Since the 1970s and the razzamatazz of the New York Cosmos, America has remained world football’s ‘promised land’, a nut that still can’t be cracked. Now in its 21st year, Major League Soccer on the surface, appears to be gradually gaining a foothold with the American public. There are now 19 established teams and three ‘expansion’ teams that will enter the league in the next few years, including New York City, Atlanta and Orlando, plus the new project in Miami being headed by one David Beckham. Yet MLS still lags behind the might of the NFL and will, in my opinion, continue to do so.
Here’s my top ten reasons why I believe ‘soccer’ will never be as popular as American Football in the US.
1 – Rivalry: Soccer is tribal. In Europe and Latin America, rivalries are massive. Take Manchester United and Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona, AC and Inter Milan, Flamengo versus Vasco de Gama in Brazil or Corinthians and Palmeiras for starters. MLS simply doesn’t have that.
2 – The Super Bowl: Soccer doesn’t have one! It’s the biggest single sporting event in the US and possibly the world, attracting hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide. It’s what the NFL is all about and winning it is all that counts
3 – College Football: Whilst soccer may be the sport with the highest participation of school age children, football still rules the roost when it comes to college sports. The NCAA Varsity Football series is massive. Whilst the MLS struggles to pull in an average crowd of 20,000; college football plays to upwards 100,000 people. Awesome!
4 – No national role model: For sure Team USA has a number of recognisable international ‘stars’ such as Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. But with all due respect, neither of them are (i) young enough for the teenagers that may be looking for someone they can associate with, and (ii) definitely not Messi or Ronaldo.
5 – No Promotion or Relegation: Whilst sports in the US typically don’t have promotion or relegation to contend with, not having it in soccer just dilutes one of the key aspects of being a fan. If you’re team doesn’t make it to the Play-offs in the MLS, then there is little to play for and the season is over. Helping your team avoid relegation, or giving them a final push to gain promotion is part-and-parcel of being a soccer fan. Without it, part of the thrill just dies.
6 – Wrong format for US TV Networks: NFL works because it works for TV. With a game time of 60 minutes, actual in-play time may average only 11 minutes. That gives on average 20 commercial breaks, which equate to approximately 1/3 of the entire 3 hours that most games last when you factor in all the stops and time-outs etc. With soccer sticking to a rigid 2 x 45 minute format with no squad turnarounds, advertising opportunities are minimal, making it much harder for the networks to make a decent profit.
7 – Defensive Touchdowns! In the NFL, it’s normally down to the Offense to go out and score the touchdowns and goals. But occasionally the Defensive line up will have an opportunity to take possession and make a run for touch. It’s a bit like imagining Fabio, Evera, Ferdinand and Vidic all making a co-ordinated run toward the opposing goal from their own penalty spot, using their midfielders and forwards as protection as they run the ball into the goal as a unit. Of course it doesn’t happen in soccer, which looks (to many Americans) as a game that relies on flashes of individual brilliance, rather than that of the team as a whole
8 – Tradition: (US) Football not only has Super Bowl day to look forward to. Thanksgiving at the end of November is a traditional time for the entire family to sit down after dinner to watch the game. Just as the Thanksgiving family dinner in deeply ingrained into American family life, so too is the match after
9 – Superior Tactical Nouse: Americans consider Football as a game of chess. Games can ebb and flow from one team to another and it’s up to the coach to change his tactics along the way. He may choose to go for the forth down, or take a chance kicking for fewer points. The Offense may start out trying to run the ball, but then have to change and ‘go long’. Whilst soccer can change in-play, we’ve yet to see Pique launch a 60 yard pass for Messi to have to challenge the opposing team’s centre-backs, which for those that may not understand the nuances of soccer, can seem predictable and boring.
10 – Stadiums: Soccer is a game that thrives on atmosphere and whilst there’s plenty of vocal support from crowds watching NFL, it’s not the same as having thousands of fans singing and chanting solidly for 90 minutes or more. Add to this the problem that some teams share stadiums with baseball teams, which is all-well-and-good in keeping down costs, but baseball pitches are not rectangular and result in a large proportion of the crowd being long distances away from the action.
So there you have it. Even if Becks does get planning permission for the new stadium in Miami, I don’t believe it will make enough of a difference. Hopefully I’m wrong, but as you can see, there are many (very high) hurdles to get over before soccer can be classed as an equal to the NFL
This is my opinion, but I’d love to hear yours. Start a discussion and let’s see if we can make a difference.