Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chp 19) Lost in the Shuffle

Soccer and MLS are lost in the shuffle of the U.S. sports calendar.  American football is the juggernaut of American sports fandom and it will be a while before it relinquishes its crown.  Even with so much negative news regarding concussions, cheating scandals, criminal arrests and inflated salaries alongside inflated egos, American football just keeps on dominating the sports headlines.

Death from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, deflated footballs, corrupt fantasy leagues, unethical college coaches, domestic violence or just guys not worthy of rooting for hasn't made a dent yet in the game's takeover of America's pasttime from baseball years ago.  When will this gladiator sport's long run at the top end?

According to two top pundits in 2015, while discussing American football's reign, the sport of soccer won't be relevant for some time.

On his ESPN radio show, Collin Cowherd made his argument: 

"Sports, more than ever, is becoming about real estate. And, the only league that really gets this, is the NFL.  

Baseball, full of smart people, has given the NFL their postseason. Nobody watches playoff baseball anymore.  Even the World Series is going into the tank, unless the Yankees are in it.  And, its all baseball’s fault.  It’s not just because the NFL is popular.  Baseball gives away August and September because their so stubborn and rigid-they can’t scale back to 120 games (from 162).  In august, you could have baseball playoff races and playoffs.  In early September-mid September, you could have the World Series.  

The NFL and college football don’t really get going till late September.  The NFL manipulates you and I, and it manipulates networks.  It has always seen themselves as a Tv show and stealing months off the sports calendar is what they feel they need to do.  There is no NFL off-season anymore.  That’s because the league has done the best job of attracting people with dollars in its off-season.  

Sept-Feb is the season, mid-February to September is the off-season.  Last year, the buzz of the nfl came back on march 10th.  This year, according to the data from Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal, the general public starting talking again about the NFL on Feb. 18th.  We go nine months without even thinking about baseball, the NFL now, is down to nine days. Luker on trends, a polling company, asked all their respondents, during the heart of last year’s baseball season, which sport was the most interesting, football won (in the middle of the baseball season (during the off-season of football).  It's no accident. According to the WSJ, it is the product of a handful of moves, some that seem laughable at the time, to shoehorn events into months when the NFL is dead (in the off-season).  Call it the second NFL season.  The Combine’s (NFL's workouts of college football athletes) a great example.  The league started broadcasting it.  People made fun of it, myself included.  It was considered an afterthought.  Now, it’s become a full-scale media extravaganza, 500 media people.  People go and camp outside of it.  Peter O’Reilly, the NFL senior VP of Events said that a lot of his time is spent figuring out how to create non-seasonal football events.  

I’ve said this about baseball, reduce the games to 120 and I have to watch in August and September.  As it is now, August u give away.  Most people are joining their Fantasy Football teams at that time.  It is so dumb, the NFL keeps mocking, manipulating and laughing at baseball.  Baseball will never be the national pastime again until they figure out that sports is about television and real estate.  The NFL crushes baseball in both."  

Dan Patrick of NBC Sports with his nationally televised daily sports talk show and radio broadcast summed up his point of view regarding American football and included a reference to the recent retirement of Chris Borland after a successful rookie season: 

"Football gets it.   It does its best to play to a television audience.  Gate receipts don’t make the money.  Television does.  Like I said earlier, sports talk has gotten to be more introspective in some instances.  I enjoy the sociology of sports.  I enjoy trying to understand fandom better.  I want to know more about why I and pretty much most other guys my age are obsessed to some degree with watching sports. These are the discussions that stimulate me and that’s why when Chris Borland retired after one successful season playing for the San Francisco 49ers, it made the dial move like an earthquake. 

Would I want my son to play football?  Probably not, does that stop me from covering it, watching it, being a big fan (pause)...no.

I don’t know if Chris Borland changes anything.  If there are any aftershocks, it will be 15-20 years down the road.  The NFL has gone through a lot.  What is the good news with the NFL?"

One of Patrick's producers interjects:  "I’ll tell you the good news, ratings!"

Patrick: "Yeah.  Yeah, that’s why… nothing changes.  People are still going to play.  You know what the end result can be.  You know what you’re risking.  

The game is so big, people just want to be involved in the game.  Every network wants to be involved in the NFL.  Every broadcaster wants to be involved in the NFL.  It’s so big, the players know that platform is so great, they want to be involved with it."

Same producer says:  "So, does any of this really threaten the popularity of the game?"

Patrick:  "Domestic violence didn’t impact it.  What’s really going to impact it?  If you had game-fixing, then maybe you would have an impact there, but these catastrophic injuries…men who are killing themselves-that hasn’t had an impact here.

And, they’re watering down the product by putting it on every night during the week.  

People are still watching."

Different producer interjects:  "Eventually, the popularity of the NFL will start to decline.  Everything has its ebbs and flows.  At a certain point, you thought baseball was going to be the biggest thing ever, but it's not."

Patrick:  "The NFL still attracts the younger audience; the other sports are trying to do that.  Baseball is trying to do that.  If you get the younger audience, as they get older, they stay with you.  The NFL knows that my fan base is going to grow with my league.  

When second producer says he thinks football will lose the fan base because it is not as violent as it used to be, Dan Patrick vehemently disagrees.

"Football is far more violent now then it used to be.  They want to blow you up on every play.  Everyone of these defensive guys now wants to blow you up.  If you look back at NFL Films, they played tough but they didn’t hit you with the force they are hitting at now.  They wrapped you up with both arms and put you on your butt when they tackled you, now they launch at you.  Look at the size of the players now and the speed with which they hit.  There are more violent players now than ever before."

First producer:  "I disagree.  I don’t think the violence sells as much as the offense sells." 

Dan Patrick:  That’s why the NFL went offensive.  They don’t want consumers focused on the defense. It’s a bait and switch.  Don’t keep an eye on that defense, take a look at that offense put up big numbers and how’s your fantasy league? They want the fans to focus on offense; they want to take all the advantages away from the defense.

Football gets it, its about television ratings."

The lack of respect from pundits is also found on national sports websites.  MLS can't seem to find its way to homepages.  MLS is either always mixed in with soccer in general and at least a couple of clicks away or not found at all.  In 2012, I wrote 'No Respect for MLS among Top U.S. Sports Websites.'

The top U.S. sports websites (most read/most popular) are; YAHOO.com, ESPN.com, FOXsports.com and SI.com.  None of these sites give MLS its own category/webpage on their homepages.  MLS is found only among the 'Soccer' category.  Each of the other big '4' team sports have their own categories.  One click is all it takes for the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

These top sports websites differ slightly in how they approach all the other sports.  Depending on season and popularity, other sports get a category to themselves or are grouped with other sports to form another page.  NASCAR has its own category on all but SI, where it appears as part of a dropdown menu of the category 'Racing.'  College Football has its own category on each site and College Basketball has its own on two of them.  UFC has its own category on YAHOO and FOX and is not mentioned on SI's dropdown for MMA and Boxing.  Golf and Tennis get their own categories on all sites, except for ESPN, in which they are found among 'More Sports' (Tennis disappears from some of these sites' main categories depending on whether majors are being played.).

Depending on individual events, a category and/or webpage is created for an event, such as; Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and The Masters.  Each site handles the big events differently.

On ESPN, MLS is accessed from one dropdown menu and on SI, it is accessed from two dropdown menus.  On FOX and YAHOO, MLS is accessed after two clicks of dropdowns and/or category listings.

On TheBigLead.com, there is a Soccer category only in which MLS articles fall under, but no MLS category under Soccer.  Where does MLS belong among all of these sites and how long before they get their own category on the homepages? 

It could be a while because so many U.S. Soccer fans follow club Soccer from other leagues around the world, so website engineers or CEO's try to encompass all of Soccer together as one category.  But, there could come a time when 'MLS' becomes distinguished from 'Soccer' on these homepages.
It may end up that one top sports website will break through and be a leader and the others will follow like sheep.  None are willing to blaze the trail yet.

American sports fans shouldn't have to search through world Soccer webpages to find their American league.  So, why aren't top sports websites giving MLS its own category of articles?  Probably because the debate on whether MLS is mainstream or not hasn't been decided.

Its hard to imagine the sport of soccer being considered part of the 'other' sports to click on from a popular homepage, but that is the case on one website.  In 2012, I wrote 'CBSSports.com Leaves Soccer Out from Its Coverage.'


It may have to do with its newest hire, the irrepressible Jim Rome, who has publicly admitted numerous times to not being a fan of Soccer.  For whatever reasons, it looks like CBS has determined that the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, college football, college basketball, tennis, golf and NASCAR had to be part of its website, but not Soccer.

Under the header of 'More Sports', there is a page for bowling, boxing, horse racing and UFC.  Soccer is not even included under 'More Sports.'  Soccer is nowhere to be found on CBSSports.com.  Maybe it had a part (webpage) in the past on the site, but it doesn't seem to have any part of the future for the site.

There is no mistaking that this is a strategy move by CBS.  But, what's the strategy, exactly?  Is it, to use the website to highlight sports that can be seen most often on its television network?  If this is the case, then, why does the NBA, MLB and NHL get coverage?  The NBA, MLB and NHL don't have no ties to CBS television broadcasts.

Is it possible, the site is under some kind of renovation when it comes to Soccer?  It doesn't appear this is likely because the site has been around since 2004, when it was bought as sportsline.com. Possibly, executives thought Soccer was too big of a sport to try and give appropriate headlines to. As the world's sport, maybe CBS felt they couldn't accommodate the challenges of updating the sport. But, this wouldn't make a lot of sense, because for many of their web sports pages, like NHL or Tennis, they are using bloggers or getting news from other sources.

Not devoting anything to Soccer was a conscientious decision, but without any clear motive.  Or, maybe they felt like Soccer is already big on the other notable sports sites, Yahoo, BigLead, FOX, SI, ESPN, so why bother.  But, this doesn't make sense, because all sports get time devoted to them from those sites.

CBS is desperately trying to raise their online presence, as well as promote their new sports television network. They have a national columnist in Ray Ratto for the website and Jim Rome for the fledgling CBS Sports Network. Both were hired to give a ratings boost nationally, especially Rome. He is controversial and hugely followed on the radio.  He will bring something different to the table for them, but how much of an impact it will be, remains to be seen.

Apparently, Rome and CBSSports.com have more in common than just their contract.  They both have a disdain for Soccer and neither seems to have a good enough reason for it.

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