Truth for 90 Minutes – Why US Soccer Marketing Strategy is a Failure

Ways To Effectively Promote Soccer in the US

Why do Americans hate soccer?  Soccer is by far the most popular kids sport.  Why is it abandoned as they get older?  The misconceptions, lack of knowledge about the sport, and awful marketing strategies are at the heart of why soccer’s future is doomed.

1. Not Enough Focus on the Top European Leagues

I wrote it this way, because the other way would have been, “too much focus on MLS”  and I honestly don’t want to offend anyone associated with Major League Soccer.  It wouldn’t be fair because MLS is not the problem.

Americans are unfamiliar with soccer.  If my job was to sell baseball to someone who doesn’t know much about it, would I show them an inferior minor league game, or a thriller between the Yankees and the Red Sox?  Exactly!  I’m not saying less MLS coverage.  I’m saying MORE top European league coverage.  Without the Premier League and La Liga, MLS is carrying too much weight on its young shoulders.

2. No TV Advertising and Access to Free High-quality Matches  

Weekends come and go and I sit glued to the TV anticipating the big match of the day – Real Madrid vs. Barcelona or Man United vs. Liverpool.  But, I hear nothing about it on TV.  There’s no advertising, no commercials on channels other than the usual Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV.

The problem is that these soccer channels are part of a premium “sports package” and they’re not readily available to everyone.  At the time of this writing (Sept 6, 2011), DirecTV and Dish Network charge between $7/month and $13/month to gain access to FSC.  Want Fox Soccer Plus channel?  Add another $15/month!  How do you expect to grow if you don’t reach out?

Make these “classicos” the focus of television advertising in the US and give everyone access to the best soccer programming for free.

New fans might actually find these higher-quality matches entertaining and existing fans won’t look for it elsewhere.  Yes I’m talking about illegal download sites. DISCLAIMER: As a musician myself, I’m 100% against pirating sites.  Cable and satellite providers can either provide excellent soccer coverage for free and profit from the ads, or make ZERO profit when fans watch games live illegally on their laptops.

3. The Commentators and Analysts in the Big Networks are Hurting the Game

Alexi Lalas.  What does he know about about European clubs’ history or players?  Now I’m not saying he is not intelligent.  There are different kinds of intelligence, but just because he played at a professional level does not make him an expert soccer analyst.  Great players often do not make great coaches – Maradona!

Knowledge of the sport is the only prerequisite I have when it comes to soccer analysts.  Whether they are biased, introverts or extroverts, that matters less.  Actually, if they are biased but “know” soccer, I may tune in just to disagree with their comments.  However, this is not the case with Lalas.  I DO NOT watch Alexi Lalas so I can hear what he’ll say next!  I immediately change the channel to Univision.

Growing up in Europe, I can say that listening to radio coverage of a match was far more enjoyable than listening AND WATCHING any soccer match currently on ESPN.

What can they do?  Actively pursue knowledgeable fresh personalities to take US soccer to the next level.  It’s a shame that FOX made Eric Wynalda as the voice to promote soccer in the US.  He is a reason why Americans are reluctant to watch soccer on FOX.  Kyle Martino of FSC and Ian Paul Joy come to mind as soccer analysts I could listen to all day.  They know the game!

4. If you’re Trying to Sell Soccer to Americans, Sell It More American!

Non-fans cannot reject what it means to feel AMERICAN.  They can’t help it when they watch this Youtube video, which by the way has 3,649,510 views to date!

And that’s what soccer is all about!  From the moment the national anthem is played, to the sweat, guts, and finally the extra time glory.  It couldn’t be any more patriotic.

As mentioned earlier in the article, MLS is still in its infancy.  I believe one day it will eventually become a powerhouse league.  For the moment, we have great American players to celebrate.  Players who perform at the highest level in the top European leagues.  They also happen to play for the US national team.  Sell it that way!  American soccer stars delivering at the top level around the world while still giving their all for their country.  Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard.  They all have one thing in common which I’ll get to next.  For now, try to interpret how this soccer video makes you feel.

To me, it’s exciting, touching, inspirational, and most of all AMERICAN.

5. Change the Image of the Sport

Although an amazing player in his own right, Landon Donovan is not the star to sell soccer to Americans who hate soccer.  Awe-inspiring interviews?  More like yawn-inspiring.

The modern game is more athletic and physical than ever.  Players are getting bigger, stronger, faster.  Therefore, play highlights Americans love!  I’m talking more clips of brutal hits, blood, everything.  Show more of this:

Physicality is a part of the sport.  Whether you like it or not, the fact is that violence sells in America.  Personally, I find the artistic side more enjoyable to watch.  But aggressiveness is a huge part of the game of soccer and fine with me as long as it’s clean.  I’m not nor was I ever a pro, but here’s my personal injury list:

  • Broke both wrists
  • Torn ACL, meniscus, chipped bones on left knee… That alone landed me two knee surgeries (so far)
  • Multiple concussions.  If I’ mnot makin g a ny  sens e that’ s pr obabl y why
  • Torn thigh muscle, hamstrings, groin, pulled back, hip injuries, dislocated shoulder, twisted ankles, permanent scars…

Soccer is a dangerous sport.  Not only do Americans like dangerous, they celebrate it.  Often you’ll hear, “Well, I want my kid to play a man’s game.”  Having tough-guy soccer heroes will change that misconception.  That’s where Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard come in.  All are near 6ft 2in and tough as nails.  Americans can relate to these guys.

If you don’t think that’s being true to the sport, just realize that you have to attract attention first.  Once they’re “in” as fans, they’ll see the true side of soccer – the beautiful, artistic, fun side.  That’s why the names above are perfect.  They’re not just tough, they’re fun to watch.

Speaking of fun…

6. There’s a Reason Why Soccer is By Far the Most Popular Sport with Kids

Children teach us just by being children.  Children laugh and cry.  They shout and scream.  They fall and get back up.  They live to have fun.  And they play soccer!  Market this truth in a deep way to sell soccer to Americans.

THE TRUTH ABOUT SOCCER

The game unfolds slowly.  You must interpret your opponent’s moves and also your own team’s actions.

You adapt and make changes by thinking on your own.  Although a team sport, soccer is very much like boxing where even though you may have an overall game plan, things change quickly on the field and you must make decisions on the spot.

You are given help in the beginning and at half-time.  The rest is all up to you.

The key to winning is quite simple.  Pass and move.  The simplicity of it encourages the artistic side to take over.  Soccer is a form of self-expression because its simplicity allows it.

Although each player has his/her own unique role (keeper, defender, midfielder, forward), they all work for the same goal.  Each player shares an equal responsibility.  Incredible accomplishments are achieved when they synchronize as “one.”

The game presents few goal-scoring chances.  To achieve success, these opportunities must be seized.  Soccer could pretend that each goal is worth 3 points, even 6 points, but why lie to yourself?  Accept this truth and embrace it as a strength, not weakness.

The game begins and must end.  Only the referee knows exactly when the game will end.  Every player gives everything until the final whistle because it’s something they can’t control.  They must play now.

TRUTH FOR 90 MINUTES

La (La Land) Liga – $panish $occer at its Best

No matches were played in Round 1 of La Liga due to a player strike.  Did anybody really care?

Honestly, take away the Classicos between Real Madrid and Barcelona (thankfully, there are at least six or seven of them every year), and do you really want to watch the most uncompetitive, lopsided league the history of the sport has ever seen?

So here’s the substance of the argument behind the strike: half the clubs in Spain’s top flight have filed for bankruptcy protection.  Players, led by the likes of Charles Puyol and Iker Casillas, want two main things before they agree to step foot on the field again:

1 – They want the league to guarantee full releases from their contracts should a club not pay their wages for three months.

Amen, hermanos!  I am 100% behind this initiative, because if I were in the same situation, I doubt I’d even wait three weeks before I’d look for another job.  It’s common sense, really; a club offered to pay you an exorbitant amount of money per week.  They don’t pay… you don’t play.  Unlike you and I, however, this “unemployment plan” of three months is more than fair – after all, these guys are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars every month.

2 – Players want their salaries guaranteed if their clubs go belly up. 

Wait, what?  Let me get this straight:  A bunch of players who earn an average salary of approximately $900,000 to one million dollars a year have chosen Puyol and Casillas — two guys who make five and six million dollars a year respectively — to represent them in negotiating a contract in which they would still get paid if their clubs ceased to exist?!?  How dare league officials keep these overpaid prima-donnas from living their extravagant Bentley-driving, caviar-eating, supermodel-dating lifestyles if they lose their jobs?  Un-freaking-believable.

I feel bad for the smaller clubs in Spain, I really do.  They have been placed in an impossible situation!  I’ll explain:

  • Real Madrid and Barcelona get the lion’s share of the television rights in the league, and the other 18 clubs have to fight over the scraps just to survive.  The two giants have no interest in changing this structure.  Ever.
  • If you are a bottom team, you have to spend money to attract better players, or you face a certain relegation to an inferior league with an even smaller TV rights share, and lower revenues from operations.  Similarly, near the top of the table, better teams must act in a similar fashion just to ensure an European slot and the millions that come with it.
  • Real Madrid and Barcelona buy the best players in the world, whom they pay ridiculous piles of money every week.  Other players on the team also demand wage increases – even their youth system players are overpaid.  When these kids transfer to the lower clubs, they don’t like to take pay-cuts so these other teams are overstretched financially yet again.

Thank God for the English Premier League!  Here is a league that, even with its faults and similar salary issues, manages to give us competitive matches week in, week out, year after year.  Any given weekend, any team in this league can upset any other team.  It is a league where last year, eighth-place Fulham finished only 10 points ahead of relegated Birmingham.  I’ll watch any EPL match that is on television, because I know I’ll watch attractive, offensive-minded, competitive football.

Do I really care about a Sevilla vs. Granada match?  No.  Would I watch it?  Probably not.

I’ll tune in for my six or seven (hopefully more) Classicos on GolTV this year.  When they’re over, I’ll flip to FSC, FSC+ or ESPN2 for some more real competition.

And so it begins…

Famous Football Quote of the Day:

“The tide is very much in our court now.”
– Kevin Keegan, former English player and manager
 

Related Video:    Real Madrid vs. Barcelona – The Only Game in Town

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Editor Note – In the time it took you to read this blog article, Iker Casillas will have earned $110 dollars and 8 cents of the $26,420.00 he’ll earn today.  Rain or shine.  Play or not.

Ronaldo vs. Messi – Who Will Be the Best Player in 2011/2012?

Lets’s start by getting last season’s numbers out of the way.

While they both scored an astonishing 53 goals last season, each stood out in different ways.

Cocky, arrogant, yet brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo.  In his second season in Spain, he became the all-time highest goal scorer in a season in La Liga history, and surpassed the records held by the original Brazilian Ronaldo, Hugo Sanchez, and Lionel Messi.  Wow.

Not only did he shatter the previous record of 38 goals, he rounded it off to an even 40.  Incredible!  To put these numbers into perspective, let’s compare the original Brazilian Ronaldo’s numbers to the Portuguese gel-boy.

In Luis Ronaldo’s sole season with Barcelona in 1996-97, which I feel was his most explosive ever, he banged in 34 goals.  At the time, he stood alone as the best player in the world and was voted FIFA Player of the Year in 1996, and again in 1997.  Then he left for Italy.  When he came back to La Liga, this time with arch-rivals Real Madrid, his goals per season tally was 23, 24, 21, 14, 1.  Take away his last year where he scored just one goal and these are amazing numbers in their own right – average of 20.5 goals/season.  

C. Ronaldo brought in double that amount with a mind-boggling 40 goals last season!  Again, this is the legendary #9 we’re talking about… the highest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup and once again voted FIFA Player of the Year in 2002!  This is a player who in the last decade stood shoulders above the rest, and I feel belongs in a distinguished category with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho.

Besides the impressive La Liga record (which has placed him at the top of a list of incredible Real Madrid legends), C. Ronaldo was instrumental in ending Real Madrid’s 18-year Copa Del Rey trophy drought by heading in the winner against their biggest rival Barcelona.  The moment that goal went in, Barcelona’s players and fans felt fear for the first time in a long while.  This was their worst nightmare and almost impossible in their minds.  Many may have brushed it aside like post traumatic stress disorder, but it happened.  Pep Guardiola’s team failed to win a trophy for the first time under his leadership, while Mourinho brought in a trophy in his first season in charge of Madrid thanks to the Ronaldo’s leadership on the field.

Last year CR7 scored 9 more goals than Messi in La Liga.  He also missed a fair amount of time due to injury.  If he stays injury-free this entire season?  Frightening.

Lionel Messi.

There’s some truth that either you are on Ronaldo’s camp or Messi’s.  But it’s absolutely impossible to deny the unbelievable talent of “la pulga.”  As good as Ronaldo is with the ball at his feet, he doesn’t come close to Messi’s close control and skill.  What’s most impressive is the way Messi never gives up on every play even when it seems the opposing defender has won possession!  It’s like he’s possessed himself.  The ball will bounce off his knees, shins, thighs and somehow he’s inside the box and dribbling past the goalkeeper for yet another highlight-reel supergoal.

I feel he contributes more to the team on a regular basis than CR7.  Messi is almost always involved in every important play, while Ronaldo can drift in and out of games (or go missing altogether).  That doesn’t make Ronaldo less dangerous.  He can score even when having a quiet game, but Messi seems to be “on” all the time for Barcelona.  His assists stats don’t lie – he almost doubled Ronaldo’s number of assists in 2010-11.

Let’s not forget that although he “only” scored 31 goals in La Liga last season, Messi equalled Ronaldo’s tally of 53 goals for the season.  However, there was one major difference between the two…

Messi won the La Liga and Champions League trophies while Ronaldo was left to suck on his thumb.  There’s no doubt that Ronaldo was astonishing on an individual level last year, but Messi was miles better collectively as part of a team.  And that’s what soccer is all about!

In Ronaldo’s defense, he did accomplish a thing or two in England with Man Utd.  Even Johan Cruyff said, “Ronaldo is better than Utd legends George Best and Denis Law,” and he has dominated in two totally unique leagues.  So it’s not all black and white.  The argument that Messi just wouldn’t cut it in the EPL is simply not as clear-cut as it used to be though.  Think about the current crop of La Liga talent migrated over to England.  Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Juan Mata.  These guys aren’t the biggest and strongest, but they are already shining in the world’s most physically-demanding league.

If asked which player I’d choose first to build my dream team, I’d pick Messi.  He is at the heart of every important play for Barca while Ronaldo tends to drift in and out.  Team first.

At the time of this writing, Madrid and Barca have played just one game in La Liga.  Ronaldo banged in a hat-trick while Messi brought home two.  What a start!

Will Ronaldo steal yet another trophy from Barcelona this year, or will Messi target Ronaldo’s historic record of 40 goals in one season?

I can’t wait to watch these two living legends lock horns yet again in what is shaping into another unforgettable season in Spain.

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