Before ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel begins the live broadcast of a Major League Soccer game on a Saturday evening, many soccer fans are burned out. They’re burned out from watching a smorgasbord of European soccer that has been on television all day.
Take a typical Saturday on US cable and satellite television, for example. Soccer fans in the United States can watch 7 live English Premier League games (more than anytime in US history), 1 live Serie A game, 3 La Liga matches and 2 Bundesliga games. That totals 13 live games (i.e. 26 hours of live coverage) before a Saturday evening MLS game begins on television. And those 26 hours don’t include the handful of European games shown on delay or the EPL-centric shown on Saturday mornings such as the Barclays Premier League Preview Show and Fox Soccer Match Day.
On top of all of that, Fox Sports International launched a new channel on March 1st, Fox Soccer Plus, that is 100 percent European programming featuring games from the Premier League, FA Cup, England national team, Coca-Cola Championship, Champions League, Carling Cup, Serie A and four, yes four, rugby cups and tournaments.
My question again is where does Major League Soccer feature in all of this? Or, for an even broader question, where does U.S. soccer feature in all of this and how can it compete on television? The answer is that it simply can’t. The battle has to be won in the streets.
That battle is a difficult one especially when you’re competing against soccer TV networks who are showing games in HD, launching new channels, improving their broadband offerings and putting most of its dollars into advertising its European soccer coverage. At the same time, it’s hard to convince a family to spend their hard-earned money by going to see a live game for their local team when it’s much cheaper to stay at home and watch it on television.
So how does Major League Soccer (or the USL, NASL or WPS for that matter) convince soccer fans that it should either (a) attend one of their matches on a Saturday night or (b) encourage them to watch one of their games on television especially given the fact that there were 26 hours of live European soccer coverage shown earlier in the day?
It’s a massive question because if Major League Soccer is unable to figure out how it can do that, it could lead to the death of the league. Seriously.
I’ve discussed before that there needs to be more local Major League Soccer teams across the country. I also believe it’s important for Major League Soccer, USL and NASL to work more closely together to promote its teams across the United States so there’s no excuse that soccer fans don’t realize there’s a local team near them. For example, why isn’t there a website or tool that soccer fans in the US can use to find their nearest teams? And, unless I’m blind, why is there no 2010 schedule of NASL and USL matches on either the official NASL website or USL website even though one does exist?
And yes, the product on the field needs to be improved to bring people to live soccer matches and to encourage them to watch it on television. But is there anything else that local clubs can do in addition to that?
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I would like to hear from you – the passionate supporters of soccer in North America – what you think the MLS, USL, NASL and other leagues can do to ensure that large numbers of soccer fans go to local games each week and watch US soccer on television. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I look forward to reading your insight.