MLS: Who Cares?


MLS in the US – Who Cares?

As I was finishing writing this post, I read Kartik’s post on “Invisible MLS” and thought the timing couldn’t be better. Here’s my recent experience …

I’ve just returned from a trip across the country to visit friends and family and spread the good word about Major League Soccer. The reaction… not many care.

From my nephew, an athletic trainer for a New Jersey high school, to a barfly in Washington, DC, the feedback was the same, as in, there was no feedback. My nephew’s comments ran along these lines…

    If the players are striving to be the best, and the best play in Europe, why is there an American league?

From the barfly, a DC sports fan, who upon being told that I was a soccer fan replied…

    Well, I don’t understand why, but that’s your choice.

And these were pretty typical of the responses I received when speaking of the beautiful game.

My trip took me through Dallas, Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and DC. In none of the train stations could I purchase any soccer related souvenirs. Local baseball, basketball, hockey and football team caps and t-shirts were available, but not one whiff of a DC United shirt or Chicago Fire cap could be found. Nor could I purchase a Philadephia Union cap while in a suburb of the City of Brotherly Love, much less in the train station.

I was in DC the morning after they qualified for the group phase of the CONCACAF Champions League. I had four, count ’em, four DC papers in my hands and not one mention of United’s victory. In fact, not one mention of the match at all.

No surprise then that 4 of the 5 cities I’ve mentioned are drawing more on the road than at home; DC United being the exception.

The flip side is what people are calling MLS 2.0, with Toronto and Seattle in the forefront. We can only hope that future MLS cities, beginning with Philadelphia and Vancouver continue the 2.0 trend.

In fact, of the top 6 clubs in average attendance, the only charter franchise in the group is Los Angeles(not counting the relocated Houston team as a charter member, although in the strictest sense, the franchise is indeed a charter member). And sitting at number seven is the second San Jose incarnation.

Bringing more fans to MLS

Ben Berger at recently posted this series on improving MLS visibility in the US.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part I-The Non-Soccer Fan

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part II- Families

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part III-Soccer Fans

RBNY – Just How Bad Are They?

Home attendance is especially no surprise for RBNY. If they continue on their current pace, no team in the EPL, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A or La Liga will have won a lower percentage of its games(9.1%) or lost a greater percentage of its games(72.7%).

37 thoughts on “MLS: Who Cares?”

  1. There’s a very good reason why none of the DC papers had the United CONCACAF Champions League result. It ended at 12:45 AM in the morning.

    The Washington Post and Steve Goff is the #1 paper covering soccer in this country. Year round coverage of United and USA soccer. Had that been a home match, you would have seen the requistite coverage from the Post, The Washington Times and the Washington Examiner.

    How do I know this, I sit right next to them for all home matches and they get their stories in under deadline.

  2. Steve Goff is exactly why I expected to see some coverage, especially since the Nationals final score was in the paper and that game went extra innings and ended after the DCU match.

  3. I think it’s great that nobody cares about that league. It’s an unentertaining and uninteresting league. And now with the Gridiron season about to get underway… bye bye to your league.

    The league is an embarrassment to America. A bunch of wimps and foreigners kicking a ball around, while a bunch of losers moan “oh-oh” all game long in the stands. If I ever watch a match out of sheer boredom, I have to mute it because of those annoying fans. Any guy wearing hats or shirts that you mention, will get laughed at. Nobody can name every team in the league, and few can name any player other than Beckham. Your league is more irrelevant than the WNBA, and soon the Major Lacrosse League will overtake your league.

    Just give it up. If you need to watch football, there’s the EPL or the Mexican League.

    1. What a retarded statement. If our league was “going to go byebye” because of NFL, it would have done so in it’s first year. NFL fans are the least likely to support MLS as it is, so likely there will be little, if any, effect at all.

      Thanks for coming out chief.

      1. Count me in on supporting both the MLS and NFL. Soccer is the sport for this American age. In the 40’s and 50″s it was MLB. The 60’s and 70’s the NFL made it’s impact. In the 80’s and 90’s the NBA. The last part of the 90’s and the first part of this decade saw the rise of NASCAR. Now, we have the evidence of soccer on the brink of going big time, ESPN gets the EPL, Champion’s League with a bigger presence on TV for the American Public, The Confederations Cup making headlines, the WC becoming a must see event, Euro 2008 being televised in all it’s glory to American sports fans. Need I go on.

        MLS has the chance to get people to care. America wants quality soccer and pays to see it. MLS get the hint become more than a` cult league. America needs you and will respond to you. As the movie line says if you build it they will come. MLS can make people care!

        1. I have to say that though I am not a fan of soccer by any means, I can see it exploding in the next decade. The MLS has a few major obstacles to overcome. The first is that the league must decide who the fan base is and who it is going to be. The best chance for the MLS to make a huge jump is by attracting the large number of immigrants from south of the border. This means signing television contracts with Telemundo and other Spanish-language stations, as well as courting more players from those Spanish-speaking nations.

          As a huge sports fan who has adjusted my sports viewership since college (when it was at its peak) I think I have a pretty good feel for the national sports atmosphere and soccer is simply not on the radar. I doubt soccer is going to attract anything but cult fans (some of whose attraction to the sport is that it is counter cultural and thus are not real sports fans). Until the U.S. sports population truly starts trying to develop its best athletes as soccer players (and theses athletes still gravitate to basketball and football)the sport will simply not catch on.

          Bringing in a player like David Beckham appeases people who are already soccer fans and soccer fans who only watch the top leagues in other countries.

          It seems to me then that the answer is to give up on trying to seriously court the sports fan that already has his fantasy sports calendar filled and the league should make a wholehearted effort to attract fans that can most likely be converted, the nation’s many Hispanic and Latin American families.

  4. I fall somewhere into this category! I played Footy in College and HS and have always loved the game, but never was big into it except at WC time or Olympics time. Over the last year I began my personal journey to discover the EPL (full knowing that MLS had a team in my backyard in DC united) I determined I was a Liverpool fan, so over the last year I have tirelessly scoured the internet for footy news day in and day out on my beloved Reds. I have spent money on kits and bar tabs at my local Liverpool FC bar and paid big money to see Chelsea(who I hate) play AC Milan(Go GOOCH) however it was not until two weeks ago a friend of mine who is an avid DC united supporter season tickets and all took me to see DC united vs Real Madrid and i was blow away the atmosphere the fans and the vibe were great! I am now planning on buying season tickets and splitting my devotion between Liverpool FC and DC United and USMNT ( I may or may not attempt to leave work early on a consistent basis i to watch these teams play! As an American I hope that MLS is successful because when you see players like Charlie Davis and Jozy Altidore and Gooch make it on the world stage comming from MLS you feel pride in the domestic league and what it has to offer!

    1. Very close to my feelings. It was a journey for me also. From interest in the WC, the USMNT, the Women’s team, getting FSC on cable a few years back, which lead to soccer on the internet, being lead to EPL Talk and Kartik’s site. Now having a part season ticket plan for the Fire and not missing a USMNT appearance in Chicago for years. Getting up early before light on a Saturday to listen to EPL pre-game shows, and now trying to figure out how to take a late lunch and watch the CL at a local pub. It’s a great time. Meeting more than one person from this`site and hopefully more. Oh, one more part, my exploding line of soccer jersey’s. Latest addition my sister just got back from London with a Fulham shirt. Brian McBride connection.

  5. @Phil Davies and gooch both never played in the MLS.

    But i think MLS talk needs to relax its criticism of the league a tad bit considering both articles have not proposed any solutions to these problems, especially considering that people do care. Is is a significant number? No. But how can one be surprised. The league is positioned towards a slow growth strategy. And despite what kartik says about the regression of the quality of the league and the poor tv ratings, the league itself is more enticing monetarily than ever. This is the most important part towards a successful league just ask the argentines.

    And the league this year has been mining latin america very well of late, which i know has been a big criticism of kartik’s.

    1. Tim,

      regarding offering solutions to some of MLS’ problems …
      You must have missed my post on fixture congestion and FIFA/MLS conflicts, where I demonstrated that creative marketing could offer a fix to that one problem.
      My posts on the SUMmer of Soccer are laying groundwork for a future post(s) on how Soccer United Marketing(SUM) could use the influx of cash to improve, not just sustain, MLS.
      I should have done a better job in tying all of it together before now.

    1. This would be a disaster for the USL structure, which sustains the sport in many towns, develops some great talent via the PDL and gives us the most comprehensive national youth structure through the Super Y.

      If MLS buys USL, which I am told is unlikely, we’ll have serious troubles ahead.

  6. Who cares? I care.
    And if you are an American who enjoys the sport I do not understand why you wouldnt support MLS. Sure it is not as good as EPL or maybe the Mexican league, however without support from the fans of the sport how can we get our league to that level???
    Support the league, its the best we have in the US.

    1. One of the problems with MLS admittedly is geography. Where I live, I could fly and buy a ticket for an Atlante match in Cancun quicker and cheaper than in any MLS city.

      For a great percentage of the nation, the USL structure sustains the game and yet today, I see MLS fans who are snobbish in their own way talking about buying USL and shutting down most of the league.

      I respect the argument that we should all support MLS to further the game in this country. But I despise the argument that shutting down USL including the best development league we have, PDL, and the most comprehensive national youth structure we’ve developed, Super 20 and Super Y is somehow a good thing.

      Some people confuse what is good for MLS with what is good for the game as a whole in this country and that is a big problem.

  7. I watched a few ELP games last weekend and man, the speed of the game, the skill, the stakes, and the great players from all over the world, even on the supposedly lesser teams! I’ll stay loyal to my Revs but damn, I have eyes, so I can see the American game has a long way to go. Vamos!

  8. “If the players are striving to be the best, and the best play in Europe, why is there an American league?”

    Following that logic why do they bother to play pro basketball in Europe and Asia, and baseball in Japan and all over central America ? Do you think that they should shut down those leagues because its not the best? Do you think that in those countries I’ve mentioned constantly bash there domestic leagues every chance they get because its not the best ? I dont think so. Im willing to bet that they anaylize the game and write about the news of thier league, maybe peter C. and Kartik should try and do the same.

  9. Sal,

    Maybe you ought to read the original post a little closer. I was quoting my nephew and posted his quote as an example of the lack of interest in MLS(and soccer in general) among many US sports fans.

  10. We don’t need “general US sports fans”. We need the American soccer fan (white, black, Asian and Hispanic). WE won’t get a lot of foreigners or Eurosnobs, but we can probably grab a few.

    MLS has made some inroads over the years and with its academies and youth clubs and association with the thousands of existing youth clubs, MLS is laying the foundation for soccer in America. But if anyone is hoping to see a Euro system or Euro/South American size interest in the game, forget it.

    America is about NFL, NCAA, MLB and the NBA. If MLS can be the most popular sport after those here in the US, that will be as good and wealthy enough as most other countries around the world where soccerball is the number 1 sport.

    MLS won’t be the EPL, La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga but none of those leagues have the equivalent of the NFL, NCAA, MLB, NBA or the national culture that makes those leagues popular to compete with either.

    Here’s to MLS, SUM, its slow and steady expansion plan, the league’s ability to find real soccer hotbeds that support the game and the local side like Toronto, Seattle and what I believe will be the same in Vancouver, Portland and Philly! And here’s hoping MLS avoids crappy soccer and sports markets like Florida.

  11. Part of the success in any business is the way a product is promoted. Unfortunatelly, some of us all we do is trash the MLS. We take the time to destroy our league. Sure this league is not a the same level with the mejor European Leagues. Money is clarly an issue there. But we have to start doing our part. I know that the more than 15000 fans who attend the games are helping big time. I attend as many game as possible because I want the league to grow. I went as far as ordering decals to post them in my office and along the 49ers, and NASCAR stickers in my car so in order to promote the product. Why do not we do something about it instead. I am tired of fans that support inferior leagues and thrash the MLS. They go as far as condemning Beckham for doing what any rational human being would do. I guess that gives me more reasons to support the MLS. Go LA Galaxy.

  12. MLS is associated with sneering but nerdy emulators and no mainstream sports fan wants to be part of that. Those who congratulate themselves for creating atmosphere are, in many cases, driving people away.

  13. I agree with how unfortunate it is that you can’t find MLS team gear at a lot of sports stores. I was at a store entirely decked out in Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics stuff here in Boston, and could find nothing about the Revolution anywhere. I don’t know how exactly the league could put it’s stuff in shops like these (would it cost money to the league?), but it should be done in the near future.

    As for why fans of European/other country teams don’t follow the MLS, I don’t know, but I can say that it’s a hell of a lot of cheap fun to get involved in supporting a team. The tickets aren’t expensive by any means, and if you like the sport that much, how can you resist the urge to stand yelling support and singing for your local team (if you live in an MLS market, of course) for 90 minutes? Baffles me.

    1. Or USL market.

      I’ve been to PDL games where about 400 people showed up, and a small supporters section showed up as well. It was quite fun to go to.

      Going to support lower tier soccer (which is all soccer in north america) is a good thing for the development of American and Canadian players, and bodes well for CONCACAF representation in the World Cup. If our players are supported and trained well, they will undoubtedly be better overall.

  14. Just reading this article today, but as always, statistics can be used to say anything one wants.

    When I read
    “In fact, of the top 6 clubs in average attendance, the only charter franchise in the group is Los Angeles(not counting the relocated Houston team as a charter member, although in the strictest sense, the franchise is indeed a charter member). And sitting at number seven is the second San Jose incarnation.”

    I thought that can’t be right. So I went to the MLS website and the statistic as written about above is true.

    But, of course, you have too look closer. How can San Jose be seventh in attendance when their stadium seats around 10,000? The answer is 15K for a game against the Galaxy played at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium, and 61K across the bay at Candlestick Park for doubleheader with Barcelona vs the real Chivas from Guadalajara. Take away that game and that crowd would have been about 51K less.

    New England’s attendance is up. Why? Because on July11, there was a triple header of soccer, including two Gold Cup games with the feature being the USA vs Haiti which totaled 24K, more than double the regular Revs average.

    I think, if we are going to be honest, whenever talk goes to MLS attendance it should always be noted if there is a special event double header game included.

    What I find telling is, the Galaxy home attendance does not seem to be increased all that much with Beckham back and even in road games, the Beckham effect has really fallen off in terms of fans in the stands.

  15. MLS is not the EPL, but it is a great experience. I have season tickets and all 5 of my kids enjoy it more than college football, which we also hold season tickets to, and NBA games, which we attend periodically. Baseball is completely boring for all of us.

    Twice this year, I have given my tickets to co-workers, and both have since purchased tickets and gone, again. They are now MLS fans. MLS has plenty of room to grow, but it is my favorite regular sports event, it is really fun. All of you Euro or Mexican only football fans, pick an MLS team, watch and follow them for a season, along with your regular team. The skill level is not the same, but the passion and athleticism is still excellent. Don’t limit yourself to one brand of soccer. I watch every Chelsea and Bayern Munchen match I can get and honestly, enjoy all 3 equally.

  16. >If the players are striving to be the best, and the best play in Europe, >why is there an American league?

    That’s an american thing really, not just soccer fans.
    Its hard to comprehend international sports from some people when the top sports are football and baseball (hockey is a regional sport played in few countries and basketball is the only international sport played here but with almost no international content) and that there are pro soccer leagues, basketballs leagues almost everywhere, as well as waterpolo leagues, volleyball leagues, handball leagues in other countries. These leagues are not of the same caliber.

    Heck, the NBA manage to convince the US press that they brought basketball to th world in 1992 and made it a world sport when any fan will tell you taht it already was very popular with professional leagues on every continent. There are strong leagues and there are weaker leagues.

    You think the basketball league in Uruguay or Macedonia will fold because its not in the top 30 leagues in the world? No. Its THEIR league. Theyll watch NBA, world events like the euros but they have their own league too.

    Not having THE BEST league is no reason not to have one.

  17. Maybe because the scheduling is impossible for a soccer fan, but non-diehard MLS fan, to follow?

    The Revs have four games in hand, yet just had 11 days off. And there’s only two months left in the season. And they had only two league matches in the entire month of June.

    How does that make any sense?

  18. Here in Seattle you can find Sounders gear everywhere. I live about an hour from Seattle and you can even get Sounders shirts at the local Fred Meyer

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