The U.S. beat Mexico in a friendly tonight 2-0. It’s an otherwise unremarkable event for a Wednesday night.
Except the George and Dragon Pub in Fremont was packed to the gills. Univ of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona had 63,000 people – I’d say mixed pretty half and half US/Mexico fans. And the game was on ESPN 2, not relegated to Fox Soccer or some other channel up north of Channel 400. Again, all of this for a friendly.
So when a bunch of smart tech guys sit in a bar with hundreds of people watching an inconsequential soccer match, the conversation always comes up – How do you make a pro soccer league work here?
I’ve purposely not commented on the Beckham signing. There are people who get paid lots of money to run financial analyses that say that was a good idea. There’s no mystery there. You can’t round up 250 Million smackers from smart, global marketers with a pitch of, "I have this idea…"
So a few people on different Web sites have thrown out interesting concepts about what will make soccer work here. This post will be continued for years, as more and more good thoughts get fleshed out. So here are some things I’ve heard from the man on the street:
1) Investment from NBA and MLB players – Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez are soccer fans. It’s easy to presume many others are as well. MLS, Division 1 and Division 2 teams are well within their capabilities for financial investment. Kobe Bryant’s Inner City Soccer Organization would bring crossover kids from basketball to soccer. It’s arbitrage for them. Buy a part of a team cheap, make the sport more popular, team increases in value.
2) More regionalization – The EPL works because every team can be reached by train. The European Professional League would not work. No one in Newcastle cares about Marseilles or Hamburg. The U.S. is just too big. MLS doesn’t need New York vs Salt Lake. It needs Salt Lake vs LA 1, LA 2, LA 3, LA 4, Denver, Seattle, San Fran, Oakland, San Jose, etc…You need separate regional leagues that come together in a more Champions League-like way every so often. It’s not a national TV show, it’s a regional one.
3) Become the preferred place for South American players – US Pro Soccer should not ever compete with the EPL and Serie A. It needs to feed them. But not with kids who play US college soccer. We need to bring up the best young South Americans, train them in 1st class facilities, and feed them to Europe.
4) More overlap with Mexican League – The short-term wins are with Hispanic speaking US residents and other international imports. Continue to build the rivalries between teams like Chivas and Real Salt Lake.
5) Radical idea: Blow up the NCAA soccer programs – I heard this from a drunk. But there’s no need for college soccer. Loses money for the University and dilutes the talent pool. Get the top players into these regional leagues. They can still go to school, but not play for the school.
6) A week of EPL games in East Coast Cities every year – It’s a fairly short flight. Why not set a week in the EPL schedule where you put togther all the crappy non-rivalries, and ship the games to the U.S? Try a few Spurs vs Bolton or Newcastle vs Fulham games in New York one year and just see what happens.
Good soccer in the U.S. will happen eventually. EPL-like soccer in the U.S. won’t. The continuing question is how do we replicate the 63,000 fans at a friendly into some sort of consistent soccer crowd?