[TSG: Thanks to @AOBoston on Twitter for passing along the link to the article.]
The Columbus Dispatch ran an interesting story today entitled, Soccer’s Footprint is Expanding. The wide-ranging article tackles a variety of topics including the popularity of MLS, the rising tide of support for soccer in the US, the influence of European clubs and television coverage of the sport.
A couple of the things in the article jumped out at me…
The Gap Between MLS and European Clubs
Frankie Hedjuk produced this opinion on the gap between MLS and European club teams.
“”The biggest difference is the (European teams) have pure finishers and that’s the next level for our game. We are physical enough and can run up and down the field with them, but it’s that last pass that is the difference maker between those teams and MLS teams.”
From the MLS and European soccer I have watched, the gap seems bigger than “that last pass.” I’d probably throw game speed (not fitness) and touch in there as well. What do you think?
The Rise of “Tribal Like Passion” in the MLS
Perhaps I am just getting old, but it was surprising to read that the MLS commissioner Don Garber would remark that “[I was] walking around the field with Clark Hunt before a playoff game last year and I did not feel comfortable walking close to [The Nordecke] supporters section (and) I shouldn’t.” (Emphasis added by me.)
Believe me, I am all for the “tribal like passion” as Garber calls it, but I draw the line at suggesting that intimidation of other fans, and executives in this case, is somehow a good thing and what MLS clubs should be striving for. Please let me know if I am lacking some historical perspective here relative to Garber, the MLS, etc.
European soccer hooliganism is not something that should be emulated by American supporters of US club teams or our national team. Not to mention that such activities would just seem fake given the corporate upbringing of MLS clubs. Do we really want opposing fans / families concerned about attending MLS games given the current state of support for soccer in America? The sport needs all the fans it can get.
(Aside: I am a firm supporter of heckling opposing players within bounds of decency.)
Viewership of Soccer on Television
I knew soccer broadcasts don’t get great ratings compared to other sports, but I didn’t realize that gap was so large. The article cites a 1.1 rating for the Barcelona – Manchester United Champions League final followed by a 7.3 rating for the last weeks USC – Ohio State college football game.
In other words, the biggest club soccer championship in the world was watched by approximately 1.26mm viewers while an early season match-up of two college football powerhouses (though not in the same conference) was watched by 8.39mm viewers. (The CL final being a mid-week match versus the college football on a Saturday did help to broaden the gap.)
Simply, soccer has a long (long) way to go in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. And until it makes some good headway expect USMNT games to struggle to find quality outlets to broadcast games.