Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dream Sporting Event: Real American Soccer (Part II)

By Rick Morris

As a part of last summer’s “Dream Sporting Event” series, I broached the subject of how soccer could potentially be elevated into an upper-tier sport in America. I even threw out a motive for why the Powers That Be might be interested in such a project:

“The premise is that FIFA would decide to make real penetration of the American soccer market its “Manhattan Project” as a means to expand its reach in a true global sense by tapping into the world’s most dominant consumer market. FIFA does have it within its reach to apply the pressure needed on the world’s soccer circuits and tournaments to be able to make this league happen.”

The league, as I imagined it, would be a short-season, every-other-year league comprised of the world’s best players. I’m not going to recap it in its entirety, so I urge you to click through to read about it.

I reference that column here because of a very thought-provoking idea thrown out at Sports by Brooks: an American incursion into the English Premier League. With the World Cup upon us, Brooks tackles the quadrennial question of why soccer has never lived up to the billing of its backers in this country.

The idea is radically different from my own in terms of concept application – but the concept itself is the same: bring top-flight soccer to America in order to appeal to a sporting audience that yawns at anything but the highest level of competition. Now, I do share in the general skepticism that soccer could ever elevate past a certain level in this country, owing in general to the pace of play and level of attention that is demanded, but we will never know for sure until we are seeing (at least many of) the best of the best battling it out on the pitches.

The way to do this would be to expand the EPL from 20 teams to 24, keeping the rest of the format the same. American franchises would be best utilized in New York, Seattle (which has already become an ideal soccer market in one year of having an MLS franchise) and the Los Angeles & Houston markets to tap into vast Latino interest. A case could be made for switching out Houston and Toronto in order to bring another country’s fanbase into the mix. Scheduling would not be super-easy to be sure, but you could bring over four UK-based teams at a time to rotate through the American (or North American) games and send each of the American/North American teams on lengthy road trips through the UK in order to reduce travel issues.

Relegation would be an obstacle, to be sure. The poorest-performing Premier League teams are sent down to a lower league, with others promoted in their place. The only way to make the American or North American teams work in this equation would be to replace any of them worthy of being sent down with MLS franchises, so as to keep the number of representatives on this continent constant.

In the end, Brooks’ idea is equally as valid as mine and probably more realistic – keeping in mind that neither is especially realistic in the short term because powerful entities often are afraid to roll the dice on change. The league is already the most viewed worldwide, seen regularly by half a billion people in 202 countries. So the barons in charge of this venture could be forgiven for thinking that it can’t grow any bigger. I disagree strongly. Drop the New World into the mix and watch the printing presses cranking out money go into hyperdrive.

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