Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MLS - give me something to cheer for

I've been reading lately about the MLS's (Major League Soccer) connundrum regarding attendance and tv ratings.

The MLS has a vibrant fan base who attend games en masse. They have multiple franchises who average more attendance per game than many MLB teams, and league-wide their attendance numbers are on par with those of the NBA and NHL.

Major League Soccer also has a fan demographics that bodes well for their future - it's extremely popular with fans under 34 years old, hispanics and other non-white Americans, and its fanbase has a higher average income than most other sports.

Yet, despite all this fervent support, their TV ratings are dreadful. They're being lapped by every other American sport, as well as by English soccer.

And I'm part of their problem. I'm an ardent soccer fan - I play soccer, my son plays soccer, we talk soccer, we play soccer video games, and we watch soccer on tv. We just don't watch MLS games.

I can't speak for everybody else, but here are three reasons why I haven't watched more than a couple of MLS games on tv:

1.) Nobody to root for

Phoenix doesn't have a team, so who do I root for?

LA Galaxy? I've spent 4 decades hating the Lakers and Dodgers. Now I'm supposed to cheer for LA..? Nope.

Seattle Sounders? With the current Cardinals - Seahawks rivalry, and the history between UA and UW, WSU, and Gonzaga? Nope.

Portland Timbers? I'm still mad at the Trailblazers' knocking the Suns off in the early 90's. Nope.

Houston Dynamo? Another Texas team? No thanks.

If MLS had a franchise in Phoenix, I'd watch every game and pay front row attention to the league. But as it stands today, I don't have a rooting interest in any of the teams, and the league is kind of an afterthought.

2.) Inconsistent tv times

My week is too busy to hunt for the game times & channels, and then rearrange my plans around it. I might find some interest if there was a game time that became part of my weekly routine, but I don't have enough interest to hunt and search.

3.) Inconsistent tv teams

Trying to learn the players of every team on a sporadic basis is too hard. It would be better if I could see the same team consistently; I could learn their players quickly, and those of its opponents over time.

This builds on #s  1 and 2 above. If I don't have a rooting interest, and I'm not watching a lot of games, I'm not developing a familiarity with many of the players, which makes it even less interesting to watch.

The English Premier League, on the other hand, signed a deal with NBC two years ago, and we've become fluent in the whole league over that time.

We don't have reasons *not* to root for any particular team, so my son and I each picked a couple teams to keep our eyes on.

The games are on tv every Saturday morning like clockwork. We either watch them live if we're home, or we record them and watch them later in the day when there isn't anything else going on.

And because we can watch the same teams over and over again (since ALL games are broadcast), we quickly learned the various players, coaches, and styles - not just of our own teams but of the teams throughout the league.

Conclusion

The MLS is doing a lot of things right, and its long-term future looks bright. But if they can't get a soccer loving fan in the country's 7th biggest market to watch any of their games, they have plenty of room for improvement.

- Chris Butterworth

.