MLS kicked off the second annual Pan Pacific Championship on Wednesday in Los Angeles. Originally intended as a vehicle to promote Major League Soccer’s global footprint through the use of David Beckham, the tournament is already at risk of an early extinction. Touted as a championship between teams in the Pacific Rim, the 2008 version included squads from MLS, Japan and Australia (including David Beckham’s L.A. Galaxy). Played in Hawaii during the MLS preseason, the games averaged less than 20,000 per match despite Aloha Stadium’s 50k capacity.
In year two, the tournament again features the Galaxy, along with teams from Japan, Korea and China. This time the venue was the Home Depot Center, and by all reports, attendance was embarrassing. The L.A. Times used the word “sparse”, while other observers capped the attendance for the opening night doubleheader at “no more than 5,000.” Without Beckham, the preseason tournament was not a big draw.
To me, the problem is one of expectations. The League touts this tournament as a “marquee” event that “crowns the best in the region.” Instead, it is a series of warm-up games for teams preparing for next season. While the Asian leagues certainly sent top teams, the matches are only an exhibition. Claiming that the tournament “was embraced by soccer fans worldwide” makes the League sound foolish and slimy. Celebrate the event for what it is, not what it will never become.
5,000 people attending a preseason soccer game in dreary L.A. weather is actually quite an accomplishment. The games are televised on FSC, attract nice sponsors like JAL and provide a great opportunity to bring Asian soccer to the States while introducing MLS to fans of the Asian Leagues. As a preseason event, the the tournament is a great idea. However, the League risks alienating fans by couching the games as anything more than an exhibition. Seattle in 2010???