In my previous story on how supporter's groups can influence the level of talent signing to the league as well as fan interest I failed to cover a major factor. This factor also relates to expansion and the American/Canadian desire to see top-flight soccer in their home nation.
This factor is again how atmosphere/fan passion can influence a league's pull internationally and at home for TV and internet viewers. Included in this discussion is the amazing amount of opportunity that Major League Soccer has to capture the global interest, while maximizing interest at home.
The fact is that within the USA there is a very large group of soccer fans that don't pay attention to MLS right now. While in the past I thought that talent was the number one reason for the gap, actually the quality of players was third in the USA from the last Barclays Global Fans Report. Ranking #1 was style of play and #2 was fan passion/atmosphere at games.
Currently this is where most of MLS is missing the boat.
Sure Toronto, DC United and Chicago have good atmospheres, but as a whole the league still focuses on the suburban soccer playing family and not the passionate support reminiscent of the Premier League. This misses ticket sales, tv ratings and potential online presence.
This is likely due to the single entity structure, but also notice the ManU numbers there. They are not particularly strong. So while the EPL dominates the American soccer market with a fan response rate of 98% v 36% for MLS and fans will wake up at 7AM to watch on EPL match while ignoring MLS on later that night it is clear that MLS is doing some things well.
American and Canadian fans love the world's game, and even with their distant passions for the EPL they actually perform as well as British nationals do in the EPL fantasy rankings. Read that again. The American and Canadian contingent participating in EPL fantasy scores an 861.9 average and those from the UK score 862.1. The MLS nations have 70,000 players in EPL fantasy against the 1.2 Million from the UK. Those are Americans and Canadians who know and love the game, and yet only about half watch MLS on a Saturday night.
We love our football and the style of play and stadium experience are the primary draws to the most popular league of the sport. Again realize that MLS is a young league, its TV ratings are anemic, and the league is only in about half of the Top 25 markets in the US and Canada right now. The EPL even without marquee match-ups has three times the tv viewership of MLS.
Their are still lost opportunities for MLS, for even as the league continues to improve its profitability and grow the sport it certainly isn't going to compete with the big 2 sports in North America, and likely not even the 2nd tier with NASCAR, NBA and NHL. We follow a 3rd tier sport at this time.
But by grabbing a greater level of international talent (over 50% of the EPL is from outside the UK), by playing a the counter-attacking long ball game of the EPL as opposed to the bruising combination of tight ground passes of Latin America with the physical nature of Scotland, and by having more passion in the stadiums MLS can take its next step. With things like that MLS can take advantage of the MP&Silva deal and grow the TV and online rights, as the only competition in Asia and Africa is really just the EPL and World Cup. al-Jazeera is said to be bidding to show the EPL and UEFA Champions League on its Arab all-sports network. Currently the EPL is a pay-per-view sport in the Arab world, but with al-Jazeera would potentially reach over 200 Million additional viewers. Grabbing even tiny percentages of that would be a coup for MLS.
The initial era of the sport (up to contraction) showed some promise, the current era is demonstrating that the sport and the league have a future in North America. The upcoming era will test whether or not MLS will be a third tier sport in its region that can't compete on the pitch with poverty stricken Central American leagues or if Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC have a new model for the league. A model that will push the league forward growing its following among the millions of expatriates who miss the live game, a model that captures the attention of the pub crowd - a model that understands that the FANS want to help the league market the sport.