Tuesday, December 4, 2012

beckham's departure hangs over galaxy win.

Major League Soccer has officially put the 2012 season to bed. In a rematch of last year's finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamos, 3-1. They scored all three of their goals in the second half, two off penalty kicks.

The game, of course, was a fitting cap to David Beckham's career, which is all anyone can talk about when it comes to soccer. In America, we're still waiting for a transcendant star to break the glass ceiling of soccer's appeal to the masses. Plenty of people thought it was going to be Beckham, but while plenty are finding reason to celebrate in his going out on top, there were lots of rough patches in his MLS career, too.

The simple truth is that soccer, even at its post-Beckham level, is nowhere near the popularity of the four major sports in America. Football is king. There are myriad basketball and baseball purists. Even hockey, a virtually unheralded sport in New Mexico, has regional swells of popularity. By pure television rankings of their championship events, the Super Bowl crushes all the sports combined. An estimated 111 million Americans tuned in to the big game in February. The last baseball championship, where the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers managed 15.5 million viewers for Game 4. The Miami Heat getting over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 nabbed 18.4 million viewers. When the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils (two major television markets!) in Game 6, the NHL only wrangled 5 million viewers. This year's MLS Cup meanwhile, backtracked on the progress they'd made last year, managing only a 0.7 Nielsen rating. This translates to just over a million viewers.

There are suggestions about how to improve the ratings, but the simple fact is that soccer is averaging significantly fewer viewers for its championship game than the NCAA women's college basketball championship game, which is dismissed by many outright. It seems to be a chicken or egg problem: sponsors aren't going to spend money supporting a game that isn't bringing sets of eyes to the tube, but without that money and/or hype, how will people be attracted?

David Beckham was going to be that answer. For now, the question remains unsolved. But don't feel bad for Beckham. He's going to play for another year somewhere, before returning to MLS, in some sort of managerial or ownership role. And don't pity the Los Angeles Galaxy. Joining the NHL Kings, they're now the reigning champs of a sport that few might be tuning in to, but which allows plenty of room for growth.

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