What United States Must Do to Push Soccer into Main Stream
Major League Soccer has 19 teams and over 437 professional soccer players in America. Yet the sport hasn't reached the popularity of the NHL, NBA and NFL. Even baseball (MLB) is prioritized on television and sports coverage over soccer.
The US men's soccer team has played in every single World Cup since 2002 and even hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Yet the stadiums aren't packed, seats remain empty and stories aren't covered.
This list will take a look at the changes that can be made in order to push soccer into main stream in the US.
The reason why the English Premier League, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga is so popular around the world is due to the high-profiled rivalry and derbies in each league.
Rivalry increases interest and viewership. This increases the number of fans. Fans then go on and discuss matches, read articles, watch the televised games and buy merchandise.
For example, the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid is so famous that any minor football fan knows the importance of the game and tunes in. El Classico has the largest audience of any derby in the world. This is because of the local rivalry, team history, the high profiled stars and diehard fan support.
A few rivalry options:
2. LA Galaxy vs. NY Red Bulls.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy.
4. D.C. vs. Chicago.
5. Toronto FC vs. Vancouver.
Create the history now.
Cover the stories and drama.
Combine the efforts of each team to make these games important.
Showcase Fan Involvement
Its very important to show the fans at the stadium, pre-game and post-game. This will encourage other people to join in, attend the games and witness the excitement of watching football with amongst hooligans.
Although stadiums all around North America are packed when David Beckham shows up in a city, in most cases, the media covers the star and not the fans. Newspapers, television and magazines must put up photos of the hundreds of fans who dress up in local merchandise and chant songs in the stadium.
At a Toronto FC and LA Galaxy match, I was surprised to see the stadium packed with people of all different backgrounds chanting support for the Toronto soccer club and wearing the local club gear.
Although most people were there to witness Beckham in action, it was more important for the media to take photos of the fans and the packed stadium instead of the European superstar.
Create Home Grown Superstars
There's nothing more encouraging than having a homegrown superstar in the local club.
North Americans are very patriotic and the reason why basketball, baseball and football prevail is due to American superstars LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Derek Jeter and Tom Brady.
Due to these American and Canadian superstars, most foreign players are lost in the crowd. MLS must become a league where American dreams come true and earn a fan base more diverse than the British/Italian/Spanish/African majority.
Although Landon Donovan and Hope Solo are the faces of MLS and are very well-known, they are still not household names in all North American and international homes, unlike Lionel Messi.
Americans need a player in each team to be proud of. America needs a star that is completely happy to remain in the MLS and still be world class. This will increase fans and viewership more than imported players.
Every sport needs scandals.
From red cards to personal affairs, these are the things that have made John Terry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane famous around the world. This type of news travels faster than any other and gets people to tune in to find out who these people are.
Even in the NFL stars and their personal life are covered in more news outlets than their performance on pitch. Tim Tebow was thrown into pop culture after revealing he is a virgin. Tom Brady became even more famous because he married former Victoria Secret Angel Giselle Bundchen.
Create scandals or discover scandals, it doesn't matter. Report them and get people outside of the current fan base to notice. Now with social media sites, a scandal becomes a worldwide affair.
More Air Time
Get more air time for MLS!
The only way for people to support a club and follow a league is for ESPN, TSN, Goal and other sports channels to cover these matches intensively.
Hire commentators and on-pitch reporters that will excite the masses and turn around a game.
MLS also needs to earn a better slot on the TV schedule. The best times would be just after rush-hour, dinner time on weekdays and lunchtime on weekends.
CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and Canadian Championship are all names that can easily be forgotten or mistaken for other sports (ex. Tennis).
MLS should follow the English Premier League and allow longterm title sponsorship for cups and create a ranking system that highlights the champions for each cup.
There should also be a title for a playoff between the champions of U.S. and Canada, this will indeed increase rivalry.
For example if the U.S. Open Cup was replaced with the title name "Bank of America Cup," not only will the name be rememberable, it will also be advertised by the sponsor.
Such highlighted sponsorships must be considered to make the titles (the trophies the teams are fighting for) more well-known than the teams themselves.
Make College Soccer Mainstream
Just like any other sport, college soccer must get some air time.
NFL, MLB and NBA have college divisions from which they draft and recruit players. Due to existing rivalry and viewership of university sports, such an advancement will not be difficult to achieve.
When university athletes turn professional, they bring along a fan base and past that are important factors in making both a club and player famous.
This will also increase the number of high school students who choose to follow their dream to play professional soccer instead of other sports or give up on sports altogether.
There may have been talent that were wasted or exported to Europe that could have served the North American soccer arena well. MLS must try to retain their homegrown talent. Turning college soccer into a main stream sports league may just be the answer.