Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Idea So Ridiculous It Might Work

Soccer

(Image Credit: ndesign-studio.com)

Today, during my lunch break at work, I stumbled across this William Rhoden article in the New York Times, talking about soccer star Thierry Henry and his infatuation and love of America.

Who knew the French had it in them?

Henry, a 31 year old French striker who plays for FC Barcelona, spent time in the article joking about the difference between his fútbol and our football. He's convinced that we've got it wrong, because in American football, we don't use our feet.

However, he did not come across as a brash foreign soccer star. Instead, he showed his love for American football, specifically the New York Giants and Lawrence Taylor. He also did not hesitate to bring up American sporting icons Babe Ruth, Magic Johnson, and even Pistol Pete Maravich in discussing why his football has not had the same success as our football and other sports.

And that was the main premise of the article: Could Thierry Henry be the catalyst (à la Pelé) to bring professional soccer into the forefront of American sport and entertainment?

It was a role that was supposed to be filled by David Beckham and that has clearly not worked. And soccer, at least professionally, is still a second tier sport in the eyes of many Americans.

Thierry professes a love of American culture in the article and even expresses (in regards to playing in America), "It’s a wish, and I hope that one day it can be done. But I’m enjoying my time in Barcelona, I absolutely love it, but I wish that one day, it can be possible."

I began to think about this, and I really think that soccer can become a major professional sport in the US. However, no one man could bring soccer into the foreground of American culture. It seems highly unlikely in this day and age that one human could ever propel an entire sport.

So, I came to the conclusion that the only possible way for America to truly embrace soccer is to have a single American team, capable of playing against the top European teams.

I recognize this is a pretty radical idea, and I know what you're probably thinking - Impossible! That's ludicrous. No one would care. Have you heard of the MLS? It sucks. No one would watch. No players would play for us. The travel would not work. Etc. Etc. Etc.

However, I truly believe that the concept is not so far fetched.

Think about it.

First, the team would need an eccentric owner and a place to play. One name immediately catapulted to the top of the list: Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban.

Billionaire? Check. Famous? Check. Fan of the sport? Check. Stadium? Check - well, at least maybe.

I have a feeling fellow Texan Jerry Jones might let Mark and his fútbol players use the new 100,000 seat, $1.2 Billion Cowboy Stadium as their home turf.

With the city of Dallas having a strong love of sports, a large Latino population, an even larger general population, and location in the Central Time Zone (this would be crucial, so everyone in America could watch), the setting could not be more ideal.

If it were on the West Coast (Los Angeles came to mind), it would be too far behind the East Coast, and more importantly Europe. If it were on the East Coast (New York would be great too), prime time games would be played as people on the West sat in rush hour traffic. A game at 7:30pm in Dallas would be 8:30pm in the East and 5:30pm in the West. People would watch.

With the owner and the stadium out of the way, the next thing to address would be the roster.

The main reason professional soccer has not become an epidemic like the other major sports in America is because the quality of American professional soccer has quite frankly been awful. Americans only want to watch the best players playing the best game. It's why the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, and NBA Playoffs get the best ratings (and because of gambling - er...just kidding).

Watching a bunch of C-Level MLS players (sorry guys) simply does not excite Americans. However, if they had the opportunity to see top level competition, they'd show up in droves.

This was no more evident than when over 420,000 people went to 7 games involving premier European teams in the United States this summer in the World Football Challenge (including the friendly between Barcelona and the LA Galaxy that saw 93,000 people in the Rose Bowl). Also the US National Team garnered unbelievable support as they took down Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup and nearly pulled off the upset against Brazil in the finals.

With Mark Cuban at the helm of the team, he'd be willing to shell out hundreds of millions to bring some of the best talent across the pond. If the team was able to secure a deal with one of Europe's upper echelon leagues and become a member, the players would see it as a practical alternative.

Players like the aforementioned Henry and Beckham, as well as Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko (rumored to have an interest to playing in America) would headline the squad. Although they would all be past the apex of their careers, they would still bring valuable name recognition and skill. Recruit star Americans Tim Howard in goal and Landon Donovan in the midfield, and then there are 5 bona fide stars to market.

Add a Mexican star like Giovanni Dos Santos and then there would be two countries that followed the team religiously. Incorporate some reliable starters and reserves and this team would be able to at least compete with some of the better European teams.

If the team had a large number of the best Americans playing on it as well, it would have "hometown feel" to it. Sign American players like DaMarcus Beasley, Brian Ching, Sacha Kljestan, and Ricardo Clark, and the team would look a lot like America.

It would be diverse, it would have players of all skin colors and backgrounds, and most importantly, every person would have their favorite player. This would be the way for the team to form an attachment to the general American populace, especially the youth.

If the youth of America believed that it was "cool" to play soccer because they had stars to emulate that also looked like them, the best American athletes would begin to play it more, and the quality of the American soccer player would improve.

Instead of kids pretending to be LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Derrick Jeter, or Sidney Crosby in their backyards, they might try and pull off their best Jozy Alitidore impression.

It would give rise to an entire generation of youth that had players that they wanted to grow up and be, and a team that they wanted to play for. Ask any male 35 and under and they probably dreamed of playing on the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, at least one time in their life. The same cannot be said about the Houston Dynamo or any other team in the MLS.

The success of the team would ultimately have to be driven by the youth. As Tupac once said in Keep Ya Head Up "They say there ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is / It ain't no hope for the future."

Little did Shakur know that his words could also be used to profile the downfall of the "Great American Pastime." Because baseball did not cater to a younger generation and televised its World Series games at 9:30pm Eastern, their market share has almost become a nonentity to people under the age of 25. The popularity of baseball will begin to precipitously decline in the next 15-20 years. (But that's for a different post).

If this team were to exist, it could not afford to make the same mistake that baseball did, and would have to make a concerted effort to cater to people born after 1998.

Also if the team was able to work a deal with ABC/ESPN in which all of their games would be nationally televised, and their coverage would be abundant, they would eventually force themselves into the vernacular of the everyday sports language. There would be commercials for the games during Desperate Housewives, they would be a lead story on SportsCenter, and their information would be proliferated on blogs throughout the world.

There is already a solid base of professional soccer fans in the United States, and they would carry the team initially. Although they may have loyalties to their respective club teams (Liverpool, Chelsea, AC Milan, and Manchester United all come to mind), they would at least watch the new American team.

They would talk about it at work or at lunch or in the classroom, and then the outsiders who were not watching, would begin to watch the games in an effort to not be left out. Soccer is a beautiful game when it is played well, especially on HD, and the followers would grow as they watched more games. Slowly but surely the viewers and fans of the team would increase, until it became a national phenomenon and the growth became exponential.

If the team had an owner like Mark Cuban, a stadium like current Cowboys one, a roster with recognizable top pros (albeit older ones), a presence of American players, a deal with a top European league (Premiership is a possibility), and a network TV deal, simply put, it would succeed.

Those are of course a ton of variables, but if they all somehow were able to come together, there would be a viable professional soccer team in the United States.

European teams might have an aversion to traveling all the way over to the United States to play a single game, but with the luxury of today's airlines, they could certainly manage. Even the NFL is going global with a match up of the Patriots and Buccaneers in London on October 25th of this year. Travel would be a minor issue.

I'm also sure that I'm missing a ton of other objections (travel can surely not be the only one), so if you can think of one, let me know in the comments section. I know the ridiculousness of the proposition, however I think it is certainly feasible to believe that it could happen.

And at least for the time being, I think that this could be the impetus needed to grow professional soccer in American, and it could be a pretty effective.

The only thing left to do is come up with the name.

2 comments:

  1. good read little robby. I'm impressed with the facts and I'd imaged if the US had a team that could take the likes of a european club, abc/espn would cover it. few of our executives love them some futbol

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  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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