Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MLS All-Star Game/Summer Friendlies

This week MLS and several MLS teams announced summer friendlies and the MLS All-Star fixture. The All-Stars will once again take on Manchester United who will also play friendlies against Chicago and Seattle as well. Even my team Sporting KC will get in on the act with a friendly against Newcastle United. Which I think is going to be a hard sell to the casual soccer fan. First, Newcastle isn't safe from relegation yet and could drop to the Championship with a few bad results. Second, they don't have a big name draw like last season's friendly opponent Manchester United, who is also the biggest club draw in the world. Finally, this game will be played on a Wednesday night and I find it hard to believe the casual fan will come out for the match as MLS midweek matches are traditionally a hard sell. I always say 90% of US soccer fans and MLS fans in America are casual fans. The US is the home of the casual fan and the "what have you done for me lately" fan.

On the subject of friendlies, I am against MLS teams playing these matches. It is in the middle of the MLS season for one thing and each team should be concentrating on the task at hand, i.e. the MLS season, Open Cup, playoffs, etc. However, this is a huge pay day for both teams and a way for the foreign team to promote themselves abroad. But that is what I'm truly against. So many teams come to America on a summer tour looking to cash in on the casual soccer fan. Typically, this is the fan who hates MLS or has a slight interest in MLS, but would rather pay to see a game when the "big boys" come to town. Yes, the MLS team's supporter section is there and bragging rights are at stake. But in the case of Sporting KC versus Manchester United last season the game means nothing to the non-MLS team and their supporters. I lived in England last season and this result wasn't even widely regarded as unusual. Look at the seasons both teams have had as a result. United is on top of the Premier League while SKC couldn't even make the playoffs last season. I know Sporting had an increase in ticket sales, merch, etc after the match against Manchester United last summer. But my argument is these fans aren't the fans that will come out week after week, month after month or year after year. Rather, these are the fans that see something that has peaked their interest or they've heard about and they want to check it out. Again the casual fan. The upside to this is at least a MLS team is participating in the friendly. Too often two teams from Europe or other parts of the world play friendlies in the States cashing in on the soccer fan. I find this to be both an exploitation of the American soccer fan and ignorance by the American fan.
Too many people, and many have said this to me, say MLS is a terrible league, it's boring and there's no talent. These people aren't true fans, they don't want to find out why the league has quality. They want to be told what to like and they want to like what people tell them to like. I hope in the future these friendlies will continue to decrease as MLS is too good a league to allow teams from around the world to make a name at the expense of MLS.

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