Skip to content

Stamping out stubborn myths of soccer in the United States

May 21, 2012, 10:30 AM EST

NASL ball

About a week ago I shared a conference room with other journalists, cameramen and MLS commissioner Don Garber, who answered questions about the new stadium going up downtown and what it means to the professional game in the States.

In that room I found sad reminders that so many myths and stereotypes remain attached to the game – incorrect assumptions about professional soccer that stubbornly prevail.

Myth No. 1: That soccer still needs to “make it.”

Here’s a question straight from the 1992 journalists handbook: “When will soccer ‘make it?’ ” The thin query usually gets asked by a general news reporter or a newspaper columnist who doesn’t have sufficient depth of knowledge to ask a more pertinent question.

I always think the same thing: I’d like to query the questioner, “When will Thai food ‘make it’ here?’  You know, it’s not as big as Chinese food! It’s got to ‘make it.’ Right?

The reporter would probably say, “Well, it is what it is. What does it matter whether Thai food or Chinese food is bigger?”

Exactly.

It’s certainly fair if we want to discuss market share in the U.S. sports scene, or the competition for marketing dollars or strategies for cracking hard-to-reach consumer demographics, etc. But generally, the game is growing apace and doesn’t need to “make it.”  That’s just kind of silly.

Myth No. 2: The marketing model is still about selling to families

I suppose the soccer world is more insular than I sometimes understand.  People who follow the game understand how the professional game’s marketing strategies shifted so significantly about five years ago. It’s all about 20- and 30-somethings, about creating “real” fans. It’s about making the club matter, establishing a base of supporters who truly care about club, who rejoice at wins and sulk forlornly at setbacks.

It’s hasn’t been about suburban families looking for something to do on a Saturday night for a few years now – not in most markets, anyway.

But I forget that a substantial number of U.S. consumers don’t live in MLS markets – so we’ll need more time to kill off those old school beliefs about the tired marketing models. Because the questions about families and suburbs and pro soccer are still out there.

Myth No. 3: That professional soccer’s success and acceptance of the game at a greater level are inextricably linked.

Two words: they aren’t.

Major League Soccer is the game’s most visible property, so I get this one, that pro soccer is frequently linked to the development of the game at a broader level.

I get it, but that doesn’t make it any less incorrect.

Soccer as a game is what it is. It’s a popular activity, a great sport for kids, a staple of many ethnic communities, a sport with burgeoning awareness at international level, etc.

Now, “professional soccer” still has scads of room to grow – but that’s a different matter altogether. “Soccer” as a sport has ample societal acceptance here. (Who really cares if a few older white guys with a certain media influence still want to bluster about a “boring” game; there were more of them 10 years ago, there will be even fewer of them in 10 years to come. Believe me on this one.)

“Soccer” is not going away in the United States – no matter how fast or slow the game develops at professional level.

I suppose, all things considered, I should be happy that old guard general sports columnists and pretty news anchors don’t still ask if we should widen the doggone goals in order to promote greater American acceptance? I do believe, at very least, that we’ve finally killed off that one.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Marco Reus is out for rest of 2014 with torn ankle ligament

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:19 AM EST

    Reus AP

    After missing the World Cup while rehabbing a serious ankle injury, Marco Reus is faced with yet another long road back.

  2. Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool (Lineups)

    Nov 23, 2014, 7:48 AM EST

    Lambert Getty Images

    With Daniel Sturridge shelved for weeks and Mario Balotelli unable to get past a groin knock, Liverpool turns to Rickie Lambert to produce goals at Selhurst Park.

  3. Milan derby: Return of Roberto Mancini sets the stage for classic Serie A rivalry

    Nov 22, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

    esteban_cambiasso Getty Images

    On Sunday, AC Milan will play host to rivals Inter Milan in “derby della Madonnina”, and Roberto Mancini is back.

  4. Tim Cahill thinks Red Bulls are plainly ‘better’ than New England Revolution

    Nov 22, 2014, 9:47 PM EST

    Tim Cahill 2

    New York Red Bulls’ Designated Player Tim Cahill is far from doubting his team’s capabilities against the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday.

  5. Jose Mourinho apologizes for criticizing supporters, grateful for Blues’ triumph over West Brom

    Nov 22, 2014, 7:12 PM EST

    Chelsea FC v FC Schalke 04 - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho apologized to supporters for criticizing the stadium atmosphere, while praising his team’s play in a 2-0 blanking of West Brom.

  6. Arsene Wenger on loss to Manchester United: ‘We dominated 80 percent of the time’

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EST

    Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    His squad controlling possession and gathering a fair amount of chances on goal, Arsene Wenger believes his side deserved a better result against Manchester United.

  7. Premier League Sunday preview: Liverpool, Spurs take to road to face fellow strugglers Palace, Hull

    Nov 22, 2014, 5:03 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    One game is a rematch of the 3-3 draw that left Luis Suarez in tears, but both Palace and Liverpool have much bigger things to worry about.

  8. Bundesliga roundup: Gotze, Lewandowski lead Bayern rout; Reus hurt in BVB draw

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:45 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Elsewhere, USMNT defenders Timmy Chandler (right) and John Anthony Brooks picked up wins in 90 minutes each for their clubs.

  9. Alan Pardew, Newcastle organization wishing the best for Ryan Taylor’s recovery

    Nov 22, 2014, 4:25 PM EST

    alan_pardew Getty Images

    Despite an wonderful 1-0 result over QPR to keep their winning run alive, Alan Pardew feels the pain of Ryan Taylor’s sudden injury.

  10. “Always annoyed” Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho: “At halftime it should be four or five nil”

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:38 PM EST

    Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    This season, he has all his players and no excuses. So The Special One is a little ticked off that his Blues aren’t pouring forth goals to match their dominant play.

  11. Alan Irvine calls Costa goal offside, bright spot was spectacular Ben Foster

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    alan_irvine Getty Images

    Irvine: “We actually went a goal down to a goal which I thought was offside and that makes life very difficult here.”

  12. Marquee win proves van Gaal’s Manchester United on the right track

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:32 PM EST

    Van Gaal was disappointed his team couldn't hand Chelsea their first defeat of the season. Getty Images

    Red Devils surge to victory away at Arsenal, as LVG’s masterplan is taking shape.

  13. MUST-WATCH: Lionel Messi ties La Liga goals record with fitting free kick

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:51 PM EST

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-SEVILLA Getty Images

    And there’s still time Saturday to make the record his own, as the game is just at halftime.

  14. Three things we learned from Manchester United’s big win at Arsenal

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:34 PM EST

    Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League

    What did we learn from United’s big win at the Emirates? Plenty. But here’s three things.

  15. Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United: Too little too late for Giroud and the chance-squandering Gunners

    Nov 22, 2014, 2:28 PM EST

    Rooney bagged what turned out to be the game-winner as United go fourth. Getty Images

    A testy affair that could’ve gotten Jack Wilshere a red card instead got him injured, and Arsenal had no finish at the Emirates.

Featured video

Week 12: PL Saturday recap