Monday, January 15, 2007

On Becks, the MLS & Soccer in America

This past week the Los Angeles Galaxy announced the signing of David Beckham for $250 million. He's a celebrity-athlete on par with Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. His moving to the U.S. from Europe is reminiscent of Michael Jordan retiring from the NBA to give Major League Baseball a shot. So regardless of what folks say about cashing in, he merits credit for the boldness of the move. (Michael Jordan was bold for giving baseball a go - as legendary as he was in the NBA, when he tried unsuccessfully to make the Chicago White Sox roster, he transcended basketball & established himself as a sports legend beyond his game.)



Soccer stateside now has a much better chance of making SportsCenter highlights because of David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. This past week The Ticket 1310AM spent an entire segment talking about it. Never mind that the Morning Musers don't think Soccer has a snowball's chance of making it here with or without David Beckham - the point is that they discussed soccer for an entire segment during the NFL playoff season - they hadn't spoken of soccer since last summer's World Cup. ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" discussed soccer for an entire segment last week as well (also dissing its chances, but nevertheless spending airtime on the sport.)

That is all it will take to get the sport up an eschelon in America. If the NHL in the 90's was able to get folks excited about a bunch of Canucks, Russians & Fins all the way down in Miami, Dallas & Los Angeles, the MLS can get America to embrace pro soccer.

The arguments against Pro Soccer as a popular spectator sport here usually refer to the lack of scoring, "it's boring", the tie-results & the anonymity of its players. Here's Alexi Lalas, GM of the Galaxy speaking to the lack of personality.

ESPNsoccernet: You were always known as a showman, on and off the field. Who in MLS right now brings that type of excitement to the league? Is MLS lacking in that department?

AL: Hell yeah, it's lacking. For the most part, we've created a generation of players who are unwilling or unable to show any personality. At times it's mind-numbing. Somebody do something. Grow some Valderrama hair! Date a supermodel! Clint Dempsey isn't everyone's poster boy just 'cause he scored in the World Cup. He made a rap video and plays with that attitude he's got. It's great. Like it or not, controversy, rumor and speculation are good for the game, and we don't have enough of it. So, like I tell my players: Don't bore me. Have an opinion. Make me and everyone else interested in who you are as a player and person. Make an impression.

Baseball can certainly be boring - dismally so in August in Arlington. The NBA in October is boring. Arena League Football is boring period. Average Joes can't possibly relate to 300 lb. Pro Football linebackers or 7 ft. tall NBA centers the same way they can Soccer stars. What gets us talking about sports are the personalities. And David Beckham gives us an instantly recognizable global personality - European Sports shows will show highlights from Major League Soccer this season. Every local newsteam in America with a local MLS team will cover Beckham's road game in their town.

Women are paying attention now too. As much gossip press at Posh Spice gets, MLS is bound to sell a thousand more seats because of that alone.

When I was a kid, Dad took me to see Pelé play the Dallas Tornado. I will never forget that. And I still fondly recall our very own local Tornado - Kyle Rote, Jr., Kenny Cooper. Now that we have a fiscally solid soccer league firmly established in the US, it's the perfect time to start this kind of transatlantic player acquisition. It will put butts in seats, sell beer & programs & get the media talking soccer in non-World Cup years.

TV Notes: The NBA has its Inside Stuff show. Major League Baseball has This Week in Baseball. The NFL has for years had the groundbreaking NFL Films. No sport since pro football has gained so much ground because of great camera work & narration. Major League Soccer needs a weekly highlights show along the likes of these. It's possible to watch these kinds of reports online at ESPN.com and elsewhere. But clearly a weekly highlights show showing the best plays & interviewing the personalities would help people engage with the sport. Worldwide coverage could also be included in a segment. Five minutes to go around the world and see highlights from the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Spanish, Italian & Latin American leagues provides viewers with a taste of the global magnitude of the game.

One suggestion for Major League Soccer would be to engage the services of Paul Crowder, director of Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the NY Cosmos & editor of Dogtown & Z Boys & Riding Giants. The presentation of the game using slow-motion footage, great music & narration would do wonders for its popularity.




http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1576807,00.html