While France and Italy were wringing their hands and Nigeria was suspending their team for two years, the United States was moving on to figure out how to capitalize on the next successful step that was realized in the World Cup.
Despite the loss to Ghana, more casual fans tuned in, logged on and talked about World Cup in the States than ever before, giving the sport a new opportunity in its growth at the professional level. So what’s next? The NHL used the success of the Olympics to elevate its awareness for the rest of this past winter and spring, how can MLS and professional soccer in general do the same?
One clue came the past few days, as Team USA and LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan did his own whirlwind media tour in New York and nationally (Tara Sullivan in Thursday’s Record followed Donovan). Donovan hot on all the points that any “champion” would have from a media perspective, the Stock Exchange visit, national TV shows, promotional stops, with the only difference being of course that he was not part of a championship team, and his biggest pay days still may be outside of playing in the United States.
Still, it was a great opportunity for soccer to expand its brand window a few days and even draw attention now back to the U.S. to try and keep fans engaged. It gave the sport a louder voice for the casual fan and probably reminded many of the exploits that may have started to already forget from last week’s fun and subsequent U.S. exit on Saturday.
Will Donovan’s media tour also generate enough buzz to keep casual fans interested in the rest of the World Cup without the U.S. being in? Maybe.
Will it help create a halo effect for MLS? Hopefully.
Will it continue to solidify soccer in the States in its slow and steady growth? Yes.
Now there remain some problems that soccer has in the States on the professional level that the NHL did not have, the biggest of which is that many of the stars of Team USA are not in MLS, they are playing for various clubs around the world where they can make much more money. The NHL was able to bring virtually every star to some market after the Olympics, and that was a huge boost, a boost which MLS will not have.
Still, soccer and MLS are developing young stars and can point to larger crowds, new markets, and a growing interest in consumers for the future, and Donovan and his mates will be a part of that as the sport moves ahead.
Regardless of the outcome, having Donovan and others back to do the media and branding oppts. was very smart, and hopefully that positive aggressive push will continue.