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Will Another ‘Football’ One Day Replace The NFL?

In College, MLB, MLS, NFL on July 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Nothing is forever, and the only constant in life is change. In your father’s day, baseball ruled the country’s hearts and minds as the premier American sport. While it still gets to keep its honorary title as the American Pastime, football on the other hand, particularly the NFL, has become the new favorite form of sports entertainment amongst the masses.

Yet, with advancements in medical technology, and the ability to better understand the consequences of concussions, football is potentially entering the waning days of its dominance and perhaps even relevancy.

“You are soooooo getting a bounty for this…”

Like all sports, football thrives on its ‘farm system.’ The Pop Warners that rule the parks and playgrounds, teach children the fundamentals of the game. It also begins to separate players who are more suited for skilled positions (quarterbacks and wide receivers) than kids who are more inclined for speed, size or strength positions (or perhaps not even playing at all).

“What do you mean I’m never going to win a Super Bowl?”

The Pop Warner system feeds into the high school programs, where roles become more formal, more defined, and mostly permanent. After four years of honing skills and athletic ability, the best-of-the-best might get the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, where after another four-or-five years, the best-of-the-best might get the opportunity to play in the NFL.

The issues facing football, at least for the time being, aren’t necessarily found at the collegiate or professional levels. Instead, they are found during the Pop Warner years. The issue is simply a declining level of participation during the developmental years of the sport, and a culture of parenting that will steer their children into different avenues of athletic recreation.

Despite the best efforts by Pop Warner to raise awareness and limit the possibilities of concussions for its participants, Pop Warner has seen “slight decreases” in their enrollment over the last two years. As forecasted, weary parents, it seems, are being scared off by the sudden rush of new information regarding head traumas. They’re simply beginning to not let their children play. While only a slight number of parents have withdrawn their youngsters, with every year that passes, more information becomes available, and more parents might continue finding different activities for their children to participate in.

As children who normally would have worked their way through the farm system potentially become less and less, so will decrease the pool of potential talent for the NFL. Let’s make something perfectly clear here; if the NFL does, one day in the future, cease to exist, or its popularity is only a fraction of what it currently is, its downfall will not be because everyone suddenly became enlightened to the pitfalls of concussions and decided to no longer put themselves in circumstances that may cause bodily harm. If that were the case, people would have stopped smoking long ago.

Oh, college.

Instead, the NFL might one day falter because the player’s playing the game simply won’t be as good as they used to be. If parents become scared off by the medical consequences of football, and don’t allow their children the possibility of playing at a young, developmental level, then in 20-to-30 years, the future Larry Fitzgerald’s, Jerry Rice’s, Peyton Manning’s, Dan Marino’s, and Walter Payton’s of the game, will never exist. They will have never stepped foot on the field. Their talents and athletic ability will be directed into different ventures like baseball, basketball, or other sports

If all this happens, the talent offered by a future NFL might one day rival the bad high school football that was given to us by the now defunct XFL.

At least someone liked the XFL.

So what will take the NFL’s place if, in a few decades, the NFL becomes an unwatchable mess? Will baseball rise once more, and engulf the hearts of the nation like yesteryear? Will Lebron James continue where Michael Jordan left off, and turn the NBA into the world-wide cultural event David Stern can only dream of? Will hockey…I honestly can’t finish that sentence.

So if the NFL takes a back seat to another sport, what will that sport be?

In America, this is called soccer. Everywhere else calls it football. It is the most popular sport in the world. It is played with your feet.

Thirty-years ago, soccer was supposed to be the next big thing to hit the United States, and we’re still waiting for it. Just because soccer’s rise of popularity is taking a little longer than expected, doesn’t mean that statement still isn’t true.

Since the 2010 World Cup, ratings for soccer continues to increase. The recent UEFA Euro Cup saw a 46% rise of viewers since the 2008 campaign. The MLS has recently penned a deal with NBC to air games on the network, as well as NBC’s sports affiliate. The USL is beginning to expand their markets to try to rival the MLS (it sort of reminds me of baseball’s National League and American League before the 2000 merger, or the NBA and the ABA). Simply put, soccer is expanding. While it’s nowhere near as popular as football (or hockey for that matter), football wasn’t nearly as popular as baseball during baseball’s years of dominance, either. Things change, and large contributing factors besides economical, are also cultural. The culture is beginning to embrace soccer.

“The tickets were free!”

Along with television ratings, soccer’s popularity at the youngster, junior high, and high school levels are also experiencing significant rises in popularity. The farm system for the sport is now being founded, and as a result, the pool of talent  is widening. While immediate results won’t yield the type of world-class players seen in Europe, Latin America, Asia or Africa for at least a few generations, with every year that passes, the talent in these farm levels will continue to get better, and as a consequence, the game become much more enjoyable to the watch.

Also, while immigration into the United States has curbed recently, due in part to the economical downturn, millions of people still immigrate to the country every year, and from all over the world. Millions of people who come from countries where soccer is king.

In the past, children of these immigrants might have turned away from soccer and embraced more ‘American’ sports like baseball or football, because avenues to embrace their parents’ first love weren’t available in their communities. As professional soccer becomes more visible on network television though, and as youth programs become more readily available as well, parents now have more options than ever before to put their child in a soccer club at a young, medium and older age, and to provide them with televised methods of getting their children interested.

The seeds have been planted, and while the NFL tries to get over bounty programs, suicides, and health concerns, the most popular sport in the world is beginning to find its footing in the United States. I love football (the American version), and I’m not advocating for its demise. Trends are trends though, and if you keep following them, they tend to lead you in a certain direction. No matter what, football, like baseball, will one day be replaced with another sport that becomes our national passion. It’s not a question of if, it’s just a matter of which sport will one day replace it.

I’m guessing the one with the same name.

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How The MLS Could Become A Household Name

In MLS on June 18, 2012 at 8:49 am

With the UEFA Euro’s well underway, I started feeling a wee bit sad over the United States not having a professional soccer league of its own. Yeah, the Euro’s are comprised of national teams playing one another, but it’s still sad there’s no avenue for everyone in the U.S. to watch the sport on a more regular basis, so we don’t have to all of a sudden pretend to care about the World Cup every four years.

Then I remember we do.

It’s called Major League Soccer (MLS). It has teams in Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia, just to name a few. They have names like Galaxy, Chivas, Red Bulls, Earthquakes, Fire, Sounders, Timbers, Union and United. They even have teams in Canada. Now do you know what I’m talking about?

“Chances are, you have no idea who I am.”

No, that’s Arena Football you’re thinking of.

It’s that thing David Beckham joined in LA. You know, the guy who married the skinny Spice Girl? Are we on the same page yet?

Yeah, that’s the MLS.

For anyone who’s ever played FIFA 2009 on their friend’s PS3, you know that when you’re selecting your team, you never pick out of the MLS category, unless you want to be slower than everyone else, and incapable of completing a pass. So that’s a main hurdle facing the league and why, if you’ve never played FIFA, you probably don’t know about it. Or don’t care to know. Compared to other clubs on the world stage, the league simply doesn’t offer the same level of talent than elsewhere. So much so, that the few soccer fans in the country who actually do care about ‘football‘ (that’s what they call it in other places), would actually prefer to stay up until four in the morning to watch a European match, than whatever the MLS has to offer.

The second hurdle facing the league’s popularity in the states is that Americans don’t like cry-baby sissies. It’s why American football is the country’ new past-time. It’s why everyone outside San Antonio hates the Spurs and Manu Ginobili. A good breeze comes by, and a soccer player (or Ginobili and half the Spurs) fall to the ground and cry and wither in pain, only to get up a few seconds later, after a penalty’s assigned to whomever happened to pass the injured player at the time of injury, and then start playing like nothing ever happened.

Regardless of these obstacles facing the MLS and its rise to any sort of legitimacy in the country, there is a simple solution to dissolve the complete and utter apathy that faces the league from the general viewing public.

It’s called marketing.

How many Michael Bay movies have made heaps of money, simply due to good marketing, when the product on the screen is absolute crap? I mean completely horrible, absolute, inarguable crap. And if you don’t believe me, go see Transformers 2.

“I will destroy all of your fond childhood memories, arrrgh!”

The MLS needs to market itself like a Michael Bay movie. And NBC, not NBC Sports, is the place to do it.

Now, NBC already airs MLS games, but primarily on its sister sports station, NBC Sports. Occasionally they air games on network NBC, but I’m talking about NBC becoming the premier, go-to channel for MLS Soccer. I mean turning the league into a primetime, network event. I mean going big, or going home.

Remember how good the NBA used to be when it was the NBA on NBC and not the giant snooze-fest in it’s current form on ABC and ESPN? Granted, having Jordan and Barkley and Bird and Magic and the rest of the Dream Team helped NBC’s ability to air a watchable product (unlike their current primetime schedule), but you also have to remember how the games were shot, the announcers they had (the intolerable Bill Walton, anyone?) and the support programs NBC aired to buttress with the actual game (Ahmad Rashad and Inside the NBA). By simple production value and marketing prowess, NBC was able to turn a spectator sport into fine theater, sort of like how FOX Sports took the concept and ran with it for its MLB and NFL boradcasts. How much better is an NFL game on FOX than CBS? How drama filled is even the most boring World Series when FOX airs it?

While FOX would actually  be the better outlet to turn the MLS into something viable, they’ve already filled their time slots with the two other sports, so why ruin a good thing? Let FOX do what it already does best. Besides, NBC already signed a contract to air MLS for three years. If they pump this thing up, in three years MLS could be a household thing (whereupon they will dump NBC and move over to ABC and ESPN, right David Stern?)

It’s a given that the world has changed significantly since NBC used to air the NBA. Nowadays, sports broadcasting is run and ruled by All-Sports, All-The-Time cable channels, while the networks have become more prone to air talent shows and reality TV and crime dramas.

But NBC, from the top of their lineup to the bottom, has nothing worth holding on to in any of their time slots, so substituting another episode Law And Order: SVU with more MLS games, and turning NBC into the flagship carrier of the league could be an opportunity to not only bring some attention to the sport, but maybe viewers back to the struggling network. What greater reality is there than competitive sports, and like the days of old, with Jordan and Barkley, what better theater as well? Make the MLS into a Primetime, everyday event, so even Grandma, who only gets the basic channels, can watch. Turn back the clock to the day when sports weren’t primarily reserved for cable league channels and sports packages. Make the MLS the working man’s game.

If it works, the network makes money, MLS gains legitimacy, and better players from around the world will want to come and play here. The maybe it gets a little more watchable. Then maybe the snowball effect. And who knows, maybe the next time your over at your buddies and your selecting your team, maybe the MLS category might be a little more tempting

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