Saturday, August 22, 2015

Chap 13) A Natural Fit

Soccer seems to be an excellent fit with American culture.  The sport is demonstrating that it is a progressive entertainment value on and off the field.

On the field, the sport is a timely diversion that embraces contemporary American values.  Off the field, MLS has been a leader among the professional sports leagues when it comes to taking on serious societal issues.

In 2013, I put the spotlight on how MLS was handling the major issue of bullying, 'MLS Anti-Discrimination Campaign Way Ahead of Other Pro Sports Leagues.'

The MLS 'Don't Cross the Line' campaign began earlier this year.  In a public service announcement to proclaim soccer above discrimination and harassment of any kind, several of MLS' best players, including Landon Donovan, Kyle Beckerman and Dwayne De Rosario, openly show their support for the ideals of tolerance.

It is an impressive and unique type of effort.  It appears to be the boldest statement made by any of the pro sports leagues in the U.S. of the rights to fairness and equality for everyone.  Interestingly, this marketing effort was created a few weeks before the signing of Robbie Rogers, the first openly gay player in the League.

MLS is considered to be highly popular among younger sports fans.  And, the younger generation tends to be less consumed by sexual identities of people or the quirkiness of individuals.  The marketing effort could be construed as opportunistic and MLS purposely trying to extend their profile among their core fans.

It doesn't matter why MLS has done the campaign or whose idea it was to do it.  The point is that MLS is leading the way among all the pro sports leagues for inclusiveness and civility.  It is a message that all the pro sports leagues should promote and will at some point very soon.

MLS doesn't have an image problem.  Yes, they have fewer teams than MLB, NHL, NBA and the NFL, but their players are not suffering life-threatening injuries, charged with serious crimes and are not caught cheating on athletic performance.  When watching the spot, MLS comes across as comfortable with itself and their sport, like there's nothing to hide from.  Are the other pro sports leagues hiding something?

The 'Don't Cross the Line' spot is especially appropriate when considering the bullying spotlight put forth recently in the NFL.  MLS is miles ahead and setting the example on how to address the bullying issue.

Among the gay pro athletes that have come out, only Robbie Rogers is making a real impact in his sport.  Rogers has been totally accepted in MLS and he starts for the best team in the league, the LA Galaxy.  In 2013, I wondered what his impact would be on MLS, 'Can Openly Gay Player Spark Interest for MLS?.'

Robbie Rogers already has a soccer pedigree that would indicate he can be part of helping MLS take the next steps towards becoming a mainstream U.S. spectator sport.  Rogers played a significant part in winning a national championship in college and an MLS championship with the Columbus Crew a few years back.

MLS is in desperate need of a jolt to put more attention on the League.  In the American sports scene, MLS tends to get lost in the shuffle.  Its not one of the best Soccer leagues in the world and many American soccer fans won't settle for it.  Especially without Beckham, the League is floundering some.

Rogers can bring some glamour back that went out when Beckham left.  A gay player excelling in the League and scoring goals could be compelling sports news that no other American sports league will offer.  Jason Collins (openly gay basketball player) is a bench player if he makes a team next season in the NBA.  Soon, Rogers will be in the starting eleven for the premier glamour team, the LA Galaxy.

Why would a gay player create interest and is the interest only within the gay community?  The excitement would be in seeing somebody different possibly dominating a skilled, aggressive male team sport.  The intrigue surpasses just the gay community.  The masses would want to see, too. 

If Rogers can dominate at some levels and propel the Galaxy to more titles, he may be some of the answer the League is currently looking for.  He could become the posterboy for the League.  His facial resemblance to Beckham is a little eerie.

He doesn't have the classic Beckham set play cleats, but he is only in his mid-twenties and has time to keep improving his game.  Also, the charisma of Rogers will surely develop as the cameras stay on him and endorsements come in.  MLS has searched for so long, almost twenty years, for an American identity. It's been an uphill battle for MLS trying to combat the omnipresence of better soccer leagues around the world and the dominance of baseball, football and basketball in America.

There are still skeptics out there wondering how solid the League is.  It would be ironic for a gay player to help carry this League.  But, Rogers has come along and now maybe MLS can find more of an American niche.

Soccer has a leg up on the 'big 3' when it comes to the games coming to a convenient conclusion.  I wrote about this in 2011, 'MLS Benefits from 'Short Attention Span' Caused by the Internet.'

Study after study indicates that time spent using the internet is making humans less patient and more neurotic.  From the moment people are waking up till the moment they go to sleep, time spent with the internet changes how people react and behave.  Its effects are impossible to ignore. 

The speed of the information from the internet is making it harder for people to concentrate on other things in life that are slower to develop and take more personal time, like reading a book or watching a baseball game.  The same was said when television came along so many years ago.  But, the internet has one big difference than its TV counterpart.  The internet pushes people to multi-task as part of their daily routine.  Now, people are getting used to an overload of information.  There's not time for the mundane.

Major League Soccer can thrive among sports fans.  It provides a more condensed version of drama than the other 'big four' spectator sports, including college basket and football.  Of all of them, soccer is the only one to consistently reach its climax and conclude all in under 2 hours.

Football, both college and pro, have been known to labor over 3 hours long and many times, as long as 3 and a half or up to 4 hours.  Hockey has always been a timekiller, going routinely past 2 and a half hours and up to 3.  Baseball has been taken to task by fans and the media in recent years for its elongated, episodic crawls, sometimes taking 2 hours and 15 minutes, but usually averaging closer to 2 and a half up to 3 hours.  College basketball is the closest to the 2 hour mark, usually only a few minutes over.  The NBA is a certainty for at least 2 hours and twenty minutes.

And, what about overtime?  College football is taking forever now with its unusual take on playing the sport without special teams during extra time and now in order to have a winner, sometimes 3, 4 or 5 overtimes is necessary.  Baseball goes on forever in extra innings sometimes, too.  Are the younger generations going to settle for these extraordinarily tedious endings?

All the different mainstream sports will have to make more changes in the future in order to keep fans engaged.  The internet and technology in general has made it so that people for years now are not even interested in watching games, just in watching their tickers for score updates.

MLS should be able to take advantage by helping sports fans get to the point faster.  Generations are being built with shorter attentions spans, but maybe with greater intellectual capacity.  If Soccer really is the 'beautiful game,' it is designed to attract sports fans in the U.S. in droves.

Popularity of the different spectator sports changes just like anything else in the world.  This changing landscape shouldn't be taken for granted.  Evolution theory proves the weak ones drop off and the strong ones build more strength as they survive. 

For so many people, the internet has pushed the limits and emphasizes how important time is for the individual. Sports fans may be turned off by their time being wasted and Soccer may be the fit they are looking for in their sports watching schedule.

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