Americans simply don’t get a kick out of professional soccer

‘Fast’ Eddie Johnson was in town last night to get a feel for the New York scene and learn more about how we do things here. Eddie, you see, is our newest London employee and quite the amateur athlete: he plays cricket and soccer.

As we kicked around sports topics over a few drinks, Eddie inquired as to David Beckham’s impact on professional soccer in the States. I had to pause to recall that, indeed, the Euro soccer god with matinee idol looks was in fact toiling away for some American team.

That’s when I shook my head and told Eddie the sad truth about professional soccer here in the Colonies. Despite at least 25 years of all-out marketing, advertising and word-of-mouth, pro soccer has failed to take root in the States. Aside from a few avid fans (a la ice hockey), US pro soccer matches are primarily attended by ex-pats and foreign nationals. And why does this matter to soccer? Because America is the world’s largest market. Soccer could earn billions and billions in additional revenue if they could conquer the US market.

There are probably any number of sociological and psychological reasons why Americans have turned a cold shoulder to the sport. In my mind, though, it goes back to the product. For whatever reason we don’t find the product interesting. And when consumers don’t like a product or service, all the advertising and PR in the world can’t help.

So, Beckham can keep on bending it here in the States, but the only necks that will be bending to watch will be his fellow Brits and others from countries outside our borders.

8 thoughts on “Americans simply don’t get a kick out of professional soccer

  1. Soccer (and Hockey) translate very poorly on TV. That’s why both lag the other sports.
    As someone who played travel and intramural soccer during various times in my life and I have been to a few hockey games, both are excellent to watch while there – but via the TV, not so much.

  2. Well let’s look at it this way
    a normal NBA basketball game live broadcast has 2 quarter breaks, 1 half time break, time outs = commercial breaks (same goes for other American sports). Sports channel loves them, sports giants (nike, adidas) love them.
    For football (oh yes, soccer). 15 minutes half time break, and that’s it. The commercial value is not there.
    Secondly, football is not a high scoring game. The idea of watching a game for 90 minutes without seeing any goals is a turn off for an American Sports fan.
    David Beckham might make a difference because he has the commercial value. Passion is not the main factor for American sports, money is.

  3. Hey, guys! I have to say this! Millions of Ameircans are falling in love with the sport, and it’s because of the kids playing and the parents who are getting intrested.

  4. WithClue makes a great point about ad revenues, albeit with some egregious remarks about Rep’s age.
    And Rep’s right when he says it’s mostly ex-pats who continue to follow Beckham — although mostly in sheer disbelief that anyone would pay the kind of money the LA Galaxy did for him.
    But lest he think they’re the only ones watching: those millions of ex-pats have tens of millions of family members. This new generation is sharing its parents’ passion for the game and educating their friends. The passion in this group is building steadily.
    As for this particular ex-pat family, we’ll be seeing Beckham next month — even if it’s only because he’s playing against Chelsea, our ex-pat’s favorite team from England.

  5. Ed Repman is, as usual, completely wrong and I believe you are just slightly off the mark. I’ll give the Repster a pass given that he is “long in the tooth” and, accordingly his view of the popularity of the sport is based on dated concepts. Ed I agree that soccer is vastly more popular now than back in the days when your codger of a colleague laced them up. But, I don’t think that the popularity has transcended to big revenues in the US market for a different reason. Namely, the game itself doesn’t meet the requirements of the ingrained conventional wisdom of US Advertisers. That is, soccer is two-halves of non-stop (except when the overacting nancies fake injury in an attempt to illicit foul calls) action—no time-outs. How do you convince corporations run by geriatrics of the Reppy’s generation to spend their dollars on a sport that doesn’t allow for commercials? I don’t think the MLS bought Beckham to sell soccer to the US, I think they brought him in to sell the MLS (and given the following, perhaps American football) to the rest of the world. Running back Reggie Bush and Beckham recently joined forces to film a football themed commercial for Nike. ESPN had a few highlights of the shoot in yesterday’s “top ten plays”–it looked interesting and will help to spread the Beckham buzz—a bit—locally. The US is a generation or two away from the commercial feasibility of soccer locally. The world market however is huge and the MLS’ brining in one of its brightest international stars was a stroke of genius.

  6. I think you’re right when you say Americans don’t like the product, but that’s because the product is different in the US.
    While soccer (or football as the rest of the world calls it) is the same everywhere (22 men kicking a ball around a field) the product is much more than that – it’s about the affinity and passion the supporters have for their team. This aspect seems to be largly absent in MLS, hence the reason the game has never taken off as a proffesional sport. If you could trasfer the passion and support you get in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium to MLS then I think the problem could be solved, but I don’t reckon that will ever happen.

  7. It’s an interesting challenge that the game of soccer has in in our country. From the ages of 6-12, soccer is the most popular suburban sport in America. Even at the high school levels, the sport has bypassed football and some other ones in key regions within the US.
    Yet, it still hasn’t caught on at the pro level. I think that it just takes an awful lot for any new professional sport to compete with our traditions. But, I have to believe that at some point (largely because of how popular soccer now is with kids) that it will become more successful at the pro level.

  8. Why Americans aren’t more into the “world game,” is beyond me. I mean, it’s more fast-paced that football, and the men are better looking than baseball players (which, sadly, is a big draw for many female baseball fans). I agree that Beckham may not have the power to completely turnaround soccer’s image in the States. But, I do think he will help.
    And, I disagree about soccer’s audience. Aside from ex-pats and foreign nationals, there is a big and growing market of kids who play and their parents who’ve taken interest in the sport. It’s currently one of the most popular sports in junior high and high school. Many of those kids would love to see Beckham play! Hopefully once they do, they’ll notice a few other US players who are really making a mark on the sport (e.h. Landon Donovan, Eddie Gavin, DeMarcus Beasly, Eddie Pope, etc.).
    What the MLS needs is some good agencies–PR and advertising–to assess the market and figure out how to reach it. I’m a huge fan and I don’t always know when the games are on or who’s playing for which team (smaller-name soccer players are traded more often than baseball players).