Friday, April 02, 2010 |
Today I've been pondering the various issues surrounding the acceptance of MLS by American soccer fans, be it in terms of ticket sales, TV ratings, or general attention.
Rather than a completed thought or a theory that I'm infinitely confident in, I'm just going to throw an idea against the wall and see if any of it sticks. Seems to be just about the right amount of effort called for on a Friday.
For some reason, while considering why MLS struggles on television in relation to European products (the Premier League and Champions League, specifically) I thought of the character "Brooks" from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.. Brooks was the elderly inmate at Shawshank whose sudden parole was too much for a man so used to prison life after decades of incarceration. "Institutionalized" was the word used in the movie, and though that word specifically refers to people in prison, mental hospitals and the like, it's really just a more specific way to say "conditioned".
Brooks couldn't handle life on the outside because he was conditioned to the routine and structure of his life on the inside. Adjusting to something different was impossible.
Now bear with me as I work my way back to relating this to American soccer fans...
After fifteen years of being told that America's domestic soccer league is sub-par, terrible to watch, or outright crap, I wonder if it's even possible for the league to convert all of those American-soccer-fans-but-not-MLS-fans as they've recently committed themselves to doing. If soccer fans living in the United States have been conditioned to believe that MLS isn't worth their time, would improving the quality of play, creating better atmospheres, bringing in name players, or any number of other changes have any effect?
This relates directly back to my "popular perception is reality" default setting when viewing the world of American soccer; it often doesn't matter what's true, just what a predominance of people parrot over and over until the statement is accepted as fact. Sometimes the popular perception is accurate, as in "Kenny Cooper isn't very good" (sorry, couldn't help myself). Other times, it's based purely on an illogical conclusion spawned from nothing but opinion, and will not change until there is a preponderance of direct evidence that it's flat out wrong (i.e., "Landon Donovan can't succeed in England").
In this case, the perception is, and has been for a very long time, that MLS is so poor it's not worth watching. Fans of European teams or leagues will wake up at 7 AM (or earlier) to watch games originating from England or Spain, but simply refuse to turn on an MLS game being shown in primetime on a Thursday or Saturday night. Is that a changeable situation, or have these fans been so conditioned to rejecting MLS that they can never be swayed to give the league a chance?
You would have a hard time convincing me that MLS isn't worthy of a little time for the average soccer fan; unless you're a soccer junkie who watches hours upon hours of Euro-style footie and just can't be bothered to give the league your attention, there's enjoyment to be taken from MLS.
It's probable that all of this just identifies one element of the inferiority complex that comes with the American soccer mindset, and that all I've really done is rehashed a bit of fairly common knowledge that Americans prefer the best.
Brooks left prison after years of being told when to eat, sleep, shower, etc., and couldn't change himself to accept freedom. In my terribly imperfect analogy, Euro-focused soccer fans are Brooks, and might never be able to accept that MLS is a decent, competitive, and engaging league that is worth two hours of their time a week, no matter what the league or those of us who love it do to convince them.
Again, I hesitate to firmly state my belief in the theory, I just thought I'd throw it out there.