OK, I am tired of justifying to some of my friends in the sports media who for some reason do not seem to understand that like it or not the United States actually likes soccer and did before World Cup 2014.
Some sports talk show hosts and writers are lazy and simply don’t want to take the time to learn the game. They will soon pay the price for not knowing what a 4-5-1 formation really looks like. Or for that matter even means when talking about the sport.
Let me make something very clear.
I am not saying that soccer is a big as the NFL, I am not saying that American’s no longer love, baseball or NBA hoops or NHL hockey.
What I am saying is that soccer has earned a place at the table with other mainstream sports. A place that the sport has earned after years of not just building a fan base that is both passionate and loyal, but growing it over three plus decades.
This whole thing began right here in the Tampa Bay area back in 1976 when the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League used to sell out the old Tampa Stadium and the Meadowlands.
Since that time soccer has continued to grow at a steady pace and has earned its way into the sporting landscape with a chair at the table with Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL.
The television ratings back up the fact that soccer fans in the United States follow the English Premier League, the UEFA Champions League as well soccer from the top leagues in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and yes even here with the MLS.
It is no longer odd to see people of all ages walking around in a Manchester United, or FC Barcelona or Chelsea soccer jersey. Most soccer jersey’s are selling at rates equal to or ahead of both MLB and NHL shirts.Back to
Back to the World Cup for a moment, ESPN would have hit the jackpot if the U.S.A had won the game against Belgium, but the network and Spanish-language Univision pulled in 21.59 million viewers for Tuesday’s game. The game was second only to 25.2 million for the U.S.-Portugal game.
Think for a moment what kind of numbers that the USA-Belgium game might have gotten if it aired in primetime and not a 4 pm on a Tuesday afternoon?
To put it in perspective, the overall audience for those U.S. games was higher than any World Series or NBA Finals game, and comparable to the BCS title game.
This year the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was a watershed moment for soccer in the United States. Thus far, ESPN is averaging a healthy 4.1 million viewers for all 56 matches, up 44 percent from 2010. Several non-U.S. games have done strong numbers.
25 million fans with a larger than expected number of 18 to 35 year old men watching every minute of that game. It also had a huge number of women cheering on the USA Men’s National team. That is impressive support for the USAMNT.
I know what you are thinking and stop it!!!
Yes, the World Cup is only a once every four year thing and after the tournament is over no one will care about soccer. Allow me to point out something of interest.
In the summer of 2013, Relevent Sports began something that was a big hit in its first year. They started the Guinness International Champions Cup, an innovative transformation of the traditional European club preseason tours into a competitive tournament.
The inaugural edition featured eight top clubs – Real Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea, Inter Milan, A.C. Milan, Valencia, Everton and the L.A. Galaxy – and culminated with a spectacular final in Miami won by Real Madrid over Chelsea (3-1) in front of nearly 70,000 fans. (more than watch the Dolphins on most Sunday’s in the fall.)
The 2014 edition of the tournament will start July 24, when AC Milan and Olympiacos play in Toronto. The event is a 12-match, round-robin tournament, featuring eight of the world’s top teams, divided into two different four-team groups. The matches will be played in Toronto; New York; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; Berkeley, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Minneapolis, Minn.; Dallas; and Ann Arbor, Mich., from July 24-Aug. 2. The two group winners will play in a championship match, which will take place Aug. 4 at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium.
The teams in this year’s tournament are some of Europe’s best, with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, AC Milan, AS Roma, Liverpool FC, Inter Milan and Olympiacos all taking part in the event.
Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the games and as you might expect tickets are going fast.
So, why is this important? Well, each game will be either a sell out or very close and the teams know that having a foothold in the United States is very important. Promoter’s do not bring these world class teams to the United States to lose money. They bring them here because they have a fan base that grows each year.
Last season, MLS drew an average of 18,807 fans per game, a number that exceeds the average gate of the NHL and the NBA. We all know that next season Orlando will enter the league and DC United and a number of other teams will be getting soccer only stadiums in the next couple of years.
The television ratings for the MLS remain respectable and a new broadcast sponsorship deal is in place that almost triples the payout from the last deal. The new ESPN/Fox deal is worth $90 million a year and that is the networks investing a growth stock.
Consider this, for the past ten years youth participation in soccer is double that of tackle football, and it easily eclipses all sports except for basketball for elementary students up through high-school students.
The English Premier League on NBC Sports Network, the UEFA Champions League on Fox and the other international leagues that air on Miami based beIn Sport have ratings that are very competitive each Saturday and Sunday. They even beat the MLB Game of the Week, the NBA Game of the Week and the NHL weekly telecasts on some weeks.
For my generation it was Saturday morning cartoons and for then new generation it is European soccer. So, the take-a-way here is simple soccer has earned a place in the conversation on sports talk radio, in the newspapers and the websites with all the other sports.
Those in the sports business that fail to understand this point will not be in this business very much longer.