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Where is U.S. Soccer marketing?

(Monday, September 6, 1999) -- SoccerTimes readers continue to express their outrage over the United States Soccer Federationsís failure to make American Confederations Cup matches generally available to the public. Columnist Jerry Langdon wrote about this topic August 31 in Confederations Cup TV failure is just another lost opportunity for U.S. soccer.

Congratulations on another insightful article regarding some of the problems (in this case lack of TV coverage) that U.S. Soccer needs to address in order to grow this sport in America. Particularly worrying was the perceived attitudes of ISL and our own Hank Steinbecher.

It is troubling when I read that the ISL, FIFA's marketing arm, will not even take the time to explain their actions (or lack thereof) to the soccer media. You rightfully pointed out that the United States is FIFA's last, "great frontier" to conquer. When one takes into account the size and affluence of the population it would only make sense that FIFA would be salivating over this market. Especially if they have already gotten a taste of its potential at the Men's (1994) and Women's (1999) World Cups. Just think how much more money they could put in their pockets if soccer's popularity were increased as a result of their marketing efforts? Perhaps FIFA should appoint a separate marketing company to the U.S. that understands this market better?

The most frightening comments I read, though, came from (U.S. Soccer secretary\general) Hank Steinbrecher. You quoted him as saying, "We have to set the stage where we get good enough ratings so our sponsors can exercise leverage." This is the old "chicken-and-the-egg" story. One will not have the good ratings if most of the U.S. population has not been "turned on" to soccer. The best way to do this is to televise U.S. games and allow the game to sell itself. Steibrecher seems to think that, magically, some day people will all of a sudden tune into the games and its sponsors will then be able to dictate what games should be televised. Well, in the real world it doesn't work like that. One must market its product even if it means taking losses during its infancy stages.

Steinbrecher also said that he would not approve a $1 million proposal (to televise the Confederations Cup) if it came across his desk. This is like the classic case of the person who does not want to take on risk by investing in the stock market, so he\she keeps their money in a passbook savings account not knowing that inflation is actually eating away at the value of the account. U.S. Soccer must take risks in order to move forward. Televising games, even at a loss, should be an acceptable risk. It is the best way to bring soccer to the masses. Otherwise, other sports marketing efforts will continue to eat away at our fan base (like the savings account losing value). One is either moving forward or backwards because there is only a finite amount of disposable income amongst the public and many entertainment outlets vying for these monies.

Lastly, Steinbrecher could have better replied to the approval question by stating that U.S. soccer would look into partnerships to help defray the high cost of purchasing these TV rights. Partnerships could be sought with other entities in which it would be in their best interest to grow the game (e.g., ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, FIFA, MLS, etc.). If U.S. soccer is not considering these possibilities, then their marketing department is not doing their job.

Should U.S. Soccer be looking for partners to share the cost of televising these games? Yes. Should U.S. Soccer be spending money to televise these games even if it means taking losses but giving soccer a better chance to survive in America? Absolutely!


Another wasted opportunity

I would like to commend you on voicing my exact thoughts. While the Confederations Cup was playing, I went to five different sports bars looking for it on TV and found nothing. I agree that it was a huge lost opportunity to promote soccer in the U.S.

I think the U.S. TV audience needs to have access to quality soccer before the ratings will start to climb. We need access to more cup play, international friendlies, English Premiere league, and the Spain League, in addition to Major League Soccer coverage, to increase the viewing audience. Lets face it, with the exception of about four MLS teams, the overall play is a step down from international play. We can't rely on just MLS coverage to get additional sports fans interested in soccer. Currently, quality international play is available mostly on pay-per-view, which reaches nobody but the die-hard fan.

About the only access I have to international soccer on TV is the weekly "Worldwide Soccer" program on ESPN2, which is a fantastic informative action-packed 30 minutes of soccer news\highlights. But even that gets a back seat to other programming because it is shown early in the afternoon while everybody is still at work (so I can't watch it live), and ESPN2 keeps moving around the air time\day (so it is difficult to tape it). How do they expect to get regular viewers with an approach like that?

Craig Bernard [dudemon@ghg.net]

No reply

You would think after the tremendous exposure world of soccer received after the Women's World Cup, television networks would be clamoring all over themselves to get more soccer on television.

The networks really did drop the ball on that whole deal. I honestly believe they should go out of their way to televise any U.S. National Soccer team event.

Thanks for such an insightful article.

Dustin Taylor [dustint@mindspring.com]

Networks have no pride

I have a few comments to your about why soccer will never be shown on regular TV. It's because the entertainment industry has never shown national pride, but hunger for ratings. To be frank, I had to travel to Guadalajara to watch the (Confederations Cup) matches. Why? Because it's all politics. I don't get it. People rather watch golf than soccer, because it's foreign. If we want our national to excel, we have to let them know that we are watching.

Rodolfo Villasenor [vipersix@gte.net]

Broadcast and I will watch

I appreciate your recent editorial about the missed opportunity in the U.S. with the Confederations Cup not being shown widely on TV. I admit that I have not seen any D.C. United matches in person this year, and I have not been able to make it to RFK stadium when the U.S. team have played there, but I watch nearly every match shown featuring either team on TV.

I remember calling my cable company (in suburban Maryland) to inquire about pay-per-view that morning (of the U.S.-Mexico Confederations Cup match) and being shocked to find out it wasn't offered, nor could I watch it in area sports bars that usually show international matches.

On the other hand, it was exciting on December 5, 1998 (my birthday), when WNVC-56, a local public TV station, showed the D.C. United-Vasco da Gama match down in Miami. You bet I watched that, just as I watch nearly every D.C. United and U.S. team match showed on TV.

I doubt if we'll be able to see D.C. United try to defend their CONCACAF champions club title in Las Vegas, but I would certainly appreciate the opportunity.

Bill Murray [wamurray@hotmail.com]

A lame effort

I could have not agreed more with your article. I live in Atlanta, Ga. a metro with a sizable Latin community and I was unable to find any location within one hour drive to watch Confederations Cup games. The IMG web site was very lame with reference to a list of these places and that didn't help.

Now, do you have any idea where we can watch the (upcoming) friendly with Jamaica on TV?

Rob Chapple [chappler@mindspring.com]

Networks should be ashamed

I read your article about coverage of the game, I thought it was good and I was ashamed that the networks did not show any games. As I was on vacation in Spain at the time, the Spanish television networks showed the results and they offered the games on pay-per-view on the digital network.

I know the U.S. networks have a long way to go with showing soccer on TV mainly due to advertising, but maybe the should check out how Spanish TV does it. I have also noticed that there has been no notification on what games are being played with the women's Nike Cup except from the schedules from "Turn-US-On" the soccer e-mail notifier. Will they show any of the games on > regular TV?? I don't know, but they should, as some people don't have cable.

Keep up the good fight

Sam Soto [kurgane@juno.com]

The fans were left out

Thanks, Mr. Langdon, for your story on the lack of Confederations Cup coverage. I was really disappointed that the games were not shown. I thought the U.S. would do well and they did not disappoint -- except that fans of the team were left out. I couldn't even find an Internet radio broadcast.

P.S. -- We will continue to get better -- all the kids are playing now, and their folks are getting involved.

Rob Hull [hull@wvwc.edu]

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