Yesterday I was lucky enough to voyage over three hours away to Harrison New Jersey to watch the much-hyped Galaxy vs Red Bulls game. Despite having an immense payroll (by MLS’s standards) and an above-average (by American standards) stadium, I can’t say I’ll be going back anytime soon to watch the Red Bulls again. For starters, the PATH train system is still a mess and multiple stations almost had flooding issues because of the rain. And that was when trains could even move. It’s not Don Garber’s fault, but our train was stuck for over twenty minutes due to track issues, and then kept starting and stopping on the way to the stadium. The PATH is a major connection point to Red Bull Arena and it wasn’t a shock to see less people attend one of the biggest games of the season when trains couldn’t do anything. A good number of fans got there 30 minutes late because the PATH stations are delay-plagued nightmares. It was no wonder MLS fans are pointing fingers at the Red Bulls organization complaining they don’t know how to market the team to such a huge city. Which brings me to ….
NBC decided awhile back to take on the added responsibility of showing Premiere League games. So now average Americans will have the chance to watch more Manchester United, Chelsea etc etc (pretty much bigger teams than the Red Bulls), at the expense of MLS. What happened yesterday at Red Bull is a good example of why ratings will be flat. No matter how successful the Galaxy or NYRB will be in the next five years, they’re NOT English BPL teams. This might be a conflict of interest when NBC will, as promised, show a flood of English soccer on Saturdays and Sundays. I watched a great game yesterday that could’ve been twice as good if actual sunshine made more of an appearance, but ESPN2 ratings for it might suffer because yesterday was also ‘Judgement Day’, the last game of the BPL season and stacked with games with the powerhouse teams. No matter how much NBC says it’s committed to MLS you have to take a step back and look at further implications.
1. If a soccer fan in America doesn’t have an MLS team near-by, why wouldn’t he become a fan of European soccer? Next year they’ll watch BPL games on NBC, they might ignore MLS broadcasts.
2. If NBC executives have time-slots open just for mediocre MLS teams or either a bigger European match, which will they broadcast? It’s not reassuring that sometimes REPLAYS of big European teams draw more viewers than smaller MLS teams.
3. The NBC contract with MLS will be renewed soon and the MLS ratings are flat. Because MLS takes a good amount of money from television contracts it’s not going to help their goal if they take less money from NBC. ESPN2 just overhyped the LA / NYRB game and I’m confident in saying that the ratings might not be groundbreaking. That was ESPN2′s biggest game of the season, devoid of Beckham, and aching for just one more big star. Keane, Donovan, Henry and Cahill are a start but they’re not going to move the needle. How can they get the best players when MLS isn’t getting the fatter television paychecks.
So anyway, you’re still reading this? You must like soccer. I’m not typing this out to be depressing but the next two or three years will be crucial to MLS making the next big jump. I know that it can survive, but look at these factors and how they develop:
A: Commissioner Don Garber, a man who helped the league through some bad rough spots, is set to have his contract renewed next year in 2014 (at least that’s how it was reported a couple of years ago here: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2010/08/20100802/This-Weeks-News/MLS-Extends-Garbers-Deal-Through-2014.aspx)
There’s a chance he might not be around anymore and MLS will have to eke it out with someone that doesn’t have his experience with the league. If you give him credit for bringing new stadiums and better players to the league, if he leaves then is it expected for the growth to continue?
B: Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke don’t run the Galaxy the way they used to. It seems to me that together both of them were sort of a Darth Vader / Emperor combination that weaned Donovan to maturity and brought Beckham stateside. But Tim is now with Toronto trying his best to make them capable by himself and the Galaxy just got a postcard from London that Frank Lampard is staying there. How many more tricks can Anschutz have up his sleeve at this point when the Galaxy are back-to-back defending MLS champions and face an upcoming ‘International Champions Cup’ where they might get blown out of the water?
C: Chris Wondolowski, last year’s MVP, is pretty much invisible when it comes to activity outside of the league. In America we’re used to seeing top athletes sell sneakers or flat-screen TV’s but Wondowloski hasn’t made those roads yet. Maybe advertisers feel that 2013 he couldn’t duplicate the amount of goals scored? They’d be right so far, but I think having an MVP is a two way street. Peyton Manning represents the NFL and can get non-viewers to catch a game or two. If MLS could find some way for Wondolowski or future MVP’s to succeed in other sponsorships and commercial deals, then it should get more partial viewers to tune into a San Jose game to watch him play. In MLS’s defense I know nothing about MLB’s MVP winners and have no clue how successful they are outside of baseball games.
In closing, there’s a chance that MLS can make it through the season with their head held high. They came close to getting a team to the Club World Cup, San Jose is building a new stadium (while Wondolowski is playing there) and even Mexican club coaches are agreeing that MLS is getting better. But these TV ratings and NBC’s deal with the Premiere League might catch the league at a bad time. The American teams are still losing money and hoping on better television contracts, if no one watches games then why would major stars come over?
Over the past week all sources are pointing to Queens where Manchester City’s owners are determined to set-up a new MLS expansion team. You can read about it here:
It won’t be hyperbole to say it’s a major move but some people have been reporting that Man City wants to create a feeder team into England. So my first piece of advice:
1. DON’T SET-UP A FEEDER TEAM.
It’s pretty much a slap in the face to the league when a bigger league decides to shove a little brother into MLS. It’s already happened with Chivas USA, a team that continues to fail and has to let out press releases that state they’re not about to get taken over by the league because of horrible operations. I get that the main Chivas team has millions of fans but they somehow turned off Mexican fans in America when they realized the American team’s not that great and they’re not even close to being like the Galaxy even if they share the same stadium. How can you root for a team when their focus is on player development and not winning the league? You pay money to watch a team win and not practice.
Manchester City owners, if you’re reading (but you’re not), PLEASE don’t use this MLS team as a training pad for Manchester City junior athletes or whatever they’ll be. Which brings me to ………..
2. SIGN EXPENSIVE DESIGNATED PLAYERS
Thierry Henry is the only reason I travel two hours to New Jersey and buy a nine dollar beer at Red Bull stadium. Period. End of story. MLS makes more money when ‘Goliath’ teams play even if there aren’t really any Davids in the league (even the bad teams aren’t that bad). That also goes for the Goliath players who lead those teams. I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t follow the Red Bulls that much if Henry decided to leave the team. No offense to Cahill or Juninho but if they’re the only big names I won’t follow the team that much.
The new Manchester City New York FC team (or whatever name they come up with) is about to spend a hundred million to enter the league and create a stadium. They better sign big players to fill it, otherwise there isn’t a guarantee the team will catch on even if they play under the Empire State building. Many soccer fans complain that they don’t get why the Red Bulls aren’t catching on but they don’t live in this area like I do. There are just too many sports teams and too many other things to do for New Yorkers instead of going to New Jersey on a weekend. Henry drives revenue and the new Queens team NEEDS to sign a player at his caliber. Anything less than that will be a slight failure.
3. GET A SPONSOR THAT’S NOT A PYRAMID SCHEME
I get that money is money but it just looks bad on a league when even Dallas FC, a high-rated team this year, advertises Advocare and the L.A. Galaxy still have a deal with Herbalife. Can you imagine an important play-off game with Dallas against L.A.? Herbalife versus Advocare, and the winner must use the BEST IN WEIGHT LOSS AND HEALTH
NYC has plenty of business in Manhattan doesn’t it? How hard will it be to get a normal, standard business to sponsor the jerseys? Why not get the upcoming derby to match against shirts and have Kool-Aid, Minute Maid or Gatorade against the Red Bulls? Or maybe a Vodka, making a Red-Bull Vodka derby. Anyway, just don’t embarrass yourselves with MLM dirty cash.
That’s pretty much it for now, the new team should succeed unless there’s a cataclysmic blunder somehow. When that much money involved there’s a lot of leeway with the team. Even the Red Bulls are better now all of a sudden, maybe it has something to do with being the most expensive team this year. Although I still think their defense needs an upgrade.
They do! I’m not saying that it takes away from their play but it is pretty noticeable when some influencial people in American soccer have either a lisp or an awkward voice presence. I can’t explain all of it but I’ll post a few videos below that I’ll use as evidence. Was American soccer so ignored twenty years ago that it fostered an environment for over-competitive players with speech issues? Did these players feel so uneasy playing baseball or tennis that they felt a barren soccer field with no fans could let them play in peace despite speech issues? Let me be blunt, I hope American soccer continues to succeed, but as someone learning more about the game it can’t be a coincidence to me that a lot of now recognized players and coaches have a slight lisp and can’t make specific ‘S’ sounds.
Disclaimer – I’m not trying to be too negative, I’m just pointing out what any fan would notice after six or seven interviews with coaches or players. I just wonder if six years down the line these types of speech-patterns will fade away. Again, I’m not trying to be mean!
Jason Kreis, a slight lisp, nothing too bad.
Red Bulls coach Mike Petke has a noticeable lisp. If he coached an NFL team the media would have a field day, good thing the Red Bulls aren’t a big deal here (for now).
Bruce Arena, maybe the Phil Jackson of American soccer, has a noticeable lisp that would turn soccer into ‘thocker’ sometimes. If you think of it a certain way, how great of a speechmaker do you have to be to overcome this shortcoming? You can’t pronounce everything a hundred percent and your teams are still psyched up enough to go out and win another World Cup game? I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow Arena coached a major European or Mexican team down the line, his record speaks for himself (pun not intended).
Graham Zusi, a player working himself into the national team, also has a small lisp going on. It’s interesting that he’s being groomed to take over Donovan’s position in World Cup qualifying and they both speak rather similar. They both have a monotone, slow, introspective voice, like a surfer about to go to Calculus class. I hate to say ‘nerdy’ because I was a giant dork in high-school, but you can’t say that they’re very eloquent and talkative. Again, I implore all you readers, why do we have good representatives of American soccer with lisps and awkward speech issues? It can’t be because they watch too many La Liga games is it (where they turn ‘s’ sounds into ‘th’ sounds)??
And finally …….
One of America’s best all time players couldn’t be called verbose could he? But what’s interesting to me is that his SPANISH seems a lot more fluent and capable. Don’t believe me?
My Spanish isn’t that great, but a few comments from better Spanish speakers say he’s not embarrassing himself. So why does Donovan sound a bit better in Spanish than his native English?? It’s just a hunch, but I keep thinking that growing up as a soccer player in American in the 1980s took some sort of toll on the young players. Only surrounded by Spanish culture could an American soccer player feel better recognized (also remember that when Dempsey was younger he’d practice with latino kids to advance his skill). Now moving on into the future I doubt our young stars will have these types of speech problems, but I think it’s important to know why they developed when they did. It would be insight into how our game developed and the types of players that came out of the woodwork at that time (the blackhole as Bruce had called it).
I’m cutting to the chase again, there are three factors going into 2014 that will turn the heads of many soccer doubters.
NBC is going to broadcast English Premiere League games to about double the audience of Fox soccer. That means that America who ‘doesn’t get’ soccer will be exposed to teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Give the average new fan two years and in 2016 he’ll complain about how MLS should raise the salary cap or initiate promotion / relegation. Of course I’M a different fan because I don’t have any favorites, I just watch Chelsea, Everton, the Red Bulls, the Galaxy, Real Madrid and own a new Barcelona shirt (this is sarcasm, but the shirt real). NBC is banking on the brand awareness of super clubs and then throwing L.A. Galaxy and Sounders games on top of them. Good move NBC, but wait there’s more …..
If you thought that international friendlies are just an excuse for rich owners to rake in a bit of extra cash for letting Ronaldo and Landon Donovan run around the field then – you’re right. But the scale of the friendly is about to change because now Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is bringing in more super clubs and then having them play for a $250 dollar trophy in a fake competition televised by Fox Soccer. This International Champions Cup will likely fail because the price to put the show on might fleece the tournament’s organizers. Not every tournament has UEFA’s mountain of cash to organize and this ICC thing is banking on television money and interest that might not be ready yet.
In the meantime it won’t hurt the teams themselves to run around Miami and take in the sights. Chalk this one up as another situation where the European teams win and the Americans try and make money off of it. Oh and by the way, don’t be surprised if the Galaxy play a game close. As ‘America’s best soccer team’, I expect them to tie or lose by a goal in the competition. Another blow-out won’t look good to the people organizing the tournament.
And good luck to Guinness who’s paying to put their stamp of approval on this new tournament.
3. World cup, world cup, Brazil, sound the alarm, soccer, 2014 summer. Nike, Gatorade, Wheaties, etc. There will be no faster way to brain wash half of Americans to like soccer than the 2014 world cup. Advertisers might have lost out in the 2012 Olympics when America crashed and burned out of the qualifying, but this time there will be no mistake: EVERYONE will be talking about the World Cup.
Although these soccer stories are pretty mundane now, I think they’re another soccer wave to come crashing to America’s shores. There will be more, don’t be surprised when the friend you thought would never follow soccer now has a favorite European club. Or is a Sounders fan.
And I’m okay with that. Let’s start here, a recent interview with Eric Stover, a former Red Bull employee who blasted off into the Cosmos universe.
He didn’t give a job title for what he did with the new team, but he did drop great answers foreshadowing the future team goals. For example (the red lettering was from me):
We have been clear that our goal will always be to get the top of the soccer pyramid in the United States. What that means exactly, to be honest, we don’t know for sure.
And then when asked about the importance of the U.S. Open Cup he responded:
Whoever they line us up against, we’re very eager to play that game. If we could play it tomorrow, we would. That competition will be every bit as important as the league competition.
……. so they have enough players to go up against a typical MLS team? Or is he himself going to join in and run around the field? The Cosmos might have a roster filled with part-time players right now and they’re ready for the U.S. Open Cup!!!??? And even if they do get a better team, a huge IF, it’ll be almost a fantasy for them to win the U.S. Open Cup because of not only MLS teams vying to get in but the other NASL sides trying to block their path. These Cosmos people better pray that enough people go out to Long Island and buy enough popcorn to cover their new office bills.
But why am I okay with this? In some strange demented way it reminds me of grassroots American soccer. The team’s not ran by an invisible entity in Austria doling out marketing money and counting beans. And neither is it aggravated by the fact that most New Yorkers don’t care. The thing with the Cosmos is, Eric somehow sounds like they’re expecting to fail the first few years and they just need to survive enough to get their footing. Eric Stover sounds like an old School MLS type, not the new school buddy/buddy AEG type dealmaker with links to the treasury department and investment firms. Even if we find out years from now that Saudi money is backing the team (which it likely is), if you look around you the web you find out that maybe FIFTEEN OR LESS people are running the American business operations. This team is has a pretty Spartan life now and they don’t even have the luxury to brag about their plans. They’ve been very open with facts such as:
- They’re playing at a University stadium far away from Manhattan that can hold 15,000 people. They have no clue how many people will show up or when attendance will rise (if any).
- They’re hiring the best players they can, with the best money they can scrape around, and will play the best soccer to their ability. Which means they WON’T have the best team in America. Unlike MLS they’re even willing to take players off the street if they’re good enough. I am serious: http://nycosmos.com/news/cosmos-hold-five-open-tryouts-throughout-nyc
- $100 million to become an MLS new franchisee isn’t going to cut it for them, they’d rather play weaker teams.
The only thing the Cosmos have is name recognition, the brand was strong enough to play Manchester United in a friendly last year so I wouldn’t be surprised if 5,000 or more people flocked to Long Island to watch them play. But a sold-out university crowd doesn’t mean they’ll be signing huge stars. I think soccer has changed enough where a top player would know if the field has regular grass or is spray painted green*. But at least the Cosmos are TRYING to help American soccer.
*True story: After Pele signed, the field was so bad on the first game-day that large patches of the ground had to be spray painted to appear green. They had a legendary soccer player pretty much running around a horrible and dangerous field; it’s amazing what tons of cash can accomplish.
I’ll start with the above post. It looks like Frank Lampard, after doing the initial signing dance with the L.A. Galaxy about two months ago, is now deciding that he’ll go another round in the English league and pass on MLS. I doubt any American soccer fans blame him, in his last contract year he scored multiple goals and helped his team stay afloat on top of a very difficult league. If his team Chelsea doesn’t sign him again I’m sure other powerhouse soccer teams wouldn’t hesitate to get him on board.
So that must be tough for the MLS to swallow, and I’m also starting to see a pattern develop:
It make’s perfect sense to sign Park Ji Sung, a former Manchester United player stuck playing for a team about to get relegated. News broke today that he ‘could’ sign with MLS, in much the way Lampard ‘could’ have signed.
Even though MLS continues it’s slow gait on the mountain of relevancy, I can’t help but think that misleading MLS executives and foreign player agents are blowing hot air about all these potential acquisitions. Here’s a reminder of current players that ‘COULD’ have signed with MLS but just never put the pen to paper.
- Ronaldinho – It made perfect sense to suit him up with Landon Donovan for L.A. but things didn’t fall through. I didn’t follow soccer enough when the rumors started swirling but it seemed like a good two month period where a lot of MLS fans thought the Brazilian was headed up there.
- Drogba – The great Drogba’s agent himself claimed that the player was very interested in signing for MLS, but Shanghai came through and delivered buckets of cash and put him on a plane in the opposite direction. Now he plays in Turkey.
- Kaka – He showed up in Miami to watch a Heat game and started telling people he was interested in MLS. It doesn’t mean anything now though because he has to get ready for Brazil in 2014 and his national team coaches might not let him anywhere close to Red Bull Arena.
- Totti – The Roman’s name has been popping up near MLS transfer rumors despite the fact that it seems like he’ll never want to leave Rome, maybe ever. This month he even asked the Italian side if they could sign him for a few more years. I get that he’s an aging Italian superstar looking for a fresh start, but just because an L.A. Galaxy talent scout leaves a voice message on his cell phone doesn’t mean that Totti even considered it.
These are some of the bigger names, but my prediction is that this year won’t have any huge global signing. And if you think about it, MLS seems to be doing the opposite when they’re sending out younger players to different leagues. One young player, Omar Gonzales, is stated to become rich at the end of the season and might follow Brek Shea overseas. If not England then a Mexican team wouldn’t mind paying him more than MLS would want to.
In conclusion, before you start trying to believe that MLS is only two or three years away from a new “Beckham signing” (I am sometimes guilty of this) you might have to take a step back and look at the reality. MLS owners are discovering it might make more sense to just send a promising player to Europe and pocket the money altogether. Great legendary players from abroad ”COULD” always come out to MLS, but don’t hold your breath.