So... in this month of March I became a proud FC Dallas season ticket holder. The first game I attended (an exhibition match to be fair) recorded an attendance of just under 6,000 people at Pizza Hut Park with a capacity of over 20,000. For a point of reference, consider that last October, the exhibition match between the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls at the American Airlines Center recorded an attendance of just over 19,000.
Now, to keep the numbers as fair as possible, I'll include the fact that yesterday the FC Dallas home opener scored a recorded attendance of 17,000 which was to me quite surprising, considering that this season home opener for the Dallas Mavericks scored an attendance of 20,000, last season's home opener for the Texas Rangers had 51,000 attendees, the Dallas Stars sold at least 18,000 tickets for theirs, the Dallas Cowboys 1-upped them all (no surprise really) at 63,000 faithful, while the Dallas Desperados scored only 12,000.
So what does this tell you? That soccer in this market, as perhaps part for the whole of the country, is somewhere more popular than arena football, surprisingly not too far behind the NBA, and just about tied with hockey (and with the decline of the NHL there's no real surprise here either) for 4th place.
Now, as a side note, I'm not defending my numbers here, I got them off the web. Also, I concede that there are other things to consider like average attendance over the course of a season, merchandise and television revenue... ect... But I also concede that I neither have the time nor desire to do that kind of extensive research.
But it really doesn't matter because, as I sat in my season-held seats, I pondered one question. Was the LA Galaxy's acquisition of David Beckham worth it? Did it increase the popularity of the MLS thereby increasing attendance and revenue? Simply put, do more Americans like soccer now than they did when David Beckham still played across the pond?
Well, despite what many of my favorite analysts will say (Jim Rome, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and the ATH boys to name a few...) that the Beckham project is as much of a bust as the Jason Kidd for the entire present and future of the Dallas Mavericks trade, I might beg to differ just a bit.
First of all, there's the 'ol adage that any publicity is good publicity, which isn't bad for the MLS since until the David Beckham acquisition the MLS basically had no publicity at all. Sure there were players we remembered we knew once every four years like Landon Donovan, but no real marketable stars that would bring the MLS into the American consciousness. So then began the circus. Will Beckham play? Will he not play? Will he have a reality TV show? And what's in Posh's closet?
Say what you want about Beckham and whether or not he will save the MLS. Say what you want about trying to promote the world's most beloved sport in a country where the NFL crushes all like bugs. But it seems that whatever you say, if you care anything about having an informed opinion, it seems you can only say that Beckham has been great for the MLS and American soccer in general. Like I said any news is good news.
But the fact that Beckham has been great for the MLS leaves me wondering and wanting to ask those powers that be--those millionaires who have invested millions of dollars in making money off of the MLS. Why did you wait till now to throw stupid money at an international soccer star? But more than that, why isn't anyone throwing stupid money at Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Andy Rooney, ect.?
I think my point is, sure Beckham is great and all, and every time he visits a city, you can all but guarantee a record turn out, but he doesn't improve the overall quality of the product the MLS is peddling. What I suspect is that for more than any other reason the popularity of soccer in America suffers from exactly that--a poor product. Anyone that knows anything about soccer can very quickly tell the qualitative difference between a game between Manchester Utd. and Arsenal, and a game between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. It's why nobody cares about the playoff race in the Eastern Conference in the NBA, why nobody cares about the NIT when the NCAA is going on, and why nobody watches golf tournaments when Tiger Woods isn't teeing off.
There's one thing about us Americans, we are consumers and we demand the best or we're not going to buy it. It's the real reason that the XFL was an experiment in futility. You see, I'm interested in seeing the LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas game because I'm a soccer fan, and I'd like to see Beckham much in the same way people would roll out to see a Dallas Mavericks game in the 90's... if they happened to be playing Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on that given night. So sure, I'll take the Beckham circus, because it reminds everyone that soccer does in fact exist in this country, despite the best attempts of the last US National Team at the last World Cup to destroy it. I'll take it but I want more. I want a league where Beckham and Ronaldo go head to head this week and Zidane and Ronaldinho go at it next week. Can you imagine the MLS marketing not only that caliber of stars but also that caliber of competition? Can you imagine that kind of league? In this country?
And you might ask, but why would they leave Europe to play here? To which I would say, why would Beckham leave Europe to play here? FOR THE MONEY! For the stupid money that the LA Galaxy owner was willing to throw at Beckham. And if you ask me, Christiano Ronaldo is aging, and should be prime target A for any MLS team wanting to increase both the quality of their product and their revenue by dramatic fashion.
Why do I want to say, "If you build it, they will come?"