Soccer: The next big thing?

houston-dynamoA recent article in the Houston Press regurgitated the “MLS is minor league and will never succeed” argument and (not surprisingly) drew some heated respones from both sides of argument.  While we typically focus on news and not opinion, the author, John Royal, actually took the time to support his opinions with data; so we thought we would respond.  Unfortunately Mr. Royal and the angry soccer fans who wrote to him are debating the wrong issue.

MLS will never be the NFL, MLB or NBA.  Billion dollar T.V.  deals, 10 million dollar player contracts and 70k person sellouts aren’t coming to MLS any time soon. But so what?  Soccer occupies a growing position in American sports.  An average of 16, 310 fans attended each MLS game last year (within 1k of the NHL and NBA), new stadiums have opened in each of the last few years and multiple TV deals have been announced.

At the same time, major companies like Microsoft and VW are spending millions to buy ad space on the front of MLS jerseys, multiple groups are willing to spend $40 million for the right to own an MLS franchise in the next round of expansion and stadiums are going up in numerous cities to support local MLS teams.  That is hardly “minor league.”

TVdeals with multiple networks are now part of the League landscape (in this day and age, is ABC/ESPN really worse than NBC?  really?)  Comparing a league younger than 15 with the likes of the NFL (and even the NHL) is silly. (even if the Seattle Sounders sold 50% more season tickets than the Mariners).   Also silly, is comparing MLS with minor league sports because of the same ownership group owns two teams (Does Mr. Royal recall when the MLB owned the Montreal Expos or that multiple NHL franchises are presently teetering on the edge of collapse?).

I agree with Mr.  Royal that soccer apologists have been  wrongly proclaming it the next big thing for decades.  Far too many soccer fans get angry when someone takes the other view.  But both Mr. Royal and supports of the beautiful game should consider the bigger picture.  The League is gaining in popularity and awareness on a level unprecedented in American sports history.  More importantly, for the first time in American history, soccer is relevant in the U.S. and fans have their own League and own teams to support.

To Mr. Royal, however, I conclude with this:  You say, “if the MLS teams can ever draw legit crowds for actual games against other MLS teams that don’t involve David Beckham, then I might be willing to listen to you talk about the great so-called soccer boom

The Houston Rockets are averaging 17,426 this season.  In 2008, the Dynamo averaged 17,752.