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MLS’ Popularity Problems Start With the Media

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Major League Soccer, the United States’ (and Canada’s) best organized soccer system, is gaining popularity by the second. It has grown considerably since its inception back in the mid-90’s, and has many fans and teams to prove it.

It is safe to say that MLS is a top-ten league in the world, mainly due to the amount of parity it includes, currently seeing every club, even the lowly Colorado Rapids, in playoff contention two-thirds of the way in. But the issue is that it doesn’t get the media coverage it deserves, even from television networks that broadcast its games.

ESPN’s renowned program, Sportscenter, barely ever mentions the happenings in America’s top soccer league, aside from weekly 30 second highlight clips from a handful of weekend games. Making matters worse is that the network televises early evening Sunday matches (as well as a select number of weekday night-games), and still doesn’t give MLS any recognition.

Many half-hour sports shows that ESPN televises, such as Around the Horn, Highly Questionable, and Pardon the Interruption, fail to mention the league despite saying they cover a variety of sports. Unfortunately for soccer and hockey fans, that “variety” consists of football, basketball, and occasionally baseball.

Hosts on the shows clearly know squat about soccer, proven by HQ‘s Bomani Jones plainly saying he “doesn’t know much about soccer.”

The network has a show that purely covers the sport, ESPNFC, but the program airs only once a week, unlike its other single-sport shows, like NFL Live and Baseball Tonight, which are prominent staples in weekday coverage.

Other major American sports news outlets are guilty of the same bias. Widely popular magazine Sports Illustrated rarely includes stories about MLS (or soccer in general) in their weekly issues, despite having good soccer writers that are capable of creating worthy content, like Grant Wahl and Liviu Bird.

ESPN is similar. They have good MLS and world football analysts and writers (Taylor Twellman and Andy Brassel among them) yet don’t feature them almost ever on regular programming.

If they, and so many other outlets, actually did cover the league, you can bet it would be considerably more popular.

Exposure is what MLS needs, but currently, it isn’t getting any from the biggest sports networks, magazines, and websites. You can blame the bad national TV ratings on this.

The solution to this problem is simple: Cover the sport. Go and get your MLS guys and actually analyze something about soccer that isn’t semi-annual World Cup coverage. It’s not hard.

Also, when you do talk about it, don’t go on and on about what the league needs to do to gain popularity. Discuss what happens on the field, not off it. This will help get viewers to tune in to MLS Soccer Sunday on ESPN and Fox Sports 1.

Soccer in this country is growing, but it won’t become as big as other sports unless the biggest sports media members like ESPN cover it.


Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Harrison Hamm

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