By Adam Gibson | Assistant News Editor
When talking about soccer, the first person you think of is Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. The first league you think about is the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga. In the United States, however, other than the National Teams, soccer is rarely given a second thought. It is time to start paying more attention to our own league at home: Major League Soccer (MLS).
The world’s most popular sport has been ignored and put on the back burner in the United States for some time now. This is somewhat understandable, considering we have the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA. Those leagues all feature the best the world has to offer. However, the MLS still has great talent and entertainment as well.
The MLS is a league that kicked off in 1996 and is relatively new compared to others around the globe. It began with just 10 teams and has grown to 22 teams. With that expansion has come increased popularity. According to the Associated Press, “Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000. Boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germanys Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.”
While attendance in person continues to rise, the MLS is still having a difficult time matching that on TV. When you go to turn on your TV, you expect to see a football game or basketball game on. Rarely are MLS games given precedent over other major sports. After the most recent NFL season with less people watching, according to Sports Illustrated, that may result in how many MLS games could be televised. The Associated Press reported that “ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 [MLS] telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.” If the NFL continues to lose popularity, this could be the chance that the MLS has waited for to take that extra step in increasing its fan base.
Another major aspect of TV these days is watching on portable devices such as phones, tablets and laptops. CNN reported that “The league is also finalizing a deal with a social media company to broadcast content online and reach a broader audience.” This new deal for broadcasting will reach more audiences, allowing them to watch whenever and wherever. Having more people watching on their portable devices will expose even more people to MLS and show not only how great the league is, but how fun soccer is to watch.
Along with growing attendance, there are team expansions and new stadiums being built. In Los Angeles, a new team, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) is finishing up construction on a new stadium and preparing for the club’s debut against the Seattle Sounders. Actor Will Ferrell is among the club’s owners. Having him as an MLS fan and part-owner has drawn more fans to the league and new supporters for his club.
Some more big news to help the popularity and expansion of the MLS is soccer superstar and legend David Beckham coming to the U.S. to own a team that will be based in Miami in the near future. Having well-known actors and former greats getting in on the expansion process is encouraging to see and promises a bright future for the league.
The addition of clubs is great for MLS because it gives people more opportunities to see a team play. It’s hard to get too excited about soccer, or any sport for that matter, if there are too few teams to see play.
While MLS is not as established as other leagues in the world, there are still several great MLS players known across the world for their unbelievable talent. Seattle Sounder veteran striker and USMNT superstar Clint Dempsey is just one of these players. He has been a faces of the MLS for several years now. Former Bayern Munich defender and current Chicago Fire defender Bastian Schweinsteiger made his move to the MLS last year from one of the best leagues in the world. Schweinsteiger told ESPN his thoughts on the league when he first came to the Fire: “It’s different to Europe. What I could feel in the six weeks I’m here is that this league has so much potential.” This is just one of the many cases of European greats coming to MLS to finish out their careers.
While there is still so much room to grow, MLS as it stands is still a great form of entertainment, just as any major sports league. It provides the best our country and some other countries have to offer in a sport played world-wide. The publicity of owners and the broadcast of matches on more channels and on mobile devices will only help MLS grow and succeed. If there has ever been a time to get into soccer and to start learning about it, this is definitely it – and why not start with MLS?