One of the satisfying aspects of writing this blog is finding out what sorts of things elicit reactions from people. I thought that casting soccer in a negative light would lure a few roaches from under the cabinet. Some things are just too easy. Soccer fans are extremely self-protective, and when their game is under attack they rush to its defense. One reader encouraged me to contract a stomach virus and choke on my own vomit. Thanks for reading!
Actually, it was not only an essay questioning the viability of soccer in America; it was also the damnation of spending taxpayer dollars on a sports arena. Academic economists have not found statistically significant relationships between various measures of economic growth and stadium construction, in spite of what pro-sports politicians like Ed Rendell would have you believe. The greater consequence is called the Substitution Effect, where consumer dollars are transferred from one activity to another, so the net effect of anything new is negated by the negative effect on the other with the benefit being zero. Consumers have only so much money to spend.
Of course, soccer is a third-world sport in America, and the other theme of the essay was to point out that there have been several vain attempts to thrust it into our daily lives, the latest of which was the Beckham invasion of Los Angeles, which turned out to be more pomp than circumstance. At its best, Major League Soccer (MLS) is a sideshow and alternative programming for ESPN during down times for American football and baseball. It makes 236,000 viewers very happy. That’s what the analogy at the end of yesterday’s essay was about, if anyone cared to try to grasp its meaning. But I see that subtlety is lost on some people.
The "raucous sellout crowds" that they promise.will last only as long as the novelty of pro soccer in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, in other areas of America, the novelty has begun to wear off:
According to the Sports Business Journal, last season MLS suffered its first decline in average regular-season attendance and television viewership on ESPN2 in three years. Half the teams in the league saw a decline in average attendance in 2008, causing the league’s average attendance to fall by 1.8 percent, or to 16,459 a game. MLS officials contend that the Kansas City Wizards’ decision to play in a 10,385-seat stadium played a role in that fall, but excluding Kansas City from both years still results in a drop in attendance for 2008.
In a time when the Arena Football League saw fit to close down operations for a year, one could reasonably expect MLS to suffer some of the same economic effects.
In yesterday's comments, BryanSoB (Sons of Ben - thought I didn't know that, didn't you?) offered the tired argument of the actual time spent in activity for various sports. I know there’s huddle time and standing around, but there is also a thing called scoring. Those 0-0 soccer games can have all the movement in the world, but if the ball doesn’t move in to the net once in a while, the charm is lost. There is also a fair amount of time where they just kick the ball back and forth across the field. That's exciting. And those World Cup games where only the referee knows how much time is left in the game are ridiculous. What other sport hides its length from the fans?
Mark Dunfree wants me to promise to write a retraction five years from now. A retraction on what? My opinion is that $47 million for a sports arena is a waste of taxpayer dollars. That goes for the Eagles and Phillies, too. Ed Snider spent his own money to build the Wachovia Center. If the team is a profitable venture, then why are taxpayers asked to fund it? Wal-Mart and Best Buy spend their own money to build stores, so why do sports franchises get taxpayer money? They both provide the same benefits.
None of you can dispute the fact that soccer struggles in America, and since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I have seen a few live soccer games in my lifetime. I used to go watch a pro team in New Jersey that plays its games in Ocean City whose name I won’t mention because I don’t want the Google hits from my nutty ex-girlfriend.
The games were mildly entertaining, but so are a lot of things. The thing that the ravenous soccer fans have to come to grips with is that Americans are a tough sell and the audience isn’t nearly big enough to justify taxpayer and bridge toll money on something that is just as likely to become a monument to Major League Soccer as it is a viable enterprise.
I am amazed at how angry some people become when you speak out against something they like. Go ahead and like soccer, pinball or animal porn if you want – just don’t ask me to pay for it. Moreover, you should ask yourself why you are so angry. Does everyone have to like what you like in order for you to get along with them? I offer up an opinion, and one guy wants me to contract stomach cancer. It's just a game, guys.
You can go on being angry defenders of your game if you wish, but I’m going to move on, and I suggest some of you relax and stop shooting the messenger. Bigger leagues than MLS have tried and failed in this country and no matter how loudly you shout the people will be the ultimate judge and jury. Bryan admitted that soccer is "a horrible TV sport." In case you haven't noticed, TV rules everything and if soccer can't make it on television, it isn't likely to make it on the field either. Hockey struggles in America too, because it isn't as good on TV as it is in person. 16,000 people in a stadium and no TV deal is going to cause soccer to die, plain and simple.
Soccer has a hard time selling advertising because the game never stops, but NASCAR never stops and they don't have any trouble with television. So, where is the problem?
It's the game. It's always the game, and you can't make it popular by screaming at people to like it. They either will or they won't, the same way NFL Europe failed.
If you build it, they might come, but you can't force them. But you didn't build it - I built it, a little at a time with every trip over the bridges, and the Pennsylvania taxpayers built it, and we don't like throwing our money around.