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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


TANGENTS

The Sound of Silence

Written by on January 6, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Posted in MLS

There is a line from the Paul Simon song “Gumboots” that goes-

“You don’t feel you could love me but I feel you could” that expresses the optimism of a suitor hoping to change the heart of the object of his affections.

Major League Soccer fans in North America seem to have the same optimistic attitude toward the rest of their sporting brethren.

“If the local media coverage was just that little bit better then the game would really take off here” should probably be engraved on the side of every soccer specific stadium in the League, and soccer writer Duane Rollins makes similar points here with regard to the Canadian media specifically, but we know that the issue is equally contentious south of the border.

The problem with this argument though is that it puts the horse in front of the cart; soccer doesn’t lack popularity because of lack of coverage, the lack of coverage is because soccer (domestically at least) just isn’t that popular.

Case in point was the effort to promote the NFL in the UK in the 1980’s. The hype was enormous, the Chicago Bears seemed to be everywhere and pundits were confidently predicting that the game would establish itself as equal to, or even bigger than, soccer in the coming years.

Scroll forward to the present day and the NFL is reduced to one game a season in London that fans of the game love but the rest of the population pays no attention to whatsoever, not unlike the current situation for MLS.

TV coverage alone can’t make a nation fall in love with something (Piers Morgan is a good example of this).

For anybody living in Canada the main argument against this view however is the World Junior Hockey Championships which TSN (effectively the Canadian version of ESPN) hyped to such an extent that it has now become a national obsession at the start of every year. 

The logic therefore seems to go that if a sports network can do that for Junior Hockey then why can’t it do it for soccer? Which completely forgets the fact that World Junior Hockey tournament is, you know, “hockey” which is Canada’s national sport/religion.

The public love it because it is an exciting and vaguely nationalistic version of their favourite sport, not because it was on TV a lot.

Every soccer fan wants better coverage of the game, but that better coverage will come as the game grows domestically and broadcasters (and advertisers) realise that there is a market for the game  out there and, besides, if we spend all our time blaming the “media” we just end up sounding like the sporting equivalent of Sarah Palin, and nobody wants that do they?

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4 responses to “The Sound of Silence”

  1. Ed Gomes says:

    I agree. I’ve always said that soccer is hugely popular in the states. The fact that the MLS isn’t flourishing revenue or TV wise, doesn’t retract from the popularity of the game. The fact is that fans watch plenty of games from abroad. In this day in age we are able to watch almost any league and team that we want. Why settle for an inferior product, when you could quite possibly watch the best.
    You can even look at the NFL as an example. It’s a national not regional sport. Green Bay might be the smallest market, but it’s nowhere near the least followed even when they stunk. Thats because they excelled at one point. Here in the Northeast, we always get extra games which usually is the better games of the week. There are many Cowboy, Steeler and even Dolphin fans in the Tri-State area. They were all teams that excelled and were on TV a ton. By the way, that following doesn’t detract from the Giants and Jets (to a lesser degree) fandom.
    What I’m trying to say is that there’s a reason why youngsters worldwide wanted to play for Real Madrid. Very much in the same way they may now also choose Barcelona or Man United. Even when TV coverage might have been nonexistent, Real was still the team that everyone knew .
    The Galaxy is probably that team for the MLS now, just in a much smaller scale.

    The one thing that I will say is that soccer coverage in the US needs to get better. Not just at the local level, but even coverage of leagues abroad. FSC trumps itself as a leader, but stupid mistakes are still made day in day out. As per example, a week doesn’t go by when the wrong crest/logo is put up for a team. This past week they were going over televised games and when the graphic came up for Sunderlands match, the Stoke crest was next to it. Kind of funny since Stokes crest says Stokes right on it. This happens all of the time. You can say ESPN makes the same mistakes, but they pull it immediately and fix it and the announcers acknowledge the mistake. You can also say that’s nitpicking and there’s bigger issues, but how about fixing those little things in order to get people not too dismiss the rest.

  2. Swampo says:

    Back in the 80s when I lived in the UK there was virtually zero audience for Cycling. Chanel 4 at the time started showing Tour de France and effectively created a large UK audience (and participants) for cycling. (I’m convinced this had a lot to do with Phil Ligget’s excellent commentary)

    Of course they also tried and failed to do the same thing with other sports (Kabaddi anyone ?)

    But, it’s not like we’re looking to the media to create an audience, just to acknowlede and cater to the sizable audience that already exists.

  3. Chris says:

    I disagree with the article. I don’t want to be Sarah Palin, and I don’t think I am about this. But it’s not either/or. The point that covering the sport more by itself won’t make it grow may be valid, but at the same time, more coverage can help. Fans and potential fans need good, easy-to-get coverage in all media.

    Consider a person who is on the verge of becoming a fan, a single individual act of “growing the game domestically”. Now suppose two scenarios, one where there is good coverage of the local team in the media that this person consumes (daily paper, radio show, TV, news websites, sports websites, etc.), and the other scenario is insufficient coverage. In the latter case, maybe this new, potential fan doesn’t have *quite* enough interest to hunt down specific websites and Twitter accounts to feed their new fandom. Maybe it’s not worth the trouble. Fan lost.

    Or back to the first scenario, they see the score from last night’s match on their local news’ website. They read the match report, they see next week’s home game, they decide to go, they love it, they become a fan forever and ever, amen. Fan gained. Domestic game grown.

    Okay, of course that’s not how it always plays out. But it’s not either or. The game grows, the coverage grows, vice versa. Lobbying for more and better coverage is perfectly legitimate position. It won’t cause magic to happen, but it will help.

  4. Russell Berrisford says:

    Swampo- not sure that there wasn’t an audience for cycling so much as it wasn’t catered to but it’s a fair point, (incidentally did you know that Kabaddi has recently been hit by a huge performance enhancing drug scandal?).

    Chris-I certainly don’t object to better (or more) coverage but think that the importance of it is overstated in growing the game.

    Broadcasters won’t increase and improve domestic soccer coverage purely for the good of the game, they will increase and improve coverage because there is a demand for it.

    Maybe a few will be turned to the game by chancing on a media story or a scoreline but I doubt that those numbers are very high (although I’m willing to be proved wrong on that).

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