Deserving of More

American soccer fans deserve more. For and from what you may ask? A more balanced media production as well as dispersion of the game and higher quality performances on the field.

“You can cross the country without reading or hearing a thing about the team [U.S. men’s national soccer team] during World Cup qualifying,” said Jamie Trecker, a columnist for Fox Sports and Fox Soccer Channel. “That’s a sad fact.”

However the U.S. men’s national team has recently qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, that’s good right? Yes, but only to an extent. It’s not only about the national team but more about the product of American soccer as a whole.

“Unless MLS [Major League Soccer] makes concrete efforts to improve their product and compensate their players fairly, they will disappear as the NASL [North American Soccer League] did,” Trecker said. “MLS’ coverage is almost non-existent in newspapers outside of local team markets.”

During the summer of 2007, MLS brought in what it thought would spark the American viewer’s passion for soccer in the states: David Beckham. While the introduction of the English superstar did garner slightly higher television ratings, 0.2 rating pre-Beckham to 0.3 after he joined the league.  Those ratings have leveled out just two years later.

In January 2009, ESPN decided to drop MLS from its primetime Thursday night slot. The network chose instead to spread games around on various assigned nights, which are now broadcast as the “MLS game of the week.” Ratings have since found themselves back at a 0.2  at the start of the 2008 season.

But all is not lost. “I think we’ll continue to see a slow build of interest,” Jason Davis, owner and lead writer for matchfitusa.com said. “MLS will take baby steps towards greater respectability.”

The so-called “Beckham Experiment” had its time. The next step is to stretch the product across the nation in an effort to reach more fans and find new ones. The MLS will introduce a team in Philadelphia in 2010 and teams in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia in 2011.

These steps appear to have American soccer headed in the right direction, but Trecker argues that MLS needs more money. While the infusion of more money would likely save any number of struggling businesses, Trecker said. “I don’t think MLS understands the relationship between money and the American public … Americans value a sport in part based on how much money the players get.”

But in these hard economic times, pouring more money into the league is not so easy. So what else can be done?

“TV is the key, naturally. Bloggers and websites will continue to fill a gap in the in-depth day-to-day analysis of the game here, but without a strong push by big media outlets, the general public won’t be drawn in,” Davis said.

“The American league is forced to compete with the Big Six sports as well as international soccer on TV, and as a result, it does start a bit behind the line,” said Trecker. “Americans like winners and demand stars, and the MLS hasn’t provided either. What also moves the needle is the performance of the American national team, and as we know, since 2005 it hasn’t been good.”

With the American game already starting from behind, it could be said that U.S. soccer was dealt another blow in June 2009, when ESPN bought the viewership rights to all English Premier League games for the upcoming season. The Premier League is widely considered the most popular league in the world, offering Americans fan a chance at some of the highest level soccer the world has to offer. Yet, it also poses a possible problem for the U.S. game.

“I hope to see more of an effort on the part of the ESPN’s of the world to do right by the American game, but I’m concerned that we’re likely to see a heavier emphasis on European leagues for the time being,” Davis said.

Increased exposure to the European game is a measure taken to further fandom in the U.S., but does a more polished and successful European game then diminish what has been created with the American game?

“Sports sell themselves, and from what I’ve seen, when people get to see high-quality soccer, they enjoy it,” Trecker said.

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