Jun 26, 2013

In defense of Eurosnobs

Fluminense vs Orlando City friendly

In the coming months, major European and South American clubs will arrive on American soil to play preseason friendlies against each other, as well as against American teams. Most of them will be playing in front of crowds much larger than could be found at a typical MLS clash. You'll be hard-pressed to find empty seats at friendlies involving, say, Man United and Barcelona, even at NFL stadiums which will likely be playing hosts to them.

Most soccer fans in America will be happy to see these teams arrive on these shores, if only for the summer. It means a great deal to see their heroes in action, they say; plus, these friendlies have the added benefit of raising the Beautiful Game's profile in a country where it hasn't completely been accepted as a part of its sports fabric yet.

On the other hand, there's a very vocal portion of soccer fans in America who claim that these high-profile matches do more harm than good to the MLS, as they drive potential supporters toward European powerhouses, rather than help local sides in their efforts to develop a proper fanbase.

They further decry the fact that European competitions -- namely the Champions League, EPL, and La Liga -- get far more press in America than their own national league, and reserve special scorn for the fans who gravitate toward the aforementioned major Euro clubs... the Barcelona's, the Man United's, the Real Madrid's, and the Chelsea's of the soccer world.

Oh, those glory-hunting fans. Eurosnobs, their detractors call them. Thumbing their nose at American soccer while rooting for teams on the other side of the ocean. Refusing to support the local team while jumping of the bandwagons of British and Spanish teams. Showing no love whatsoever for the game within their own country.

For that latter group, mostly consisting of MLS die hards, the support for the league, and support for American soccer in general, seems to be a black-and-white issue. Either you deck yourself out from head to toe in Sounders or Red Bulls gear, or you take the easy route of rooting for Real Madrid. As with any sport, there appears to be very little middle ground for the hardcore types, as if the casual fans can't have it both ways.

They might present their arguments as a passionate defense of their clubs, their league, their game. They might even posit that we have an obligation to support our local and national teams; that investing our emotions, not to mention disposable income, toward a European team is akin to selling out our community, the American game at large, and even America itself.

I would counter that car companies like Ford apply that exact same logic to guilt-trip people into buying their vehicles. Their viewpoint doesn't take into account the inherent hypocrisy of allowing us the freedom to do whatever we like with our money, yet throwing us into the fire when we choose to invest in a foreign product. What percentage of the fans who look down on the "Eurosnobs" drive a used BMW to get to and from work, let alone attend their teams' matches?

Americans demand maximum value for their entertainment dollars, whether it's a movie, a concert, a play, an art exhibit, or a date. Why should sports be any different? Why should soccer be any different?

Sports fans in America have always gravitated toward leagues that offer the highest level of competition. NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL are universally regarded as the best leagues in the world in their sports, and thus have a monopoly over the pro landscape in America, as well as leeway to expand its fanbase overseas (see NFL's marketing efforts in the UK). Major League Soccer, for all its growth since its inception, is not even close to being in a position to do something similar.

However, major European leagues, led by the EPL and La Liga, are perfectly poised to capitalize on a worldwide audience. Ditto international competitions like the Champions League and the European Championships. Furthermore, other domestic leagues such as Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and even the SPL are also gaining a burgeoning audience in America, helped in part by smaller channels like GolTV and beIn.

Major networks like ABC, Fox, and most recently, NBC, have all realized this, which is why they've bought broadcasting rights to those competitions. None of these networks are guilty of snubbing the domestic league, or abandoning the game back home. If they are guilty of anything, it is of knowing where the ratings are, and aggressively pursuing new viewers.

MLS will undoubtedly continue its upward climb in the coming years, with increased investment in the game, rising quality of play, and higher levels of respect for the league among soccer fans around the world -- including those here in the States. Over time, American fans who prefer the European scene over the domestic arena could make the migration toward their local teams; at the very least, they will be rooting for clubs on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the present, however, American soccer, at all levels, will be seen as an acquired taste, in the same way that soccer itself was seen as an acquired taste by most Americans in years past. The so-called Eurosnobs will be among the people who will need convincing: not only to switch allegiances, or simply adopt their local teams, but to simply support the American game itself.

Name-calling and guilt-tripping won't accomplish that.

Highlighting all the positives that the domestic game has to offer instead, however, just might do the trick.

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