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May 072013

2067076 full lnd The Football Revolution Will Be Televised

“There’s more soccer on [US] television than any other sport by far. You’ve got European soccer. You’ve got Mexican soccer. You’ve got Major League Soccer. There’s way too much soccer on television. I think all of us got to figure out a way to narrow that window so you can get a situation like the NFL has, a couple of days a week, short schedule, something that’s very compelling and very targeted.”-MLS Commissioner Don Garber on the expanding presence of international soccer in the United States.

This week I had the opportunity to do something I never thought I would be able to do: I got to watch a Copa Libertadores match between legendary South American clubs Corinthians and Boca Juniors. Although these legendary sides that every hardcore American football fan has heard of, for the modern era they have been just that. Legends. Never seen, their work only told in the United States from those who have seen them in person or through fan magazines like Soccer America. In a country where more people are warming up to the beautiful game and old stereotypes are being broken, fans are having more opportunities to find different games and teams. Despite Mr. Garber’s beliefs, this is not the time to provide less coverage of the game. Providing a wider variety of teams, players, and most importantly styles and tactics will only spur growth in the game and improve the product on the field.

In a growing soccer culture like the United States what team a person roots for is not necessarily as important as it is in other parts of the world, but it is getting there. Camaraderie between soccer fans is starting to break among different supporters unions. Where there was once a war for respect among traditional fans, it seems like there is more acceptance of the game from nontraditional fans. Any fan who is in their twenties and thirties can remember getting crap from their classmates for playing a sissy sport and not a man’s sport like football. Breaking down the “everyone’s together” feeling of American soccer fans and developing true rivalries will only help the sport grow.

Although I have told many people in the past that I have always been a Newcastle United fan, my parents will correctly point out that the first team that I rooted for was Aston Villa. I had purchased one of their jerseys when I was about 10 or 11 years old at a place called Soccer Plus in Waldorf, Md. During the Wild West times in American soccer, players would have to travel 20-30miles at a time for decent gear and the culture was very much underground. While pretty much every parent had their kids play Parks and Recreation for the exercise and social aspect (i.e. orange slices) these people often lost interest after the age of 8 or 9. Games were never about winning, they were about feeling good for yourself.

The Coaching was also very poor: people who had no real experience in the game were forced to coach or had positions of power because of money or other athletic experience. I do not fault them: most coaches did the best they could with what little resources that they had. But I do often wonder if people who were my age had been able to watch teams like Ajax, Bayern Munich, Lyon, and the two La Liga giants if the passive nature of American soccer would have been stamped out.

As a kid growing up, there really was not a choice on what team to root for. Your choice was any soccer team or whoever was on. While most soccer fans I know rooted for the USA National Team and hated Mexico that is not really a rivalry to build a soccer culture on. There are only a dozen or so National Team games a year, and back in the 1990s very few games were televised. Club football coverage was even worse. Aside from the occasional English Premier League Review show English club football was hardly shown. The rest of European club football did not exist in America. While we did receive the Champions League, games are normally shown at 245, which is hard to watch for those of us who are in school. It did not help my brother and I had a horrible bus driver who made us wait an extra 45 minutes to get off of the bus. So until I went to college, MLS and the occasional U.S. National Team game would have to do to feed my soccer interests.

It would be easy to say that I have always been a Newcastle United fan, but the fact of the matter is that would be a lie. While some people have chosen their favorite team because of where they grew up, their family heritage, or a team’s pedigree the fact is that I originally chose to be a Newcastle fan because of the Newcastle Brown Ale. Newcastle for McDaniel College students was a cheap, good beer. While everyone had National Bohemian, Natty Ice, Keystone Ice, or my friend Rob’s favorite beer Red Dog (Is that even made anymore?) lining their mini-fridge walls Newcastle was a step or two above that. It was the type of drink you would tell a girl that you had in your dormitory to get cozy with her.

While I do not remember exactly my first Newcastle United match, I do remember sitting in Rob’s apartment at 9am, watching a Newcastle match on pirated Television, and cracking open a Newcastle Brown Ale. Whether it was a sign from god, Rupert Murdoch, or the liquor store owner I am not sure. What I do know is that during my senior year, my Saturday morning diet consisted of Fox Soccer Channel, plenty of games online, and watching whatever Champions League games that I could during study breaks. Also, I am not the only person to see the ties to soccer and beer. Groups like the Free Beer Movement work to get more American fans into the game through the beauty of beer.

I can empathize with Mr. Garber to a degree. International clubs are direct competition to his product, and in most cases, is a far superior product. While NBC’s recent $250 million dollar purchase of the American rights to the Premier League is good for the English Premier League, it means less airtime and exposure for MLS. While MLS is doing well in attendance, their television ratings are abysmal. What is good for American soccer is not exactly good for MLS. These two groups do not have mutually exclusive goals. Mr. Garber does not want to see kids wearing FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, or even Aston Villa or Newcastle United jerseys. He wants to see them wearing D.C. United or L.A. Galaxy jerseys.

That being said, if a person has the ability to watch more soccer games their interest will grow, and eventually they will tune in to watch the domestic product. Although I had been a D.C. United fan since the team formed, my interest did wane during the early to middle 2000’s. The team was still winning trophies, but the quality of the league was slipping and you could never find a match on T.V. Plus with the league folding the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny it felt like it was just another failed American soccer league. After watching Newcastle for a few weeks, I started to check up on MLS again more often, reading team websites and setting time aside to watch ESPN’s game of the week. Once technology had gotten to the point where it was possible to watch a game on the computer, I started setting time aside each week to watch a game or two online. While I watch the Bundesliga, the Premier League, Ligue 1, the Eredivise, and La Liga with regularity, the only league that I make sure to watch is MLS. Newcastle may have brought me back into the game, but it is D.C. United where my passions lie.

American soccer has come quite a long way from rare matches on T.V. With the expansion of internet capabilities and large television contracts, fans are able to watch more games from different parts of the globe. Having a variety of games, teams, and players to choose and root for will only open the game up to a wider audience. If more fans can watch battles like those between Corinthians and Boca Juniors, then more people will be interested in the game both at home and abroad.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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