Monday, June 21, 2010

Soccer Thoughts

I was not a soccer fan growing up, but have over the last three World Cup come to appreciate the competition. This World Cup has been very enjoyable thus far. My thoughts:

1. A first-rate (read: English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga) soccer league would excel in the United States. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Americans embrace the highest-quality version of just about anything. Relegation is something they would buy into whole-heartedly.

2. Epstein offers his changes for the soccer here; this isn't the first time, nor the tenth, nor the last time you'll see articles in this vain. You won't see changes in soccer until you see these sentiments in the places where soccer matters, just like you won't see a growing feeling of salary inequity from Argentinians affect large-scale labor change in Major League Baseball. As best as I can tell, the calls for modifying soccer are uniquely American. (Though please comment about other cultures that want to change the game, I'd love to read it.)

3. Given the success of Twenty20, I wonder if the best way of moving forward with modifying soccer isn't to create a new sub-sport in and of itself. There have been other instances of such attempts-- what comes to my mind is Arena football and the XFL, though I'm sure there are others-- but to me, those seemed to be modifications that tried to keep the part of a sport that people liked (fast/big plays) while adding in gimmicks to attempt to differentiate it (indoors, cameras everywhere, no fair catches, no punting, etc.). Twenty20 kept the sport the same but got rid of what people didn't like (the length of a cricket match). Maybe that's splitting hairs, but to me it's an important difference.

4. Given #3, perhaps a modified game that compliments soccer would be successful-- or rather, if action had to be taken, this would have the best chance of succeeding. Like above, keep the game and get rid of what people here don't seem to enjoy. Per Epstein, find a way for more scoring, less importance for referees but keep the games commercial-free by half.

Ultimately, I think compliment instead of substitute is the way to go.


Will Luther said...

I just want to go on the record by saying that the XFL was incredible. On-field cameras was a major innovation. And paying bonuses to teams that win--now that is something I can get behind.

rolub said...

Re: #4.

What appears to be America's main gripe with soccer, lack of scoring, seemed to be solved by the indoor soccer leagues. Goals were scored in 2 and 3 point increments, and scores in the high teens were the norm, to my memory. MISL comes to mind as the most popular during the 80's and early 90's (to my surprise, it's still in existence today).

Could the U.S. support a first-rate soccer league? Maybe so, but I think it would be at the expense of one of the current four. With the exception of NY, Philadelphia, and Chicago, most cities cannot support 4 major sports franchises; many would argue that beyond those, they cannot support 3, although each team's success is probably one of the largest variables. I've read on some sports economist blogs about studies done on the feasibility of cities supporting multiple pro sports franchises.

rolub said...

here's one article from back in January:

I don't agree with using only using TPI to determine if a city can support the team. As evident with the Browns attendance numbers since returning in 1999 and the peaks and (mostly) valleys of Cleveland's economy, sports consumption can often be more reliant on the fan's willingness to pay more than their ability.

Matt E. Ryan said...

Will: I'm not sure if I've put it here before, but if the televised games in Weeks 2 through 4 had been in Week 1 when everyone was watching, I'm fully confident that we'd still have the XFL. They were terrifically entertaining games. The first game just wasn't that good and the path dependence was too great.

Rob: Maybe it's my ignorance, but I get the sense that soccer fans wouldn't displace fans of the traditional four. Though, given the grumblings that go along with NBA and NHL fans paying high prices for 40+ games, maybe a top flight soccer league could capture some of those fans.

Interesting article on the feasibility of expansion; there certainly is more in play than simply the total personal income. Evidently Riverside should have no less than 198 expansion teams as soon as possible.