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