Catching up with David Downs — bonus conversation

Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
In this week’s issue, I talked to former ABC Sports executive and NASL Commissioner David Downs, and much of our conversation focused on the sport of soccer. Downs, who was born in the Netherlands, has played the game his entire life and coaches three teams. He is an astute follower of the game. He shared with me his thoughts on NASL and MLS. “NASL has got a very realistic chance for success. It’s a different proposition than MLS. The NASL’s goal is to be the No. 1 professional soccer in-stadium experience in Atlanta or in Miami or in San Antonio or in Tampa or in Minneapolis. And these are pretty major markets.

“To convince people of that and get their per game attendance from an average of 3,000-to-4,000 to 6,000-to-7,000, that would make them financially healthy. And that’s a pretty easy proposition.”

When it comes to MLS, he says, “They have done a great job and I think the sport is here to stay in a big, big way. No longer can the MLS use the excuse that Americans aren’t interested in soccer. It’s just a matter of where they fit in this global sport. And that’s a challenge. The NBA and NHL are much more like the Premiership, in that the best players in the world gravitate to the United States and play in those leagues.”

He goes on: “There is almost too much soccer on television for any one fan to consume, and the highest level played in the world is available to me almost any time of the day, and that will probably work against MLS over time unless they can somehow shift the dynamics so that the best soccer players in the world are playing here instead of abroad. And I don’t know if that’s possible. In those countries, soccer is the be-all and end-all sport. In our country, there will always be competition from sports like basketball, baseball, football, hockey, etc. It’s going to be difficult for MLS to achieve what leagues like the NFL and the NBA are achieving today. That doesn't mean we are not a soccer nation with lots of soccer fans and players.”
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