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Left Coast Bias: Why You Should Give Soccer a Shot

7/18/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

When I write about soccer, I have about as much objectivity as Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann covering a Supreme Court nomination hearing. I spent a nice chunk of my career working in professional soccer here and abroad, and would probably go back to it tomorrow if asked. (Welcome to another edition of “Does my boss read my column?”)

Next summer's World Cup in South Africa will bring huge buzz and ratings, as it does every four years. But in the year until then, there actually is reason to tune in. In fact, I can give you four.

Everyone Hates Beckham: He came. He got hurt. His team stunk. He left for a bit, and then a bit longer. A teammate here trashed him. And now he's back.

The world's most popular athlete took America by storm, but when David Beckham is done playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy, many will call it a failed experiment.

They will all be wrong. It was a smart risk that Major League Soccer would make again. While it hasn't gone well on the field in part because the team wasn't equipped to deal with Team Beckham, it has been a massive success off it, putting the league on the map in many people's eyes.

We're Back to Being Not Very Good: The United States National Team recently made the finals of a World Cup warmup event by beating top-ranked Spain. And after leading almighty Brazil 2-0 in the final before blowing it, many said the Yanks were ready to be a major player at next summer's World Cup.

Don't believe a word of it. Years ago, the American team stank, then they stunk less but snuck up on a few people, then they got good and could play with anybody. Now, most of those players are gone, and the team is back to being a scrappy bunch that has to overachieve to beat anyone decent.

The Americans will qualify for the World Cup, and then they will assume their familiar place in the soccer world: underdogs. And that's when things could get fun.

It's on TV All the Time: I have four networks at home that are basically devoted to one sport. And it's soccer. No, seriously. Between Fox Soccer Channel, GolTV, Setanta Sports and Fox Sports en Español, you can see pretty much any big game you want—from the elite leagues in England, Italy and Spain to the gigantic UEFA Champions League property that Fox just snagged from ESPN. It's probably the definition of the Long Tail, as outside of the huge matches most games don't do big numbers, but there is a ton of fútbol for those who want it.

We Have Our Own Premier League Team: Major League Soccer has yet to catch fire as a television property, in part because there's a ton of top-class soccer on all the time that is simply a better product than MLS.

But things changed when MLS expanded to Seattle this year with a team backed by Joe Roth and Drew Carey. Turn on a Seattle Sounders home game, and you will swear you're watching a match from across the pond. The crowds are gigantic, and they don't stop singing and screaming the entire game.

If I were running MLS, I would go back to TV partner ESPN and work out a deal where every single Seattle home game was on national TV. They'd be the MLS version of Notre Dame. Except the Sounders are decent on the field, too.

E-mail comments to
ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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