Soccer: Broader FIFA Club World Cup Could Answer Friendlies Exposure
On one hand, it's great some of the best club teams in the world come to the U.S. to play MLS teams as warm-ups for their own leagues. These teams are in their early-season practices getting ready for their respective seasons, and U.S. soccer fans are treated to seeing some of the world's best soccer players.
But, are these 'Friendlies' necessary? It has been widely discussed that by MLS teams losing most of these matches, they are proving to be weak in comparison. The average sports fan may not know or care that MLS is a second-rate league worldwide, but by bringing these exhibitions here to U.S. soil, they spotlight that MLS is behind other world leagues.
This is something many soccer fans already know, but what percentage of sports fans know this?
What if only 25 percent of sports fans are aware of the superior differences between EPL and La Liga from MLS? The other 75 percent are beginning to get educated, which may be good in some respects.
More educated sports fans to the complicated world of soccer can mean more of their time spent following soccer in general.
But, what if they go on to follow the EPL instead of MLS because they have overall better players and teams? (There is a small segment of the U.S. sports fan world that have already learned more of the intricacies of world soccer and have rejected MLS to become a fan of the better skilled European teams, who are paying out the bigger salaries).
It is nice that the European clubs and others come for practice to play MLS teams, and to play each other. The reality, though, is that because of the exhibition nature of these matches, no one can say for sure, including coaches, how hard and fluid these matches are being played.
No player can say they are playing their very best because these matches are primarily for demonstrating skill, not necessarily aggression. They don't count towards the overall record for any team.
U.S. sports fans already have the pleasure of seeing the national team play plenty of times in real action (World Cup) and 'friendlies'. Also, there are plenty of chances to see more international club play through the CONCACAF Champions League.
MLS is risking an overexposure of soccer with friendlies and exhibitions. This saturation includes all the other soccer possibilities that U.S. sports fans are learning about; the Gold Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, Women's soccer and elimination rounds for World Cup qualification (not to mention, the U-20 and U-17 World Cups).
The best thing for MLS is to concentrate on improving its own self and its reputation with sports fans, as it has done well over the last year or so, especially with regard to the Northwest teams in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. The league can't worry about every other great club team around the world, even if they make awesome marketing promotions, it only defeats the purpose for their own league.
MLS still hasn't broken through on television ratings or on sports talk radio. MLS would be better off to play more matches, and teach the U.S. sports fan about the MLS brand and all of its advantages.
The U.S. is a melting pot and has supporters for clubs from around the world, but to accommodate and continually schedule all these teams only diffuses the importance of MLS.
Even if MLS teams were winning most of these friendlies/exhibitions, there would still be a question to whether it's worth it or not. Essentially, these exhibitions dumb down soccer for sports fans because it is impossible to determine any sort of winner and loser. They are unimportant in the big picture of a sports fan's world.
The FIFA Club World Cup answers the question every year for which club team is the best. It is a long process to get there, but there is a definitive answer for all fans interested.
Possibly, this is the tournament that needs the most innovation. It can have the grandest effect overall on sports consumers after the World Cup (of countries).
By expanding to include more clubs (possibly 32) from all different parts of the world (utilizing a group round format-then knockout rounds), the FIFA Club World Cup could send an even stronger signal about the world's best club.
The USSF should seek to host this tournament (multiple times) when MLS clubs can make the cut. This keeps things real while also benefiting from the promoting and marketing of other name brand world clubs at the same time.
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