Skip to content

Stamping out stubborn myths of soccer in the United States

May 21, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT

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. Benoit Assou-Ekotto suspended for comments on Anelka quenelle gesture

    Sep 19, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

    Benoit-Assou-Ekotto-tweet-2932591

    Perhaps the investigation took a bit too long, but it seems many athletes did not understand the depths of their joke usage.

  2. Bastia’s Brandao gets six-month ban for headbutting PSG’s Thiago Motta

    Sep 19, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT

    _77681154_0aa4ee3d-419f-443e-9b75-25145bc61f73 Getty Images

    You can watch the video of the ‘premeditated’ act inside. Six months is fairly understandable, no?

  3. Euro 2020 semis, final to be played at Wembley Stadium

    Sep 19, 2014, 7:48 AM EDT

    Montenegro players Jovetic and Pavicevic train ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against England, at Wembley Stadium in west London Reuters

    The required capacity for the final was a minimum of 70,000 seats, which certainly helped England near the front of the pack.

  4. Mic check: Clint Dempsey takes the stage at FIFA15 event

    Sep 19, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 9.00.37 PM

    Win U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. Drop a few bars in New York on Thursday. You know: #JustClintDempseyThings.

  5. CCL: Two goals from Toni push Sporting Kansas City past Saprissa

    Sep 18, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    Sporting Kansas City logo

    Sporting took a big step toward getting out of Group 2 thanks to its Spanish winger.

  6. Sloppy USWNT 4-0 win over Mexico adds fuel to turf conversation fire

    Sep 18, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT

    photo (1)

    Awkward bounces made a disorganized El Tri look awful and the high-powered USWNT look pedestrian in a 4-0 decision on Thursday night.

  7. MLS’s new logo: Reddit (yes, Reddit) may have a way to solve the league’s new problem

    Sep 18, 2014, 9:22 PM EDT

    MLS_crest_club_colors

    Users decided to make the new art’s white space into a plus, ditching the high brow concept in favor of more appealing products.

  8. MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids

    Sep 18, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake Getty Images

    NBCSN’s first of three weekend broadcasts takes place tomorrow night at Rio Tinto Stadium.

  9. FA chairman: England “might well bid for” Euro 2028

    Sep 18, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT

    greg_dyke Getty Images

    It’s 14 years off, but The FA is still planning to make a push.

  10. Europe League roundup: Everton big winners at home; Spurs left with draw on the road

    Sep 18, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    seamus_coleman AP

    Roberto Martinez makes an impressive European debut, while Mauricio Pochettino sees him team go without a shot on target.

  11. It’s not too late for Major League Soccer to turn away from its new logo

    Sep 18, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT

    don_garber_mls_logo AP

    MLS has admitted failure before. Today’s new art may prove to be another idea the league should cast off.

  12. Premier League Power Rankings: Red Devils and Villans on the up

    Sep 18, 2014, 3:09 PM EDT

    Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    With Week four in the books, here’s how the PL teams stack up in our rankings of power.

  13. Reactions to “MLS Next” as North America’s top-flight launches rebrand

    Sep 18, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT

    MLS_crest_club_colors

    What are people saying about Major League Soccer’s new look?

  14. Arsene Wenger’s biggest regret is missing out on Cristiano Ronaldo

    Sep 18, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Wenger: “I was so close to signing Cristiano Ronaldo.”

  15. Auf Wiedersehen! Felix Magath out as Fulham boss after terrible tenure

    Sep 18, 2014, 1:09 PM EDT

    STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - MAY 03: Fulham manager Felix Magath reacts as his side are relegated following their defeat in the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Fulham at the Britannia Stadium on May 3, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England. Getty Images

    After just four wins from 20 games, Fulham’s owner has seen enough from Magath.

  16. Brendan Rodgers on Liverpool’s growing pains: “There’s no magic formula”

    Sep 18, 2014, 12:37 PM EDT

    There's nothing nice about watching your side squander a three goal lead to end up with a draw. Getty Images

    Rodgers’ side have had an up and down start to the season. Is it the sign of things to come?

  17. Europa League preview: Will Everton, Tottenham reach knockout stages?

    Sep 18, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT

    tim_howard Getty Images

    Here’s what lies in store for Everton and Tottenham as Thursday night soccer begins.

  18. Taking back time: FIFA says officials must return expensive watches

    Sep 18, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Brazil v Germany: Semi Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Parmigiani watches worth over $25,000 dished out by Brazilian federation to FIFA’s exec. members must be returned.

  19. Arsenal linked with three free agents, as defensive woes continue

    Sep 18, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT

    FC Lokomotiv Moscow v FC Zenit St. Petersburg - Premier League Getty Images

    Gunners need reinforcements in defense, so who are they making a move for?

  20. Ole Gunnar is gone: Solksjaer out as Cardiff City manager

    Sep 18, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT

    Blackburn Rovers v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    Norwegian boss let go after just 9 wins in 30 games in charge of the Bluebirds.

Featured video

Breaking down Man City vs. Chelsea