Friday, October 19, 2007

David Beckham is Back..Who Cares??

David Beckham made his less-than-triumphant return from injury last night, playing 22 minutes as a substitute as his Los Angeles Galaxy drew 1-1 at home with New York Red Bulls, a game the Galaxy really needed to win to realistically have a chance at making the MLS playoffs. Every team seemingly gets into the playoffs (8 out of 13 teams, in fact), which is a joke in itself, but the more comical, and unfortunate, part of this story is that no one in mainstream America cares.

Beckham was officially unveiled as a Galaxy player on July 13, which would've been the perfect time for soccer in America to finally gain some positive recognition in the media. The Michael Vick/dogfighting issues were just unfolding and the Tim Donaghy refereeing/betting on games scandal was causing the NBA widespread embarrassment. More importantly, however, MLS had as little competition for publicity as it could get at any time during the sporting year. College football, college basketball, NFL, NHL, and NBA seasons hadn't started yet, and the only professional sport going at that time is Major League Baseball, but the regular season, especially in July, isn't exactly a top-drawing, casual fan-enticing time. David Beckham's arrival was the perfect opportunity for MLS to finally break its way into the top tier of professional sports in America (NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA), the largest sporting market in the world.

As we all know though, that's not how things played out. Beckham's ankle injury proved to be more serious than previously indicated and he didn't play a league match until August 9, against DC United. MLS backloaded the Galaxy's schedule so that they'd play in all the major markets (New York, DC, Chicago, Toronto, Dallas, Boston/New England) after Beckham got to LA so they could capitalize on high TV ratings and sellout crowds. Beckham missed the Galaxy's games in Dallas, Toronto, Colorado, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Columbus, and New England, as well as the Los Angeles derby against Chivas. He did play in DC (as a substitute) and New York (undoubtedly MLS's match of the season). It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things didn't exactly go according to plan.

Fast forward to the present. Let's be honest; the only people that care about the MLS regular season are the clubs themselves and the most diehard of their fans. The fact is that the regular season means nothing; the league champion is determined in the playoffs. The league as a whole gets less and less interest as the season goes on, especially now with the NFL, NHL, and college football seasons underway, as well MLB's playoffs. The NBA preseason is here as well and college basketball is only about 2 or 3 weeks away. In short, the casual fan, the fan MLS is desperate to attract and the fan that they planned the Galaxy's schedule around, simply isn't going to watch MLS regular season games with all of these other sporting options. Sure, I'll watch the playoffs, but if they're on at the same time as Michigan Wolverines basketball or football or the New York Rangers, sorry, those games will be getting the most of my attention.

Were the higher-ups at MLS nuts to schedule last night's game between the Galaxy and Red Bulls for 11 PM East Coast time?? The East Coast makes up the majority of television viewership. If you want the casual fan to watch, start the game at a reasonable hour during primetime (7-9 PM ET); they can play in LA from 4-7 Pacific time and the stadium will still be sold out if David Beckham is there. It also was an unlucky break for MLS that ESPN's telecast of South Florida-Rutgers had national title implications and the baseball playoffs were on as well, a high draw when Boston is playing.

Also, according to who you believe, Beckham hasn't been doing much in the community, not in Los Angeles and not in the rest of the cities he and the Galaxy visit. Listening to World Soccer Daily, which is based in LA, hosts Steven Cohen and Howard Rogers have said repeatedly that Beckham doesn't do much in the way of signing autographs for the kids and doesn't do publicity events. People who call into the show say the same thing. A lot was expected of Beckham when he came to America; perhaps far too much. One thing for certain, however, is that he's failed miserably to deliver on the media hype and interest surrounding him.

Let me be clear that I support soccer here in America and across the world; I wouldn't be writing those blog if I didn't care about soccer. It's a shame that more people aren't paying attention to MLS because the quality of soccer is getting much better, and more notable international players than ever before recognize that and are coming here. David Beckham's injury woes certainly were a heartbreaker for MLS executives, who basically banked this season on him coming and being a success. He hasn't been this season, and maybe he will be next year and for seasons after that, but a prime chance for soccer in America to gain a foothold was wasted this summer. I'm not sure if it will come again.

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