However, NBC’s really wonderful coverage of the Premier League has made many of the non-US players closer to household names (and I mean “one out of every 4 or 5 households”, but you get the point). ESPN covering the World Cup and wanting the make the most of their investment has lead to near wall to wall coverage, giving even non-soccer fans a chance to latch onto the US Men’s team.
I don’t have any expectations that Major League Soccer will all of a sudden become the 5th major league. The quality of play is just a couple of steps below what it needs to be, and aside from a couple of places, the passion that you get from your weekly Premier League match, or a World Cup match, is lacking. That crowd response makes a huge difference on television, and it makes MLS seem second-rate.
But, soccer is clearly getting closer to being a legitimate major television sport in the US (even if it won’t be via MLS). I think NBC—who, again, have done an amazing job with the Premiership—should be capitalizing on the World Cup by running some studio shows talking about the various players who normally make their living in the Premier League, and educating the new fans as to the nuances of the game. Formations, the rules, roles of the various players, etc. Not only would it be good for their ratings (what is NBC Sports Network airing right now with no soccer or hockey?), but it would bring an audience that finds itself on the cusp of soccer fandom and make NBCSN their friend, tutor, and home for soccer.
The elephant in the room is, of course, “simulation”. Or, as we like to call it, flopping.
The NBA has tried hard to make flopping a non-issue in the NBA. Between post-game reviews and fines, to highlighting floppers on the website (to, I guess, shame them into not flopping?), the NBA is at least trying something.
FIFA (as corrupt as they are—go watch this hilarious John Oliver takedown) needs to take a stronger stance. Yes, they can give yellow cards for simulation, but I think FIFA, or the individual leagues, need to tackle it similarly to the NBA. Review the dives after the game, fine players, then suspend them. Once a major player has been suspended for a few games, it’ll get better.
We’re nearing the tipping point. It’s going to happen in the next 3 or 4 years. This has been a big year for soccer in the US. Next year’s Women’s World Cup could help push it over the top, particularly if the US Women’s Team can manage another Cup win.