SBD/July 15, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

America's Next Game? Growth Of Soccer In U.S. Examined Following World Cup

Some believe MLS should improve its brand to capitalize on soccer's surge in the U.S.
The '14 FIFA World Cup "sparked futbol fever in the United States, and brought a soccer culture to the forefront," but the "question is what that will mean now that the tournament is over, whether it was an epiphany or just an aberration," according to Brian Lewis of the N.Y. POST. New Jersey-based 16W Marketing co-Founder Steve Rosner said, "A lot of people watched the World Cup because it was our country being represented. MLS is an infant ... less than 20 years. Even though we want instant gratification, that’s kind of soon. I'd say they’re still trailing hockey. But the league is progressing, the curve is still going. I don’t think it’s fair to soccer yet to give it a final score." He added, "We need to promote the stars. We don’t have an American ambassador for the game, and we need it” (N.Y. POST, 7/15). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan wrote more than ever, the diehard soccer fan in the U.S. "is convinced his casual counterpart is ready to join the permanent soccer party." What the sport "needs now is for the momentum of the World Cup to continue resonating through the multiple layers of soccer throughout the nation." In the "heady aftermath of a magnificent tournament, it feels like the tide is still rising" for soccer (Bergen RECORD, 7/14). U.S. global sports network ONE World Sports CEO Sandy Brown said, “I think this train is moving and I don't see it stopping” (WSJ.com, 7/14).

WILL IT STAY OR WILL IT GO NOW? In London, Hadley Freeman writes a “great joy of the World Cup is to watch the re-establishment of a new world football order.” Freeman: “More cheeringly, and no less seismically there was America’s long-coming and much-vaunted embrace of, if not necessarily soccer itself, then certainly the World Cup.” N.Y. Times Sports Editor Andrew Das said, “With MLS almost 20 years old, we now have a generation of players who have grown up watching the professional game here, have grown up seeing the U.S. play in the World Cup.” SI’s Grant Wahl said, “If you’re below the age of 45 there’s no stigma with being a soccer fan, as opposed to older Americans who still view soccer as some enemy from the Cold War era” (THEGUARDIAN.com, 7/15). But in California, Jonathan Lansner wrote under the header, "Don't Expect A Soccer Surge Here." From a "sheer business perspective -- looking at its mass-market potential on American soil -- soccer still has the feel of simply a nifty, niche product," which is "not bad -- it's just that it's not the next great thing" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 7/12). The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke said, "This was the year the World Cup was almost elevated to the level of the Olympics in this country. We finally got it. We got how cool it was." But he added this "is not going to help the MLS that much. This is a once-every-four-year thing" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/14). In San Antonio, W. Scott Bailey writes MLS “may need to make some changes to bring the sport front and center in years when there is no World Cup.” The league has “worked to improve its talent pool, in part by keeping the better U.S. players at home.” But it “must address other perception problems, starting with its name.” The MLS brand is “too generic and so old school.” Even the MLS logo “is outdated.” If ever there was “a time to be more creative, to chase after a new audience, it is now” (SAN ANTONIO BUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/11 issue).

STRIKE WHILE THE IRON'S HOT: ADWEEK's Christopher Heine noted MLS over the weekend launched an ad campaign entitled "Here." MLS CMO Howard Handler said, "The effort will be supported by our television partners, all over (paid and earned) digital media and expressed locally through our member clubs" (ADWEEK.com, 7/13). Meanwhile, Revolution President Brian Bilello said that he will be "working with the league as to utilize Facebook and Twitter to target those who were engaged with the World Cup." He admitted that it "will take time before the league really takes off" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/15). In Philadelphia, Sam Donnellon writes under the header, “Soccer Could Catch On In U.S. With The Right Product.” The U.S. needs “meaningful games on these shores,” such as a UEFA Champions League, which has “decades upon decades of history.” And “at least for now,” save the talk “about MLS being just as good.” The “best way for that to come true is to increase demand for the product, increasing revenue flow, allowing the MLS to someday throw around the dollars” that EPL clubs Arsenal and Manchester United do now (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 7/15). In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw wrote the "bottom line is that the growing Hispanic population in this nation likes soccer." Kids "play it on Saturday mornings, then go home and play the video game in the afternoons." MLS "has to get better players (difficult) and compress its never-ending schedule (not so difficult) if it's ever to capitalize on what's been happening in Brazil." But without a "doubt the World Cup will continue to produce big numbers in the future" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/13).

POINT-COUNTERPOINT: The N.Y. Daily News' Mike Lupica said of soccer in the U.S. going forward: “It's going to take the United States producing, I'm not saying a (Lionel) Messi or Neymar or (Cristiano) Ronaldo, but somebody like that, that kids want to be. ... When there is a player who makes kids want to go watch soccer more than Tim Howard making all those saves in the World Cup, then things are going to change for the sport in this country.” ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez added, “It's the chicken or the egg situation because somebody has to see a Lionel Messi and say, ‘I want to be that for the United States’ and then when somebody comes along from the United States then you have all the Americans following that sort of footstep" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 7/13).
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