Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sad Times for the Big 4, but hope for Becks?

The 4 major team sports in this country have gone through quite a few travails in the last 5 years or so. The NFL has had issues with individual off field player behavior with 1/3 of the Cincinnati Bengals getting into trouble as well as the Pacman/Tank/Vick troika. The NHL has dealt with labor strife and a sad descent into irrelevancy. Major League Baseball has had labor strife (forget 1994?) and a steroids scandal that throws the integrity of the last decade into question. And now, the NBA has perhaps American Sports greatest scandal and biggest nightmare. As if the brawl at Auburn Palace a couple of years ago wasn't bad enough for the sport, the FBI is investigating the possibility that NBA official Tim Donaghy influenced the outcomes of games that he had bet on.

The fact that outside influences (such as officials' gambling habits) could impact the outcome of games is the worst nightmare of the commissioners of the 4 major sports. If people stop believing that things are on the up and up, then people will probably lose interest in attending games, buying jerseys, and worst of all, corporations could stop buying luxury boxes. It would become the realm of the professional wrestling, which, (SURPRISE!) is scripted and attracts fans that only a carny could love....not exactly the demographic your big 4 sports are looking for.

All of this brings me to my point; with the big 4 sports having all of these issues, and, with the exception of the NFL, all of them losing the cache they've had in the past, why can't David Beckham suceed in raising the profile of soccer and the MLS in this country? Beckham made his debut last night with the Los Angeles Galaxy in an exhibition match against Chelsea FC. The place was sold out and commanded sports headlines in all of the papers this AM.

Another point in favor of the MLS (and soccer) rising as a sports power is that the players are sort of just like you and me, but not as well paid. If you read the SI article on Beckham, you'd know that not everyone makes big time coin in the MLS; centerback Kyle Veris of the LA Galaxy makes 17k/year.....essentially below the poverty line. Other players make what some graduating college kids will turn down when they start their careers this summer (The Galaxy's Alan Gordon makes 30k). I would think this would make for hungry players on the field and good marketers off the field. These guys will hustle for the fans and sign autographs, make appearances at malls, whatever it takes. Essentially, this lack of big time money accrued by the players will make them more accessible and fan friendly. This is the formula that has helped the ascension of NASCAR in this country to a marketing powerhouse.

The ultimate question is will the imported star power of a high profile player like David Beckham combined with the hunger of young, up and coming players like Kyle Veris make for a league that will rival the 4 majors and bring soccer to the consciousness of the American sporting public? Only time will tell, but the other 4 major sports certainly have done their part in making some people turned off lately by the big 4 to at least take a look at the New Guy with the Spice Girl wife.


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Enrique said...

I really hope that soccer finally gains some ground over the next few seasons - but, like you said, it all has to do with marketing and hard work. They have a perfect opportunity now that the other 3.5 Major League sports have had major off-the-field problems, and the MLS needs to take advantage of it. I think they should start by trying to overtake the NHL - they can barely get enough viewership on TV during the playoffs! Personally, I don't think David Beckham will make that much a difference on the field, but if he can become a household name (and get/stay healthy) then I think the MLS needs to market him like a Star Wars light saber. I want to know when "David Beckham's LA Galaxy" are in town and I want to see his free kicks on ESPN every night that he plays... Plus we need a team in Philly -