Soccer, America, and the Fight For Attention
Why America can’t seem to care about Major League Soccer
Being from Kansas City, in the U.S., I am no stranger to sports. I was probably born doing the “Chiefs Chop” and chanting, “LET’S – GO – RO – YALS!”
Kansas City is fortunate enough to have teams from three out of five major sports, and it’s lead me to notice one peculiar thing…
In America, people flock to National Football League (American Footbal) games like the world is ending, but no one really talks about Major League Soccer. Until the 2014 World Cup, I only heard the word “soccer” uttered in normal conversation amongst sports fans maybe once a year.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
America just doesn’t care about Major League Soccer like Europeans care about soccer – and definitely not enough to rival the other four major leagues.
Major League Soccer was founded in 1996 and is composed of 20 teams – 17 in the United States, three in Canada. Of these 17 American teams, there is one near virtually every major metropolitan area from Los Angeles, California to Standy, Utah, to Orlando, Florida (you can also check out the map below). There are soccer leagues for children in all of these cities and high school seniors around the country are awarded scholarships to play soccer at prestigious colleges. It seems a little strange that “pee-wee” soccer players don’t foster a long-term alliance with the professionals in their own cities, much like young baseball players that idolize the Derek Jeters of their hometown Major League Baseball (MLB) team.
When the United States advanced to the final 16 during the World Cup of 2014, soccer swept the nation. Celebrations broke out in venues across the country and people were using their lunch times at work to watch the United States take on the “Group of Death.”
But, this seemed to be only a momentary surge because once the US lost; it reverted back to the same old, same old. Even those that had become soccer fans overnight were focused on the European Premiere League…
With teams in our own cities, why don’t Americans start going to MLS games? Soccer as a whole is on the rise in America and the MLS has pretty stable attendance, television ratings, and it makes relatively good money.
With all of this, it seems unfair to say Americans don’t care about the MLS. Maybe a better way to put it is that either the right people don’t care, or just that enough people don’t care. Even if “big spenders” were to care, there is still one big problem – if the MLS can’t rival the big leagues in its same sport overseas (like the EPL), it can’t rival the big leagues of other sports in its own country.
Americans seem to only have room for one slow-paced game, and that’s baseball – conveniently dubbed, “America’s pastime.”
The fact of the matter is this: the MLS will never be the MLB. Soccer doesn’t have the deep tradition in the US that football, baseball, hockey, and basketball do. The MLS doesn’t have the revenue at this time to financially fight its way to the top.
Yes, soccer is popular. People are playing it and people are watching it – but not enough to rival the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA. Soccer will probably continue to grow in ratings, but it won’t become a top four for many years. It’s climbing, but not fast enough to be a real contender.
For now, the MLS is in a holding pattern. Kids will keep playing soccer, high school athletes will continue to go to college on soccer scholarships, and the World Cup will still dominate the MLS Finals in ratings and globalization.