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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.


MLS and the World Media

Written by on November 24, 2011 | 10 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

If I were to be granted one wish for the 2012 Major League Soccer season it would be to see an end to that small group of North American fans who seem to be obsessed with the way that the League is covered in the foreign press.

Of course “foreign” largely means “British” in this case, and barely a week goes by without somebody somewhere bemoaning either the lack of coverage of MLS, or the fact that the coverage is in some way condescending.

One can only imagine the howls of outrage when on the Guardian’s “Football Weekly” podcast James Richardson informed listeners that they were “watching the MLS Cup Final so that you don’t have to”, providing one more wound in the death by a thousand cuts that MLS seems destined to endure at the hands of the media overseas.

Two points occur to me.

Firstly, it doesn’t matter. How people who are not interested in the League feel about it is of zero relevance to either the present or the future of soccer in North America. Very few sports fans in Europe care about the NFL or the NHL but that doesn’t diminish the importance of those Leagues to the domestic audience.

The future of MLS depends on growing the number of local fans who will attend games or watch them on TV, not on how it is covered in other countries.

Secondly, the MLS actually gets a ridiculously high ratio of coverage compared to other Leagues in the world.

Admittedly it may not be up their with Spain, Italy and Germany (and neither should it be) but compare the print or air time that MLS gets in comparison to the French, Dutch and Portuguese Leagues and suddenly it seems to be very well served indeed.

Go further and contrast its coverage to long-established Leagues in genuinely soccer loving countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico and it becomes clear that MLS isn’t being done a disservice by the British media, it is actually being covered to a degree that it’s quality doesn’t yet merit.

People will quote the “Beckham Factor” as being the prime mover in the amount of coverage received (French soccer is currently enjoying a mini “Joe Cole Factor”) but that doesn’t take away from the simple fact more British soccer fans could tell you that the “MLS” is the name of the league in North America than could tell you that “Superliga” is the league in Portugal or that Brazil hosts the “Brasileirão”.

In short, soccer in North America has never had it so good when it comes to international coverage, but you wouldn’t know that if you listened to some fans of the game here.

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10 responses to “MLS and the World Media”

  1. Ed Gomes says:

    I couldn’t agree more.
    What exactly has the MLS done to garner any world wide recognition. The Becks signing is the only thing.
    The MLS isn’t a seller’s league, so it’s not like their players or clubs are being mentioned. When Dempsy is mentioned, he’s said to be American. No MLS clubs is mentioned.
    Actually, the MLS is mentioned in a negative way. It’s only brought up when players say they are going there to retire. It’s where you got to die.
    All that means nothing. The US has more than enough people to carry the league. God knows that we have plenty of youngsters that play the game and are fans.
    We should be thrilled that we are able to follow and watch any league in the world. We get to watch really great football, and should be thrilled about that.

    In getting back to the MLS being mentioned, I have this battle with Portuguese fans all of the time. They are screaming for new rules that would require teams to start national players. I tried to explain how the Portuguese Superliga (I new what you meant when to mentioned it Russell) is a selling league. It’s great when our clubs and country gets mentioned when abroad games are shown. When David Luiz and Ramires names are said, Benfica is still mentioned along with them. They aren’t Portuguese.
    Once the MLS grows and produces players that are able to play abroad in significant leagues, then they will be mentioned. But, please stop rushing guys out. More than a few are lanquishing somewhere in the depths of Europe.
    Take it slow, and instead of being a graveyard, become a selling league, and watch your exposure grow.

    By the way, should MLS fans be worried about the exposure they are not getting in the US, before of the one abroad?

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    Ed- it is definitely true that MLS exposure here is more important than overseas, and I think that most fans know this, but there are a small few who don’t seem to get it.

    That’s an interesting point about clubs not being mentioned when talking about American players. I’m guessig that saying somebody played for Benfica has a certain cache, but saying somebody played for Houston Dynamo (for example) does not.

  3. Ed Gomes says:

    Thank you, and I do feel that Benfica has great history in Europe, so cache might be appropriate. But it’s that history that causes the mention of the club. Much like Sporting, Porto, Ajax, Anderlecht, etc… The MLS just doesn’t possess that kind of history. And actually, that’s ok. It takes time.
    I for couldn’t tell you who Dempsey played for in the MLS or even if he did. I looked it up and saw NE Revolution. He also played somewhere called Furman Paladins. I believe its a college in Greenville, SC?
    I do remember the LA Galaxy being mentioned here and there when Donovan came on for Everton, but I dare ask. Was that more due to Becks playing there? I say so.

  4. J says:

    Earlier on the same day as the MLS final, twice as many viewers in the United States watched the tape-delayed Chelsea vs Liverpool match (1.5 share) on FOX, which was heads-up with an NFL game on CBS.

    You can’t expect to get much domestic coverage when your numbers are that bad. Any foreign coverage is just gravy, and the old adage about there’s no such thing as bad press still largely holds true (save Penn State). David Beckham isn’t hurting anything.

    What’s mind-boggling to me is how you can fill stadiums, but can’t find viewers, even for the championship game.

    While I’m resting my turkey here, I flipped through the tv guide to see that there’s only a mediocre college football game on at 8pm EST. With virtually no competition – and the rest of the world’s soccer slate relatively blank – why aren’t we putting the MLS final on the evening of Thanksgiving?

  5. Soccerlogical says:

    I think we can all agree that Beckham added to MLS’ national media exposure objective.

    But when you have other factors like an indifferent Rafa Marquez and Freddy Ljungberg just collecting large paychecks plus verification that Prima Donna DPs like Beckham insisted on taking the captaincy away from MLS stalwarts like Lando and were major influences in the Galaxy/Gullit fiasco….

    I would be much more inclined to watch a league with more players like Najar, Juninho, Le Toux, C Davis, Hassli, Montero and Rosales than watching former “world class” players who are jaded and nearing retirement (i.e Rafa Marquez) who may or may not workout and join the MLS on their own terms.

    PS Let’s face it, the MLS final was a flop (in almost every way)… AGAIN.

    PPS I think MLS needs to give more of an advantage to teams with better overall record… maybe just a single playoff game with home field advantage to team with better overall record?

  6. Russell Berrisford says:

    J and SL- I think that the MLS Final is clearly failing to be the showpiece event that it needs to be.

    In a sense the play-off games are more important than the actual final, which is odd, and the post-season as a whole acts as an incentive for making the regular season more exciting, without the post-season itself actually mattering that much.

  7. Tim says:

    i’m thankful we even have a league…it could be worse…

  8. Ed Gomes says:

    Let’s be honest almost all finals are awful. Most of the exciting games in tourneys happen in teh quarters and semis. When teh final rolls around most teams play not to lose instead of winning it. And if one does attack like crazy, you can bet the other will park the bus.
    Remember, there have been plenty of Super Bowls that stunk. But that has become more about the event, so it doesn’t matter.
    The MLS doesn’t have that luxury.

    I admit I don’t follow the MLS at all. I usually fast forward any report in regards to it.

    A few questions?
    -Does the league still hold the player contracts and not the teams?
    – If so, where is the accountability of wanting to get better? Yes they all say they want to win, and I don’t doubt that, but what can they due player purchase wise in order to do so?

  9. Russell Berrisford says:

    Ed- Yes the League still holds the player contracts (although obviously the teams choose which players they have.

    The Designated Player are the exceptions and can be paid whatever the team thinks fit.

    I think one of the issues with MLS is the disparity in quality that exists in each team, sort of part Premier League, part Championship, and part lower leagues which makes it hard to achieve genuine quality on a consistent basis.

  10. John Bladen says:

    There have been some decent finals, Russell. But we have to go back some way to list them… 2001 & 2003 were good games as I recall. 2006 was decent as well. Then you have disasters like 1996, 2010 and this year, where bad weather and poor footing made the game itself difficult to watch, frankly.

    Expansion of the playoffs (10 clubs) simply provides a lower probability that the very best clubs will make the final (arguably, two of the best four clubs did make the final this year). Given the owners desire for $$$, that isn’t going to change, however.

    As much as I like the idea of moving the final around to all member cities, if the final is going to be held in November it really needs to be in a warm weather location (which it was this year, just bad luck with the rain) and preferably in the afternoon.

    Yes, out of prime time.
    I know the networks won’t like it, but MLS isn’t at a stage yet where it can command attention against prime time tv. Put it on on a sunny afternoon (as they used to do) – preferably a Saturday to avoid the NFL conflict – and it might be a different story. Their TV numbers for this year’s final were terrible. They have nothing to lose by moving back to an afternoon slot.

    Lastly, the two week break between semi finals and the final is unnecessary. The superbowl does it to provide time for extra media hype. MLS has very little media hype… the second week only serves to allow casual fans a few more days to forget that the game is happening at all.

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