2014 World Cup Has Power To Make MLS Relevant
There’s no questioning that football is the most popular sport in the world. However, for multiple reasons that is clearly not the case in the country that calls it soccer.
Perhaps there’s just not enough room in the U.S. for soccer to become mainstream, as it would have to compete with already established and popular leagues. Or maybe the overall talent isn’t there, and fans or potential fans accept that with a lack of passion. Most likely the largest issue of drawing attention to US soccer and specifically the MLS, derives from the matter of overall exposure. Luckily for the MLS, there’s one tournament that happens every four years that helps the league improve this pressing concern: the World Cup, which will be held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2014.
Over two years ago the World Cup was held in South Africa, and long story short, the United States qualified, made it to the Round of 16 by defeating Algeria after drawing with England and Slovenia before eventually falling to Ghana. Despite the loss, the games were considered a success, especially for ESPN who saw their World Cup ratings grow 36%. Moreover, that USA team helped put the sport in the forefront with stars such as Landon Donavan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Jozy Altidore becoming borderline significant. Consequently, the MLS saw their average attendance figures jump almost 10% between 2009 and 2010 with 16,442 fans. And the league hasn’t shown signs of failure as the average attendance in 2011 grew to 17,800, and stood at 18,807 in 2012. Not a bad pace by any means.
The MLS is currently concentrating on TV ratings, which have also been improving. Directly after the 2010 World Cup we saw ESPN run a healthy number of ads promoting their featured MLS games in the following days, weeks, and months as the presence of American soccer became stronger. The momentum has certainly carried over as ESPN viewers consume more MLS ad campaigns and soccer action in general.
It truly speaks volumes about the ESPN and MLS brands that even I watched the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders rivalry match this past year. The match was recorded as the third-most viewed MLS regular season game in the league’s existence with 888,000 viewers.
With the 2014 World Cup around the corner, Commissioner Don Garber and the MLS are looking to capitalize off of one huge push. In regards to the States, the World Cup in Rio de Janiero helps create major opportunities (exposure, soccer stars, branding, etc.) by acting as the largest stage for the most popular sport in the world. Although unlikely, a deep run for the underdog will bring a title wave of attention to soccer in the US with rising attendances and TV viewers. Thus, finally allowing them to knock on the door to compete with the major American sports.
NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS all on the same tier, imagine that.