LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: (L-R) John Terry of Chelsea shakes hands with Carles Puyol of Barcelona prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Good morning LA Galaxy fans. Today we're going to talk about MLS' elephant in the room, European soccer. These days, anytime ratings or attendance are brought up, it's always in relation to something in Europe. Whether it's lamenting MLS' game of the week being beaten by a Barcelona match, or MLS Cup being beating in the ratings by a tape delayed EPL match, or favorably comparing MLS attendance to Ligue 1, soccer pundits are obsessed with comparing MLS to Euro soccer.
The problem with that is, MLS and the UEFA are not the NFL and AFL of the 60s, no matter how it's spun in the press. They aren't competitors, if anything, they're allies. Brian Strauss, in that article, writes about the growing phenomenon of UEFA Champions League becoming like March Madness in American offices, something that begets two hour lunch breaks and judicial use of internet streams.
He also mentioned that Don Garber is a frequent guest at the Champions League final, and that much work is done to bring many of the teams competing in UCL over to America in their offseason. The Galaxy hosted Manchester City and Real Madrid last year, both who qualified for this rendition of Champions League play and with Real Madrid still in it. This summer, the Galaxy will host Tottenham Hotspur who failed to make it out of the group stage of this year's Europa League, but currently sit in the fourth spot on the table, qualifying them for the Champions League playoff round.
So Champions League growing in popularity in America can only mean good things for MLS. Bringing those teams over for summer friendlies is a symbiotic situation; the Euros get to grow their brand in America, where fans don't have as many emotional ties meaning there's actual ground for converting new fans. For MLS, those friendlies help balance the budget, and bring attention to their brand as well.
Heck, the NBA used to do it back in the 60s and 70s. Back then, when there were just nine teams and players like Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Bill Russell, and Jon Havlicek were largely ignored by the national media outside of playoff time, the NBA would schedule doubleheaders with the Harlem Globetrotters to bring in fans, or occasionally have the great Laker-Celtic rivalry play in someplace like Cincinnati to help attendance there.
NBA games used to get kicked out of their home arena for the circus. Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game was played in Hershey, Pennsylvania instead of Philadelphia. So you see, this has happened before at it'll all happen again. Don't even get me started on early NFL.
Bringing in big Euro clubs, and riding the coattails of the Champions League's popularity is no different than bringing in the Globetrotters for a doubleheader, or an early NFL team hosting college All-Stars before their game. Each one of those summer friendlies that some fans have grown to dread, is an investment in MLS' future.
Instead of wailing on about the low ratings, or trying to favorable compare MLS to leagues currently in shut down mode, it's time for the fandom to accept that MLS still has to take measures to promote itself and that they'll pay off over time. Mostly, this involves getting eyeballs on the product. Which, unfortunately, isn't going to happen just by saying "Please baby, watch the domestic league" over and over.