Today’s post is courtesy of Amanda Miller, who has contributed to the blog in the past and will be a regular contributor moving forward. You can read her full bio here.
If the only sports radio you listen to is ‘Jim Rome is Burning,’ you might think professional soccer in the United States is hearing its death knell. To the contrary, skeptics and fans alike can see the growth in popularity of the game, with the most obvious sign being the enormous success of the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders are Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, the 15th in the still-growing league.
While the Sounders inaugural season ended in heartbreak after an overtime loss to the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, they have an enormous amount to be proud of. A few of their 2009 highlights include:
- Having more season ticket holders than any team in MLS’ 13-year existence
- Becoming the first expansion team since the Chicago Fire in 1998 to make the MLS Playoffs
- Winning the 2009 U.S. Open Cup
- Setting a league record for average attendance at 30,943 fans
The Sounders also single-handedly kept MLS attendance numbers from taking a huge hit due to the recession. Without Seattle, Major League Soccer would have seen a 9.5% decline at the gate but instead had only a 3.3% decline (courtesy of SBJ). That number was less than half of the decline that Major League Baseball saw in 2009.
One of the aces up Seattle’s sleeve was popular comedian Drew Carey. Carey fought hard to give Sounders fans a serious voice. Every season ticket holder gets to vote on the direction of the club. If they are not happy with how the front office is being run, they can vote the general manager out, and the owners will need to choose a new one. This gives the fans an enormous amount of buy-in to a team. In most markets, if the team started doing poorly, the fans might feel disenfranchised and walk away, but in Seattle, they have a valid reason to stick out the hard times.
All signs point to 2010 being a year where soccer in the United States is raised to an entirely new level. The World Cup will be held in South Africa and the U.S. has qualified for the sixth consecutive time. While other American teams are used to dominating their sport, the U.S. Men’s National Team didn’t qualify for the World Cup for forty years (1950-1990).
Also in 2010, MLS will welcome its 16th team as the Philadelphia Union begins play, while Vancouver and Portland anxiously await their inaugural matches in 2011. Viewership of MLS games increased on both the ESPN family of channels as well as Fox Soccer Channel (courtesy of SBJ). With the success of the Sounders, the brilliant run of the U.S. Men’s National Team into the finals of the Confederations Cup , and the beginning of U.S. Soccer’s bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, soccer has been in the collective consciousness throughout the year.
So, what do you think? Is all this just sound and fury? Is soccer really becoming more popular in the United States? Are the Seattle Sounders an anomaly, or can other teams copy their success? Will soccer continue to make the Top 10 highlights on SportsCenter even when it’s not a run-up year to the World Cup?