Bringing the Fans to MLS: The Soccer Hater

Still on the road…so here is the next part in our 2009 “Bringing the Fans” series.  This post looks at the “soccer hater” and asks whether they are a desirable target audience for MLS.  Did the World Cup change some minds?  We should be back posting live Monday morning.  The next part in this series should run tomorrow…internet access permitting. Here is the post in full:

“Soccer is a girl’s game”  “There are no goals, it is boring” “It will never succeed”  “Why do they roll around on the ground all the time”

All soccer fans have heard these statements.  We all know people who feel this way about the “beautiful game”.  This is part four of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here and part III here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

Should MLS attempt to bring “soccer haters” to the game?  Are they worth converting?  During our interviews, the sentiments set forth at the top of this page were repeated over and over.  Most of the people who fit in this category would rather watch anything other than soccer.  They are annoyed that ESPN even bothers to carry the games and cannot believe that the game gets “so much attention.”  Most think it is a kids’ game or sport for girls.  They decry the lack of content, lack of scoring and lack of commercials.

Yet, among the people we spoke with, there were a couple of passionate MLS supporters that say they started as soccer haters.   All remember getting dragged to a soccer event and having a surprisingly good time.  All of these converts are more dedicated to their local MLS side than many season ticket holders.

However, these folks are the significant minority.  Most of these soccer haters detest the game and have no inclination to give it a chance.  Overwhelmingly, these folks describe the NFL as their favorite sport.  They typically like sports radio and turn it off if there is a soccer conversation.  They told me they believe just about every negative soccer stereotype, and many related that they disliked the guys that played soccer in high school or college.  They don’t want to be “won over” or sold the game.

So the question is, should MLS try?  Is it worth devoting marketing dollars and efforts to convince these potential fans to come to MLS?

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10 Responses

  1. Not worth it at this time. Haters are gonna keep hating. Keep building around those that are interested. Early in MLS there was a push for suburban families, now it is the urban hardcore 20-35 year old male fan. Continue to build both the hardcore fanbase and the family fanbase. Yes the two can be done at the same time and should be. Today’s suburban child might be tomorrows hardcore fan.

    Also, it may be that many NFL fans will never care about soccer. Contrary to popular opinion, not all NFL fans like NASCAR. I like the NFL, but I don’t watch NASCAR, and probably never will. Thats fine. There are many sports in this country. Just continue to focus on those that are interested, and give them the best product you can. “If you build it they will come.”

  2. Honestly, if the MLS continues to gain young supporters they will be fine. They’ve got to look at the big picture here. It’s about creating a sustainable fan base. If MLS would come to somewhat of a regular schedule that can be televised regularly on something more widely distributed than FSC they’d casually gain a few. I used to watch hockey all the time when it was on NBC regularly (I think that’s the right station) and I became an avidly-watching fan out of it.

  3. No, no they should not. The soccer hater is like the buffalo of the 19th century. They used to roam this country in great herds but now there are only a few stout members left. Think about their power over the last twenty years and see how it has waned. Twenty-years ago they told us that, “Soccer will never catch on in this country, because no one cares about soccer!” Then it was, “Well soccer has a tiny minority of fans but the majority of Americans will never give a damn!” Ten years ago soccer became a “niche sport”. Finally, we got to this last World Cup and the excuse was, “Well, what do you expect, Americans will watch anything that an American team is in”. This excuse fails because remember, “No one will ever watch soccer” was what they said with no conditions. They did not say well “soccer and the WC will be big only if the US is good” The next generations of sports people are coming and we have seen that while they might not be soccer fans they have grown up with the game and do not see the “threat” that the older generations seem to see. Forget the soccer hater, there time is coming to the end, it is the Euro-snob, that MLS needs to come to their senses to succeed.
    p.s. Love the site.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jordan Smith, Ben Berger. Ben Berger said: Here is the next entry in our multi-part "bringing the fans" series. Should MLS court "soccer haters" http://goo.gl/ieMJI […]

  5. Who cares what soccer haters think. You can’t change people. They are either open to something or they are not.

  6. Reading this reminds me of the guy who was watching a baseball game at a bar in Brooklym while I was trying to watch a World Cup match in 2006. After he had made repeated attempts to talk to me, I finally turned to him after he said that soccer was too slow for him – not enough scoring. I asked him what inning his game was in (8th) and what the score was (0-0). Then I simply nodded and went back to watching my game. He never said a thing to me after that.

    But the bottom line is that we own their childen. Many kids have succeeded in converting their parents. But in time, those kids are going to have families, and then we’ll own a more significant share of the population. And that just means it’s going to be a lot harder for old schoolers like us to get tickets to the big games!

  7. Jim Rome may be the biggest douche bag ever in the history of douche baggery, and not just for his opinions on soccer. Any guy still sportin’ the goat is a complete tool. Someone kick this guy in the teeth. Imagine going to a bar with that guy?

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  10. Exactly what do you consider this scenario with my guy? Essentially we were at a frozen yogurt location and I inquired about a discount coupon and they didn’t take it so I asked if they took vouchers and if they generally was available in the mail.

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