By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (Jun 29, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Let me start by saying that I love soccer. I think as sports go, this is an infatuation that I will probably take to the grave, much to the chagrin of my wife. We all have our vices. Sports being ingrained into the American culture, even its psyche, we all understand its appeal, the narrative of athleticism.
Given how much as an entertainment-starved nation we've established ourselves to be, the rise of the 24-hour sport networks has given us more of what we like. Sports, from professional to college, have grown up.
So too has soccer. As maturity goes, we are in the midst of a transformation. The culture of soccer isn't viewed as a questionable decision of your time. Its rise in popularity a result of many factors, be it Major League Soccer, the World Cup, or grainy videos of people cheering in reaction to a timely goal by a likable Galaxy midfielder.
Whatever the case maybe, the rise of professional soccer in the United States has also seen an increase in coverage. Some would go ahead and slot ‘appropriate’ in front of ‘increase,’ but that’s the problem with a truly global professional sport. There’s almost always a game, making the days when the TV listings on this site are empty a rarity.
A couple of weeks ago, we asked about the potential for too much soccer in our Corner feature. Though we all want to see the teams we care about on schedule, there has to be a point of saturation. Considering where we’ve come from – most of us old enough to remember when full games shown live were a rarity – it’s an odd position to be in. Yet here we are, legitimately asking when is there enough soccer coverage.
Regardless of ratings, the willingness for broadcasters to continue to spend on rights fees is enough of an indication that televising soccer in the USA is a viable business. So is promoting games featuring foreign teams.
As options go, we’re already in a summer cycle that’s a bombardment of available events in search of your time. Over-air coverage of the Champions League final led to World cup Qualifying, to Euro 2012, and now a run of major European clubs playing in the USA as we wait for the Olympics and the start of the European season and their qualifying cycle. Meanwhile, MLS took a brief break but remains an option among many.
Where does Major League Soccer fit in with all of this? It’s a good question. Professional soccer as mainstream entertainment in the USA was on hiatus for a while here, and the new found enthusiasm has a noticeable generation gap. There are still mainstream American sports pundits putting soccer in general, and MLS in particular, down. It shows their age, with the younger fans and more clued in older fans treating soccer like yet another showcase for pro sports.
Seeing MLS teams play world powers in football stadiums has helped. The League that once contracted teams now sells them at a profit. It could also be that the market was already there, but networks weren't privy to it and it lacked that focus. It could also be soccer's popularity is raised with every World Cup that passes. Networks need sports to cover. Though soccer remains a bet relative to the established American sports, it’s one with a regular track record of producing surprisingly high ratings.
Even though those ratings normally concern marquee events with established value, we’re now seeing attempts to capitalize on the soccer market across the board. Every single option under the sun now seems to have US television interest. It's a cornucopia of soccer, where no league or tournament seems too obscure to find an audience.
This isn't a problem in its entirety, it brings in attention to the sport, allowing it to obtain interest from those that maybe wouldn't give it a try otherwise. Exposure is always a good thing for a game that has been often set aside by the general population groomed on football, baseball, and basketball.
Yet, it has its dark side, especially considering how we would like to see the sport grow domestically. MLS is still in the growth stage when it comes to television. It’s a League with big dream aspirations of becoming one of the world’s best sooner than later, and that requires succeeding on television. The invasion of outside forces, mainly the teams of leagues with enough gravitas to pull in the sort of numbers MLS only wish it had, gives it one more barricade to hurdle over for the national spotlight. They've made some strides for sure. They now feature in those summer friendlies against big clubs rather than those clubs playing each other on American soil.
MLS has also figured out how to benefit from the summer tours with their marketing arm acting as promoter. All well and good, but it still crowds the market for the pro game every summer. Even considering the benefits, there’s still cause to wonder what the League could do with a summer on its own.
More from Dario Camacho: