Almost a week after all the talk of firing Jurgen Klinsmann dies down, questions still remain about what happens next after the stunning USMNT loss to Jamaica, followed by a penalty kick loss in the 3rd Place Game to Panama. After a less than stellar tournament and many team vulnerabilities revealed, this could be a huge blow to the national team not just on the field but off. Here’s why.
This week it was announced by MLS that the LA Galaxy have signed Mexican International star Giovanni Dos Santos to a contract reportedly worth $4.1 million per year over 4.5 years. In order to make room for the large contract, the MLS had to alter some of its rules that protect the single-entity structure of the league. While this seems like a positive sign that MLS is experiencing financial stability, it shows another trend that has increased exponentially in 2015. Teams in MLS are increasingly signing recognized faces from big name teams abroad to monster contracts that lure them to play in America. But is this the right path for MLS to become “the best league in the world” by 2022? And perhaps even more important, is this the right strategy for marketing soccer to Americans?
You’ve seen the celebrations everywhere. First, there was the homecoming in Los Angeles. Next, there was the appearance on Good Morning America. Then there was the heroes’ welcome of a parade in New York, covered everywhere on television from FOX to ESPN. Finally, there was the on-stage appearance at a Taylor Swift concert, the Kodak moment. The euphoria from the Women’s World Cup will clearly last a long time, and the party has already been extended a week. But can the party carry into the NWSL?
When one international tournament comes to a close, another one opens. Just two days after the U.S Women’s National Team emerged victorious in the Women’s World Cup, bringing glory and a publicity blitz to the nation, the U.S. Men’s National Team started its first competitive campaign since their 2014 World Cup exit with a 2-1 victory over Honduras in front of a sellout crowd in Dallas’s Toyota Stadium. The game was far from pretty, and the performance by the US Men was far from spectacular, but the result was favorable considering the circumstances. The start of the Gold Cup beckons the question, when will we see a U.S. Men’s National team as dominant as our Women’s Team?
We won! The USA is #1 in women’s soccer for the first time in 16 years. And what a way to do it. The first 20 minutes of the game with an incredible hat trick from superstar midfielder Carli Lloyd was not only a magical moment for soccer fans, but also great television and great advertising for first-time soccer viewers. Monday morning conversations at offices across America were littered with “Wambach, 5-2, and 1999.” But in the end, what does this do for soccer in America?
Quite a bit actually. We saw a renewed excitement not just by girls but by boys who couldn’t care less if it was men or women playing. We saw new heroes, record TV numbers, and rising stars. According to NPR, the United States/Japan final at its peak was viewed by 22.86 million viewers, the most watched soccer game in U.S television history, eclipsing the 2011 final by almost 15 million viewers.
Fox garnered approximately $17 million in ad revenue from the one match, and according to the Washington Post, the ratings for the U.S. women’s games averaged higher than both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. Univision even broke records with 1.27 million viewers of the Spanish language broadcast, making it the most watched women’s soccer game in the network’s history.
While these are tremendous feats, and huge steps for not just women’s soccer, but soccer as a whole in America, there are still important issues that need to be addressed when it comes to women’s sports. According to multiple sources, including ESPN’s Randy Scott, the total winnings won by the World Champion U.S. Women’s Soccer team was $2,000,0000. In comparison, the German team that won the men’s version of the FIFA World Cup last summer shared $35,000,000. Some teams that lost in the first round earned $8,000,000.
The United States is currently the gold standard for women’s soccer. According to World Soccer Talk, while women’s soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League can’t expect to make enough money to live on that salary alone, the talented athletes selected to represent the country can expect to realistically get by. Few stars like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach can even expect to earn six to seven figures after sponsorships are taken into account. If there is one thing we learned from this World Cup, it’s that progress has been made. But there is still a long journey ahead before equality is reached.
Last week, MLS made the announcement that the newest soccer franchise in Atlanta will be called Atlanta United FC. This was reportedly decided after a survey was sent out to members of the team’s 21,000 plus supporters in its Founder’s Club, focus groups were tested, and intense brainstorming was conducted behind the scenes. Club President Darren Eales claimed that the surveys had a 70 percent response rate, with 91 percent of respondents “wanting to follow international soccer customs” with the name, and 50 percent of respondents wanting an internationally-inspired name. Yet in the end, many of the supporters that supposedly had a say in the name took to social media to voice their disappointment. Some argued that this new name was too “cookie-cutter” and not unique enough to Atlanta.
The terms United and FC has become very common in naming American teams these days, with notable names such as New York City FC, DC United, FC Dallas, Toronto FC, and presumably soon to be promoted Minnesota United. Even this blog is called Marketing United FC, paying homage to how prevalent both terms are in today’s American soccer scene. Out of the 20 teams currently in the league, 12 have names that you might expect to see overseas such as “Real” Salt Lake, “Sporting” Kansas City, and Houston “Dynamo.”
Some Americans could understandably find this confusing. Why is a team called “New York City Football Club” when in this country, football means something else? What is so Real (Spanish for royal) about Salt Lake City? Orlando City SC and Columbus Crew SC have arguably earned kudos in the originality category by Americanizing the FC suffix and evolving it into SC for “Soccer Club.”
According to a recent article by Brian Trusdell of the New York Times, when asked why the MLS has changed from more American sounding monikers like “Jets” or “Eagles,” David Carter, the Executive Director of the Sports Business Institute at USC suggested that Major League Soccer is targeting the 20 to 30 year old Americans that grew up playing FIFA video games with increased exposure to European soccer through television and internet. As a result, this target market views European sounding names as more authentic which is a pivotal selling point for a league that is trying to increase quality and authenticity from a marketing standpoint.
In the end, soccer fans shouldn’t be too worried about the “Europeanization” of the league. Yes, there are certain teams like Red Bull New York owned by European businesses, but if we look across the pond, there are British teams like Liverpool owned by the American Fenway Sports Group. On top of that, there are teams such as the UEFA Champions League Finalist Juventus from Italy, with such peculiar names that make no sense in Europe or the U.S (the letter “J” isn’t even in the Italian alphabet). As we adopt more and more European customs here and our similarities make the soccer world seem smaller, one can only hope that this will translate to more similarities on the field when it comes to quality of play.