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Can MLS Survive the Increased 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,’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.

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  1. Yixing teapot

    June 17, 2010 at 4:01 am

    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.”

  2. female nudity

    December 4, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Has read with the pleasure, very interesting post, write still, good luck to you!

  3. larry

    October 30, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    The real crime is that people are defending this signing.

    If you've seen Freddie the last few years you know his signing will simply reinforce the perception that MLS signs over the hill has beens while paying American stars less than market value.

    Take all the hyperbole out of this and seeming need for Kartik to defend his opinion with stupid rationilaztions about ethnicity, etc, blah blah blah.

    This signing must make people laugh at MLS. No Championship side would even want this guy. League One? Perhaps. MLS is paying a League One quality player $2.56 million/year. What a joke. Actually it's worse than a joke. It makes a supporter of this game and this league like myself want to drink myself to death.

  4. Ian

    October 29, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I've been a chelsea fan for a few years now (2% gloryhunter, 98% because they came to Seattle to play Celtic and were awesome.) I realized I was becoming a “eurosnob” when I realized I couldn't go to a college party without finding myself in long conversations about EPL with two other random snobs wearing “Big Four” jerseys while everyone else was, well, partying.

    However, i've been a fan of USL Seattle Sounders since I was little. Granted, I only made it to one or two games a year. With the recent announcement of Seattle being MLS's new expansion team, I decided I would follow the MLS this season. I was incredibly surprised at caught up in the action I got, and now i'm hooked. But I never would have thought about it unless I knew a team was coming to my town.

    the Sounders have sold over 17,000 season tickets so far, and we hope to keep that going. I honestly think that the only way to convert fans is to give them a team they can REALLY call their own, rather than follow blindly from across the ocean.

  5. The Gaffer

    October 24, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Les, don't be so ridiculous. It doesn't have to be a “I have to support MLS or I have to support the Premiership.” People like myself follow both leagues. Granted, I don't follow the MLS as closely as the EPL, but the nearest MLS team to me is 1,000 miles away. When Miami had the Fusion, I was a season ticket holder and a big supporter of MLS. Plus, I started Major League Soccer Talk – to bring attention to the league from people with uncensored viewpoints.

    Rather than creating a divide, I feel that American soccer fans should grow a thicker skin and realize that soccer fans can follow other leagues and don't have to be fixated on Major League Soccer.

    The Gaffer

  6. Les

    October 24, 2008 at 9:39 am

    kartik, have you come over from the dark side?

    it is an us vs them situation double pivot and gaffer. the fans of european or let me take it a step further english football have made it such.

    they constantly put down any mls action they see, ridicule the us national team and don't make any attempt to appreciate that the game can be different in different parts of the world. to quote alexi lalas, “because it's english everyone thinks it's so great.”

    kartik's disturbing articles about the superiority of the true football which he labeled as english had me boycotting this site. i have returned to a pleasant surprise.

    i'd love to get along with everyone. so would the vast majority of american soccer fans. but the attitude of the fans of english leagues both americans and ex pats has to change for that to happen.

  7. DoublePivot

    October 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    We can't it seems. I went to a game with a group of MLSers and they shunned me because I like Tottenham. Nevermind that I used to be a season ticket holder and had a shirt none of them could remember. Because I wasn't a season ticket holder now (a choice forced because of the birth of my son) and like to talk about other leagues as well was enough for them to almost want to have a go at me. This is my lasting impression of the MLS.

    They have set up and us vs them mentality when there was no need for one and they drive us away from their sport. And to see Kartik doing it, helps nobody.

  8. The Gaffer

    October 23, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I agree. Me too. Just because someone has a difference of opinion doesn't mean they should be labelled “eurosnobs.” You don't see EPL fans calling MLS junkies “usasnobs.” It sounds trite, but why can't we all just get along?

    The Gaffer

  9. DoublePivot

    October 23, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I'm sick of this “Eurosnob” business.

  10. Al W

    October 23, 2008 at 9:09 am

    I agree with Jester's analysis. My team (Columbus Crew) are not all FSC all the time. A) When it's a home game I'm there, B) when it's an away game, it's almost always on the local affiliate.

    The best part of the debate is that EPL and MLS aren't in the same timezones so that I can start my Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and a Chelsea victory and end my day with a Columbus Crew victory.

    GBS for MLS MVP!

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  12. huricano

    October 22, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I really like this site besides the anti-Euro editorial line, along with the daft series “Americanizing American Soccer.” There is alot to be learned from the European leagues. I would rather MLS study the Premiership over the NFL & NBA (which I particularly hate). Of course, we need to produce a good domestic product, and the media needs to explain it. But overtime, if the MLS can be a league that runs for its fans and for the game, rather than just a corporate machine, then the game will grow in the US.

  13. Timmy

    October 22, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Is it a threat?


    Can we beat it back?


    You correctly identify the threat the Premiership poses to MLS, USL, USMNT, etc here but seem to forget as MLS grows and USL continues to enjoy success in the CCL, the reputation of both leagues grows. MLS and USL both realize they have to improve their product. I've spoken to a USL GM who believes the play on the pitch has to be addressed before marketing. I'm hearing the same thing from MLS people.

    This is a threat, but it also presents a unique opportunity for all of us.

  14. Jonathan

    October 22, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I'm an EPL fan and watch overseas gaems but a fan of MLS (I'd be a USL fan if we didn't have an MLS team closeby). In order for U.S. soccer to grow – we need to build and soccer U.S. soccer. It's very important the U.S. .National team(s), MLS, USL, WPS, college soccer, high school soccer and your local youth and adult leagues. The U.S. had NASL prior to the development of EPL. EPL copied the format of bringing in superstars for a superleague. I say watch EPL but more imporantly watch and attend your hometown professional team.

  15. MLS Fan

    October 22, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    you know something. the people watching the premier league those who hate mls anyway. the vast majority of premier league fans are elitist and condescending. i do not care to win them over anyway.

  16. Silverbacks Fan

    October 22, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    This is not good news. I hope Jester is right and these people are simply watching the other games on HD Net and Direct Kick on Saturday nights.

  17. Jester

    October 22, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Keep in mind FSC shows multiple EPL games each week end, but only one MLS game. And, that MLS game is usually on at the same time as all the other MLS games. I dont watch too many MLS games on FSC simply because I am watching MY MLS team at the same time. Thursday nights on ESPN though dont really have any competition for soccer viewers and their ratings are higher than EPL games on FSC.
    I think that if FSC started showing a Sunday game in addition to their Saturday game, veiwer ship may be a much higher as there usually aren't as many Sunday MLS games.

  18. Neal

    October 22, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    MLS needs to do several things in order to be successful. Get rid of the confrences a.k.a. single table, get rid of the allstar game and playoffs, a.k.a supporters shield only. get rid of the salary cap and garbage college draft. Play only the Champions League for right now. Keep the game simple, don't try to Americanize it. Thank you.

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  20. Shaft

    October 22, 2008 at 10:17 am

    maybe these EPL lovers are actually AT their local MLS/USL/PDL game instead of watching them on TV.

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