Soccer – The USA’s Next Major Sport (Ever Hear That One Before?)
The World Cup reaches its conclusion this weekend. For the small-but-growing group of Football fans, this is bittersweet. The past few weeks have been home to some awesome moments, some of which involved our gritty national team. Sadly, not only are we losing the long-distance goals of the Dutch, or the highly-entertaining Univision commentary, but also the Off the Ball antics of Michael Davies and Roger Bennett – great Americans, greater Britons, and good friends of the blog.
Not to beat a dead cliché, but it does appear that soccer, if not “the”, is definitely “a” sport of the future in the US. The ratings – which do not incorporate the throngs of Yanks packed into pubs – have been solid, and the local professional league (Major League Soccer) will reap the benefits with greater attendance and profitability. We’ve heard that all before, though. Right?
What if, by some crazy chance, soccer does leap to the status of a Major sport in the US? Previous soothsayers made similar predictions, but that was in an America of far less diversity and tolerance. Immigrant communities are bringing their love of the game with them (as MLS accountants are discovering). If the National Basketball Association and National Football league both fail to reconcile the differences between billionaire owners and millionaire players (as Bill Simmons predicts), there will be a World Cup-sized hole in the sports schedule come 2011. The Jabulani-shaped planets have never seen such a fortuitous alignment.
Which leads to the question that no one is asking: how does this affect the current world soccer landscape? If the MLS becomes a legitimate league, offering enough compensation to pull youths away from high school traditions like Yankee-Rules football? In the event that the talent pool of Americans increases, advancing the quality of play in the MLS, this would certainly grab the attention of European stars, a la the NBA and NHL. Meaning that a stronger MLS might seriously affect the quality of play in the current premiere soccer leagues (English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy). Would Americans, already abundant in music/film/basketball stars, really want to be responsible for the theft of a significant piece of the culture of these wonderful countries (yes)?
That’s right. Yes. I am all for a Champions’ League battle (where the best teams from all leagues battle it out for world supremacy) featuring Real Madrid vs Real Salt Lake (yeah, I find the name pretty funny, too). Manchester United vs DC United! Liverpool vs the Chicago Fire! Which brings me to LeBron James (Terrible segue, I know – but trust me).
Yesterday, a small-but-dedicated collection of NBA obsessives were treated to a 60 minute infomercial for a questionable for-profit online “college” that may or may not receive taxpayer dollars for tuition for their “courses” (answer – they do). If you focused with enough force, you’d have seen the other message from the evening about the reigning Most Valuable Player in the NBA, as he announced his intentions to join two fellow Olympians in Miami to play for a team with a terribly-unimaginative name. Much fervor resulted and virtual ink digitally-spilled (can somebody clean up all these ones and zeros, please?) LeBron James, often referred to as LBJ (which I totally support – anything to get the kids to hit Wikipedia for a little inadvertent history lesson), decided against a maximum-allowable salary with his hometown team, instead choosing to receive less money to reunite with two teammates from the US National Men’s Basketball Team. As the NBA becomes more and more international, he selected a locale that will allow him to recast the American energy from the Olympics. Imagine if this was soccer – not only would bids on his services emanate from New York and Chicago, but you’d have Manchester, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich in the mix, too? Losing a player from your team is one thing, but what if he left the league altogether?
If soccer continues its American trajectory, we’ll see more examples like David Beckham coming to play with the LA Galaxy – except this time, the players will be in their prime.