In the past few days, I have had some deep conversations with a few friends, my orthopedist (who also works with DC United) and my father in law about the state of the MLS with the rest of the world.
As much as some of us have a love for the league, we all realize that as much as we would like others to get on board, there are some things that the MLS could probably do to make this a more viable sport to get more Americans to watch. There are many detractors both home grown and foreign that could care less about the MLS but I think that with some work, the MLS could be just as viable as some of the world powers. These are just some of my opinions of things I would like to see happen (some will take years, if ever, I realize) to hopefully one day, get the MLS competitive with the rest of the world.
Player Development and Throwing Out Traditional ‘American Values’
The MLS really hasn’t had a ‘homegrown’ superstar that made a splash since Freddy Adu and since his time, his star has fallen with each passing season. The MLS really needs to get serious about its approach to getting players to play at the same level as the rest of the world. An ESPN article about a year ago clearly laid out what needs to happen and why the traditional American little league approach just won’t cut it as traditional European and South American powerhouses already know the secrets to success on their own terms. Academies with pros that are willing to teach won’t be constrained by waiting for certain times of the year to play; academies play and train year round. A well funded academy can attract talent from all over the world and possibly offer some rising stars some stability as well as maximize their playing ability to perhaps one day rival their European counterparts. And hopefully that talent will stay here and play.
Translate Success to the USMNT and Open the Wallets.
While MLS Players may still be a long ways away from the payday that some of their European counterparts are getting (some of which may change with the new Fair Play rules in the EPL), one of the few ways to possibly keep talent here will eventually, open up the wallets and pay these rising stars to stay here. Not to mention as their skills develop, some exposure to the USMNT couldn’t hurt as well. There are many talented US players playing abroad who are successful while the MLS has somehow become a place for European stars on the other side of their careers to come and end their days. While I appreciate Thierry Henry and David Beckham’s contribution to the MLS, nothing still quite beats that ‘US kid’ we all can relate to. Who knows, a better more sustainable talent similar to Freddy Adu may be waiting in the wings but if the big payday is waiting in Spain or in England, we may never know about it.
Get the Word Out
I think the one thing that bothers me a bit about our press is that not enough news gets out about what’s happening in the sport. It never fails that after any given Saturday night a hard fought game by DC United goes almost unnoticed on the local news. Funny thing is, as long as they were in first, the news outlets here in DC may have blurted out a sentence or 2 about the games but so far hardly anything this summer even though the Washington Post does see fit to regularly report on the team so all is not lost. Again this is the problem with living in a market where you have teams from 2 cities all fighting for news at the end of the 111 o’clock news.
I have no hard suggestions what could be done except fans letting news agencies know that we count too. Just because the major sports of the US are playing, don’t forget us either. Also, don’t decide that the ‘best time’ to dip a toe into futbol is when the World Cup comes along or the USWNT makes it to the next round of the Olympics.
A few other issues I would like to see addressed would be:
– A change in the schedule to match the rest of FIFA competition. 2 of the issues keeping this from happening would be weather conditions and of course making inroads from revenues made off of the NFL and NBA playing during this same time of year.
– Making International friendlies mean something. While it’s nice to see some of the European clubs compete in the summer season, there is the stigma attached that there isn’t that much passion in those games because they are meaningless. If some sort of tournament was devised, some of this could change. Also means, referring back to the first issue to develop talent so US teams participating could generate serious competition.
– TV air time. While I am glad that NBC taking a step in airing MLS games, one cannot help but notice that there seems to be a lot of competition in the TV markets about who will be in control of the dollars generated from futbol broadcasts abroad. BeIn is a new channel that seems like will be a competitor to Fox Sports and their stranglehold of broadcasts, ESPN looks like they will be broadcasting more games this season while GolTV may be on its last legs. I am hoping that however this settles, there will be a clear winner who not only controls foreign rights as well as US right and be able to give viewers better access to the MLS than what we are getting right now.
There is so much more the MLS can and will hopefully do to make this a viable industry and I think as long as they make necessary changes to keep fans engaged, more fans will come on board. Although not specifically mentioned, with the US demographics changing, the MLS is at a point where in the next 10 to 15 years it can take advantage of that change to make soccer competitive with the rest of American sports. Talented academies and more lucrative deals to retain homegrown talent is just a start. By finding ways via multimedia outlets to lure in Americans to an exciting sport can go a long way to getting the MLS on par with the rest of the world.