Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chp. 7) Popular Culture

Popular culture has always been a big theme for me when writing about Americanizing soccer.  The sport has to be part of America's consciousness, like the 'big 3', in order for it to blossom to get and keep the attention this beautiful sport deserves.

Remember the Occupy! Wall Street movement.  I took a different spin on the Occupy! aspect and asked when will our casual American dining establishments begin to embrace soccer.   Soccer supporter groups of teams across the U.S. are impressive and carry financial clout.  They may need to turn each franchise restaurant one by one for soccer alertness.  The article, 'Occupy!': The Casual Dining/Sports Bar Impact on MLS, was written in 2011.

At sports bars around the country, Sunday Night Football between the Steelers and Ravens was in full flight, on multiple HD big screens with the volume turned up.  With a little luck, the Semi-final for the MLS Cup, going on at the same time as SNF, between Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy (with arguably the greatest tandem ever in U.S. club Soccer, Donovan and Beckham), was on one minor, smaller screen without volume.

MLS stands little chance to beat out the NFL head to head.  This is understood.  MLS executives need to improve scheduling in the future to ensure it is the headliner of the evening.  Better scheduling should allow for more exposure and give MLS a better chance to break through the clutter of the sports calendar and get more recognition from the casual sports fans.

It will take cultural change for MLS to get to the level of the NFL, NBA and MLB in the United States. Part of that cultural change will have to cross the tables at Chili's, Applebee's and TGI Fridays of America.

There might be an 'Occupy MLS' movement on the horizons.

Soccer supporter groups are significant throughout the country.  No other U.S. team sport can say it has such organized fan support.  Their sway grows stronger each week, month and year.  They could all come together and try to influence the trends of sports bar viewing.

Patrons must get accustomed to seeing MLS in restaurants (chain or not chain) and sports bars throughout the country in order for MLS to brand its product and gain new fans.  It may take grassroots efforts by fans to encourage restaurants to turn the games on or maybe MLS can make corporate deals to get big chain casual dining restaurants to agree to always show the games.  Either way, having casual sports fans get to know the teams better is a big key to the future success of the league.

Often, the volume is turned up in the sports bars of casual dining restaurants.  MLS must get the volume turned up on their games.  Casual sports fans need to hear the enthusiasm from the MLS home crowds, especially from those that are the most boisterous and proud.

Overcoming the casual dining/sports bar hurdle and getting MLS to be seen and heard more often will produce major results.

The casual sports fan resembles a casual dining patron and vice versa.  This is a fundamental marketing principle in the U.S. and has been for a long time.

A video game is the one thing that nobody could have predicted to help soccer gain momentum in the U.S. and become a more popular sport.  But, that is exactly what has happened.  And, I detailed this in 2011, when I wrote, 'EA FIFA Video Game Attracts Inner-City Youth; Accelerates Soccer's March Towards Mainstream.'  Not only does the video game do well in general with all people (mostly males), but it does exceptionally well with inner-city kids, the ones used to playing and watching basketball and American football.  Might this be one of soccer's essential pieces to the puzzle for becoming part of mainstream American culture?

Every day, there is a reason to think Soccer is getting a bit closer to being called a 'Mainstream Sport' in the U.S.  Indicators pop up in all corners of the country.  It feels like a movement.  Fans are displaying passion for Soccer and MLS in powerful, indescribable ways.

Soccer has passed being a phenomenon in the U.S.; it is beyond anyone's imagination, the level in which it has become part of the culture.  People are attending matches, playing on teams and buying merchandise like never before in this country. 

Articles and blogs are documenting this massive, yet subtle turn in consumer tastes with unprecedented coverage.  The internet, more importantly, technology, has made a major difference on all of it.  Ironically, it might be faux Soccer that ultimately tips the scale over for real Soccer becoming a mainstream spectator sport.  Video games are now infiltrating a part of society that Soccer has failed to reach in the past, the inner-city.

Without a doubt, Soccer video games are present in middle and upper classes of families throughout the U.S.  But, not until recently did Soccer become a video game fad for the underclass.  EA Sports, the same videogame company that designed the super popular Madden NFL, has also pioneered FIFA Soccer, a game even more popular than Madden.

The world's game is also the world's video game.  Its success is due to the popularity of the sport, but more impressively, it is due to the incredible sensation of operating leagues, teams and players with the same kind of ball control, coordinated attacking play, creative passing and superior marking by defenders that one might see in a real game.

Graphics and detail are a hallmark of EA Sports and they are done with finesse and realism.  Working the ball down the field, defending the ball up the field, scoring goals and making great saves are all part of the fun.

Gamers play because it is a cool, breathtaking game.  It's the same reason gamers from the inner-city are playing it, too.  They appreciate how much fun it is, how real it looks and how easy it makes Soccer seem to play.

In the U.S., inner-city youth rarely play any extended periods of Soccer.  Football and basketball have been the major attraction for decades.

But, this video game is changing the perspectives of many young people towards Soccer.  This is important for Soccer because if Soccer is seen as 'cool' by inner-city youth and descendants of inner-cities, than it will make big strides towards mainstream status and get there a lot quicker.  A sign of the times is most easily detected when the 'cool' factor is in play. 

In general, the EA FIFA Soccer video game brings in more people and more fans to Soccer.  This is a result of pop culture just being pop culture.

I'm not a big fan of TMZ.  But, hey, it's a guily pleasure, right?  I did catch one interesting piece on soccer's biggest star in the U.S.  I wrote about it in 2012, 'The TMZ Effect on MLS.'

Salacious headlines is not the first thing that comes to mind when the American public thinks of Major League Soccer.  Most people in America probably don't even know what MLS stands for exactly.  Many might say Multiple Listing Service, representing real estate and homes, which is what appears first on a Google search (MLS.com).  Suffice it to say, if the question was narrowed to include sports only, still a big percentage would not know the answer.

If the public was asked who TMZ was or what the initials stood for, probably most would not have a clue about the initials (Thirty Mile Zone), but a decent percentage would probably respond by saying it's that TV show that follows celebrities around.  How much percentage difference is there for the public knowing TMZ or MLS is hard to say, but more probably know TMZ.

As an entertainment news service, TMZ has done an impressive job in covering pop culture stories, even breaking some really big ones, including Tiger's love affairs, Mel Gibson's rants, Michael Jackson's Death and many of the starlets in trouble with the law.  Other news services rely heavily on TMZ's reporting because of the accuracy they have achieved from so many stories they have done in the past and in the present.  TMZ has this unusual reputation as respected, controversial, topical and racy.

TMZ purposely starts discussions to get headlines, like it has done in the past, comparing Los Angeles Galaxy players wives, David Beckham's vs. Robbie Keane's.  'Who would you rather?' is their way of phrasing the beauty contest.

It's probably a safe bet to say that most viewers of TMZ.com's television show or readers to their website are not huge Soccer fans.  The motivation to watch TMZ or go to their website is to get more acquainted with the day's most interesting headlines in the entertainment world.  Sports figures have been known to get lots of exposure on TMZ, but stereotypical sports fans are most likely not TMZ's bread n' butter followers.

Regarding the happenings with MLS players, the only possible result for followers of TMZ is to become a fan of MLS, not become a fan or to just pass the information off to someone else who might care more.  In other words, MLS is getting some pretty awesome publicity out of TMZ.  The fact that they are showing interest and displaying it for so many other Americans to see from shining sea, provides MLS a platform they would unlikely ever be able to achieve on their own.

Keane's debut with the LA Galaxy last season was fantastic, as he became an instrumental part in helping the Galaxy with MLS Cup 2011.  Keane may have also been a positive influence in Beckham's decision to re-up in LA for more years.

For many reasons, the League desperately needs the Galaxy to become a dynasty, winning multiple Cups.  A successful Hollywood team provides more negotiating power with sponsors and TV networks.

If the contemporary Galaxy of Keane, Beckham and Landon Donovan do achieve a lasting legacy, they can thank TMZ, who in their own way, is contributing greatly to building the Galaxy and MLS brands.

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