media like the New York Times Jack Bell, Goal.com’s Greg Lalas and of course his brother Alexi Lalas have been heroic in defending the American game and its attempts to grow a distinct style of play. However most have continued to use England as their guide when judging American football.
I can rail against this machine all I want but sadly it has won over fans here at home. The same fans that watch the EPL on Saturday mornings clearly do not watch MLS on Saturday night and are probably not patroning their local MLS, USL, or PDL side. Chances are they don’t even know the team exists.
The English Premier League and European Football are entertaining for those of us who love the game. I count myself among its fans. But anybody who thinks the exposure to the European Championships, UEFA Champions League or EPL are going to win over masses of American fans are just plain wrong. They do not understand the American sporting landscape nor the cultural psyche of American fans. By and large despite being a melting pot, a nation of immigrant we do not root in mass for foreign clubs like Manchester United or AC Milan. We root for our sports teams like the Chicago Bears and Boston Celtics. The vast majority of Americans have little or no connection to the British Isles. If this game is going to grow here it is going to be due to the impact of MLS along with USL playing a supporting role. It is going to be because the US National Team is successful and we have developed a nice rivalry with Mexico and other CONCACAF nations.
European football has very little if any role to play in the attempts to make the game more marketable and consistently talked about in this country. Let’s hope these disturbing viewership numbers turn around in the very near future.