Saturday 25 April ~

The British public may get sick of having The Best League In The World rammed down their throats through all available media at all times of the day and night, but spare a thought for fans in the United States, who can’t wait for the era when all Major League Soccer stadiums sell out week after week. Not because they are looking forward to paying the major league prices that would inevitably come with increased demand, and not just because they prefer the better atmosphere that comes with a packed ground. It’s mainly because full stadiums will mean an end to the spavined marketing campaigns that clubs launch to attract fans under the guise of a "theme night".

There are three proven factors that increase attendances: a visiting attraction, either in the form of a famous player or a legendary team; a consistently successful home team; and drastically reduced ticket prices. Everything else is mere gimmickry designed to keep fools in work. Although no doubt launched with the best of intentions, theme nights in the US aimed at, say, Hispanic fans or members of the armed forces, smack of tokenism, have nothing to do with the game, and do not noticeably increase attendances or enthusiasm for football. This week, though, four-time MLS champions DC United outdid their rivals by announcing that May 9’s home game with Toronto will be Ladies’ Night.

AWhat will be on offer during an “event intended to provide women and their friends with an enjoyable evening out”? DC United knows what girls like. “More than 11 vendors will be on hand to provide products, taste-tests, giveaways, demos, advice and much more,” said the club’s press release. That includes wine-tasting, chocolates, cooking tips and fitness advice. There will be “mini-manicures”, a beauty consultant (how we could all use one of those), jewellery and handbags, while “Passion Parties by Sonja will provide relationship advice and demo products that inspire intimacy” (ah come on, just say it – vibrators). The only things that appear to be missing from any lady’s wish list are wedding dresses, fluffy kittens and stuffed pink rabbits. Still, given the way that DC have played for the last year or so, having your nails done at RFK Stadium during the game might turn out to be the more entertaining option, even if it does mean paying $15 for the privilege of taking part in a flog-fest.
To prove that it’s not just “the ladies” who can be insulted with a package that even She magazine might blush to run, MLS this week announced that 15 of its players are featured at the website of Cosmo Girl! (the magazine for teenage girls who have lost their battle with brain-sucking aliens), as "eye-candy" under the heading Sexy Soccer Studs. Next to the pictures you can ogle the league’s "most talented guys-next-door and find out what these cuties are looking for in a girl, their dating tips, and more. Who do you think is the hottest MLS soccer guy in our gallery? Who would you most like to date?" Again, the temptation is to succumb to the message that some of these players are more attractive while modelling casual fashions than they are while knocking the safe ball back to the covering defender while sitting on a 1-0 lead.
Such desperate cries for attention typify the kind of nonsense fans have had to put up with ever since the game opened its doors to blue-sky thinkers who understand nothing of sporting contests, but who presume that anything undersold only needs a smearing of porcine lipstick. Where many see nothing but flam, Major League Soccer’s marketing stooges think they are dazzling us with imaginative strategies that are busting new boundaries in commercial enterprise. Let us hope for the day when more US fans are attracted to the sport for its own sake – when highlights on the field outshine highlights in the players’ hair, and capacity grounds force hang-on hawkers back to the job retraining ground. I hear Stoke City have a vacancy for a beauty consultant. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (27)
Comment by jackofalltrades 2009-04-25 11:28:22

Beauty consultant for Stoke-on-Trent? I heard when Shearer took over at Newcastle he promised there'd be some new faces....Iain Dowie's put his name down for one - ho-ho......erm, sorry.....

Comment by Haribo West 2009-04-25 13:59:49


A sweet hat!"

Made of gingerbread?

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-25 23:19:48

At least our media doesn't belittle our athletes' domestic lives (see Frank Lampard). I'd rather have a gimmicky quasi-following than a country full of obsessive complainers.

Must be dull being a sports fan in a one-trick pony country.

Comment by Moriball 2009-04-26 13:31:04

'I'd rather have a gimmicky quasi-following than a country full of obsessive complainers.'
You cannot be serious!

If that's the case then it is no wonder MSL clubs have to resort to these kind of things to get the punters in a market that is so obviously saturated in sporting quality...

Incidentally, if you mean moaning is the one trick we can do, you're right. We also moan about our Rugby team, our Cricket team, our Olympic squads, our useless tennis players and Ronnie O'Sullivan inexplicably impolding...

It's actually quite theraputic...

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-26 21:13:48

Well, no one cares about rugby, cricket or your Olympic squads (when was the last time you won anything significant at the Olympics?), so complain away. But the more you treat your best athletes the way Frank Lampard has been treated in the tabloids and on the radio the more I fear for the state of the sport in your country.

Comment by jackofalltrades 2009-04-27 09:51:02

Attenborough, you've picked the wrong forum if you're looking to get a bite (what next, "you'd all be speaking German, playing in the Bundeslige, if it wasn't for us?")....I know I'm generalising/using DIY Marketing, but you won't find many people wanting to defend the tabloid mentality on a wsc message-board.

Furthermore, I don't believe for one moment that you really do, or should, "fear for the state of the sport in (our) country" - Frank Lampard is currently getting a bit of a hard time in the press but it will pass, and in the meantime, his $15,000,000 annual salary will continue to be paid and might, possibly, help provide just a little solace.

So as long as the Premiership continues to be 'The Best League in The World', Lampard, and the rest of the worlds best, will continue to play in the Premiership and bank their cheques, whilst simply ignoring the worst excesses of our Press.

Thanks for your concern, but we'll be just fine. Now, just pop your baseball cap on backwards, high-five everyone in sight, drink a gallon of coffee, then open the paper and see what the latest theme night is - with a bit of luck, it might be a "Soccer Sourgrapes-athon" you'd be good at that!

Comment by paterson.ra 2009-04-27 15:50:16

To be fair to the MLS, theme nights have been a popular marketing and promotion feature at professional sporting events in North America for a long time. One of the legendary owners in major league baseball hired a dwarf to pinch-hit in a game. Another somewhat infamous theme event was a 5 cent beer night in Cleveland stadium in the 70s. As you might expect, a lager-fuelled riot brought the event to a premature close.

Are such events crass? Of course they are. But remain an integral part of the North American sporting culture and they aren't going away.

Comment by Moriball 2009-04-27 16:31:27

Many thanks Attenborough for graciously allowing me to complain, I can now do it with a clear conscious. Incidentally, the Olympics are so varied it would be quite hard to define a 'significant' event in it. I assume 'significant' to you is the same as it is to everyone else, eg the one's you win in.

No one is saying that Frank Lampard was treated in the right way by the radio presenter, and the story has more been about his right to reply, which most people have supported. This is just a small facet of a wider love/hate relationship between the media and our footballers (or sports people in general). When a World Cup or European Championships rolls round, they are all feted as Champions in waiting, which results in the usual disappointment. This creates a slef perpetuating cycle of an over inflated estimate of how good England is (by both the media and a squad that usually likes to play up to this) and the head scratching recrimination when, every two years, they find out they were not as good as they thought they were. That is probably why we complain a lot.

But I'd still prefer to go to games with people who were genuinly there to watch the football and are passionate about it, than a load of bussed in day trippers enticed by cheap prices or gimmicks.

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-27 18:50:18

Moriball, by "significant" I meant simply meant "a medal." I actually looked into it, and although it wasn't quite half of what we won, you get points for doing so while being half the country we are (by population, of course).

And before all of you read too much into these marketing gimmicks in the MLS, you should be aware that virtually every pro sport short of American football has them in our country. It's most prominent in baseball, where teams face the task of selling 60,000 tickets for 82 games a year. And remember that like the EPL, Major League Baseball has no salary cap so the small market teams are consistently awful. They can't spend hundreds of millions of dollars on players, so the best they can do is throw what little money they have at unproven Latin American prospects or have "gimmick" giveaway nights. You guys really should have researched this a little harder before you threw it all on the MLS' shoulders.

"Now, just pop your baseball cap on backwards, high-five everyone in sight, drink a gallon of coffee, then open the paper and see what the latest theme night is - with a bit of luck, it might be a "Soccer Sourgrapes-athon" you'd be good at that!"

I don't where baseball hats (I hate the sport and the fashion), I don't high-five (not that I really see the problem with it, but of course I like to think I understand the irony in it), coffee is disgusting (I prefer water, which is fortified with fluoride here so our teeth don't yours) and I actually don't think I've ever been to an MLS game that had a theme night. But, honestly, I look forward to it.

Comment by sepps bladder 2009-04-27 19:36:41

MLS should be more ashamed they are asking women out to RFK stadium after dark. That place (and neighborhood) looks like Fratton Park took a dump.

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-04-27 21:47:05

What a shame. Is that why lots of Americans play Pro Evolution Soccer instead of attending soccer matches?

Comment by jackofalltrades 2009-04-27 22:22:05

Attenborough - "I actually looked into it" too - except I did it properly. The population of the USA is over 300 million - population of the UK is just over 60 million - that's about a fifth of the size of your country by population, not half - divide the Beijing 2008 medal totals of the two countries per capita and guess what? We're twice the country you are (medals per head of population, of course)....

Oh, and regarding your shiny white teeth, read this, then lets see you smile!

w w w

Honestly, some people! Coming over here, uninvited, trying to invade our blogs....

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-28 00:59:32

Even though it's a tangential point, I admit to being wrong on the medal count.

But citing some fringe, holistic medical site is hardly proof that I should be worried about not having ugly teeth.

Could we get back to addressing the original issue, perhaps?

Comment by NiceOneCenturian 2009-04-28 03:26:28

Theme nights aren't exclusively an American phenomen. My season ticket holding wife was pretty pissed off when Queensland Roar (no, really) announced that a forthcoming game was a "Ladies game" and invited to bring the wife/girlfriend along.

This led to a bout of very unladylike language, in my opinion (which I kept to myself).

Comment by Moriball 2009-04-28 10:48:23

I have a lovely set of teeth. I always thought this was down to regular brushing and occasional flossing; but now you mention it I do have a Canadian grandfather so that's one family mystery cleared up. Many thanks.

To get back to the point, England has 92 league clubs, and whilst many are going through a tough time financially, we have by far the most professional clubs of any other country in Europe. Over two million people go and watch them every week.
There are teams in the third tier like Leeds, Leicester and even Millwall who regularly get attendances MLS clubs dream about.
In the unlikely event FIFA ever give us a major tournament we wouldn't need to embark on a huge stadium building exercise, where most are left empty after the tournament, because we have more than enough FIFA standard stadiums already.
English clubs are currently a dominating force in Europe.

Whilst you may argue, probably quite cogently, that this is self congratulatory naval gazing, the fact still remains that football in England is embedded, the infrastructure is strong and whilst there are many problems in the game, I'm not sure an obscure radio presenter criticising a player is cause for people who watch franchised football with platic fans who probably only turn up to oogle the cheerleaders (a baffling yankism that's starting to get roots here) to start casting aspersions on the viability of an entire sport.

It's nice to know you care though...

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-28 19:52:42

You're getting slightly ahead of yourself now. By saying that I "fear for the state of the sport in your country," I'm not implying that I wish the veritable reins be taken away from you. All I'd really like is for you to appreciate what you have. For years I've dreamed of spending a week in London and watching all the football I could (be it virtually any tier live or in a pub). Here, I'm forced to wait for weekends where I get to watch mediocre soccer on the internet or every other week to see two Champions League games.

That leads me to another point that's been missed in this discussion: only one MLS game is shown per week on ESPN2, and without paying copious amounts of money to buy FSC (in packages that require you pay for an untold number of obscure channels). And even that isn't guaranteed. In a thirty or so week season, only probably twenty games are shown on ESPN2. Hard to procure a meaningful following with those numbers.

Also, we have four bigger leagues here that you all may have heard of: NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. Kinda stiff barriers to entry I'd say.

Comment by imp 2009-04-28 23:49:31

Fresh off the wires:
"CARSON, Calif. (Tuesday, April 28, 2009) – In conjunction with their game against the New York Red Bulls, the LA Galaxy will host their second annual Brit Night on Saturday, May 2 at The Home Depot Center. In addition to the Galaxy’s game against the 2008 MLS Cup finalists, the day will also feature a celebrity game that will pit famous faces from the worlds of sport, music, film and television against one another in friendly competition, music from the Ballas Hough Band as seen on Dancing with the Stars and Carly Smithson from American Idol and traditional British foods from the Olde Kings Head in Santa Monica..."

Comment by Moriball 2009-04-29 02:23:30

'Also, we have four bigger leagues here that you all may have heard of: NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. Kinda stiff barriers to entry I'd say.'

That is really irrelivant when it comes to football, just sounds like excuses.

To paraphrase your good self, may I just say, and I know I'm speaking arbitarily, that 'No one who is interested in sport (especially if they're not American) cares about the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL'

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-29 03:27:22

If you understood even rudimentary economics, what I said wouldn't have sounded irrelevant in the least. It's a point I don't think the author of this article much understood either, though, so I don't blame you for coming on here and allowing it to fly over your head, too.

Four world class leagues in one country. Most fans only have so much discretionary income. How many of them do you think are going to pass on the established leagues of sports they understand to watch soccer?

Like I said before--if it's gonna put even a few more asses in the seats, gimmick away.

Comment by imp 2009-04-29 13:02:25

Except, attenborough, the theme nights make little or no difference at all to attendance figures - they're just a pointless and often condescending irritation, and a way for marketing executives to make it look like they're actually doing some work. We all know about the four other major leagues, thanks, it's just that not every single article about US football has to mention them as a statutory footnote. MLS is not aiming to take fans from those markets, it's aiming to create its own niche audiences, such as in Toronto and Seattle. That's the direction the league's been heading of late, and it's a very good thing, but we're still left with some of the moribund cities MLS settled in early, and that's where you get these half-hearted efforts to sell the game. If these teams don't wake up they'll find themselves abandoned by the league - even DC (cited ad nauseum as having "the best fans in the league") has been threatened by MLS Commissioner Don Garber that it will lose its team if it doesn't pull off a deal to build a new stadium. In their place, I'd have my staff working all day on those kinds of issues, not phoning up manicure companies to come in and do promotions for the Ladies. It looks amateur, and it's worthless in every sense.

Comment by Moriball 2009-04-29 13:32:44

Depends on what model of economics you want to base your assertion on...if back to basic it's Adams, Maynard Keynes is probably more likely and, I know these are dirty names state side, but Marx and Engles could be an interesting prism to view football through. Over here Thaterite economics have probably won over in the world of football, as it has in more or less every thing else.

The are other diversions in England for people to do on a Saturday afternoon, not least as I mentioned earlier the large amount of clubs in the country. Many people may support Arsenal, but if they can't afford or get tickets to the Emirates then they go and watch Leyton Orient, or Brentford or Dagenham and Redbridge or one of the many lower league clubs. They don't do it because they have nothing better to do, they do it because they love watching football. It's this kind of attitude to the sport that can only be garnered through having a genuine passion for the game.

Gimmicks will get fans in for one game, and then they'll expect something bigger and better next time if they're going to come again. If your clubs are going to get anywhere they need to start identifying with the town/city they play in and then engender a loyal following. Once this is done the other 'world class' leagues become an irrelivence.

Shame this thread is going to be taken off soon, quite enjoying the debate!

Comment by Greavsie 2009-04-29 14:22:52

Some what puzzled here, the article was obviously written by someone in the US nationality unknown. Attenborough does that typicaly Yank thing which can be summed up as "everything we got, is better than what you got" and basicaly I don't think it sits well with the spirit of the article at all.
In a country of 300m with a tv financed sports culture funded by billions of dollars you should be world class. But then again in the main you are the only ones who actualy care about these sports.

By the by how many steriods were Hank Aaron or Jim Thorpe on a day.

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-29 17:22:33

Oh, so theme nights are "gimmicky"...but they're also "condescending"? I'm not even going to reply to that.

But, Moriball, you're kind of outlining my point here...except instead of Arsenal in your model insert any one of a usual three or four teams from other professional sports, sports that have ingrained themselves in our culture since our culture really became something. But let's say you're in Chicago and can't afford to see the Bears (NFL), which you want to because you love American football. Well, turns out there's an Arena Football team by the name of the Rush that costs less. There are also two MLB teams, an NHL team, and an NBA team. All in one city. Those are a lot of weeds to cut through for a team that's only been around for literally ten full seasons and plays a sport that's never been popular here in a league that's only been around for twelve years. If you were a business, what would you do?

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-04-29 20:44:39

"If you were a business, what would you do?"

Work hard to increase the quality of the game, so that the fans could go to matches for the sake of watching them (and therefore enjoying the sport itself), instead of investing on a kind of party where the game itself is irrelevant, perhaps?

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-29 23:31:56

Work hard to increase the quality of the game? You've got to be kidding me. Is that what Roman Abramovich does? Or what about Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan? Too bad we can't convince Bill Gates to "work hard to increase the quality of the game" for us.

Granted, we are working harder at developing homegrown young talent, but it's been gradual to say the least--and most kids here grow up playing at least four sports most of their lives. But I've already argued that point...

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-04-30 00:41:56

attenborough, don't get me wrong. I believe we all know that football in the U.S. is an incipient sport. I think everybody here agrees that the game has a long path to walk in your country. The point is: do you really think that those "Ladies Days" and other gimmicks are the best way to develop a fanbase?

By the way, don't put Roman Abramovich and others like him in the discussion. That's not the point. I'm a Brazilian living in Brazil, and even me, living a thousand kilometers away from the U.K. know that those rich boys came to football AFTER the teams were already there, established and developed as part of the culture. The fact that a greedy owner (or an unprepared president in Brazilian case) takes control of the team doen't change the love the supporters feel for it.

Comment by attenborough 2009-04-30 03:37:31

I don't think it's the best way to develop a fan base. But in this economy in this culture it's the best stop-gap method they have to keep a team afloat before they have a hundred plus years under their belts like English teams...and before they have the feel of new owners with bottomless pockets like Man City.

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