Daily 49er

MLS and American soccer are dying, but who would miss it?

With fans migrating to other leagues and the sport lacking any big-time personalities, soccer may already be lost in the states.

United+States+soccer+federation+%28USSF%29+president+Sunil+Gulati+arrives+for+the+FIFA+Ballon+d%27Or+Gala+2015+held+at+the+Kongresshaus+in+Zurich%2C+Switzerland%2C+11+January+2016.
United States soccer federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati arrives for the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 held at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland, 11 January 2016.

United States soccer federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati arrives for the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 held at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland, 11 January 2016.

Seeger Patrick | DPA

Seeger Patrick | DPA

United States soccer federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati arrives for the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 held at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland, 11 January 2016.

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Americans don’t care about soccer. They pretend to every four years, just like they do with hockey or track and field during the Olympics, but that’s really only in a vaguely patriotic kind of way. Most casual sports fans couldn’t name the 10 most popular players in the sport, let alone 10 teams. And why should they?

The average sports consumer in the states didn’t grow up with their friends talking about soccer every day. They grew up with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady on television screens. American fans care much more about personalities than they do about specific teams, and MLS hasn’t produced those kinds of personalities in years. The last MLS player you could truly call a star was Landon Donovan, and he’s already been out of the game for over a year now.

Sure, there are giants like FC Barcelona and Manchester United with hardcore fans stateside, but the international game has a lot going for it that American soccer will never have.

Some of these European clubs have been around for decades. They have fans who grew up watching their teams, who could name the entire roster down to the backup goalie. But nowadays, soccer doesn’t really have an American to hang its hat on.

This is a crucial point for the sport, as the NFL is having serious ratings issues of its own.

Average viewership for the league is down 1.5 million per game this season to 15 million from the almost 16.5 million last year. And while many are optimistic, the concussion issue is starting to look bad for football too.

These viewers are up for the grabs, but so far it is the NBA gobbling them up. With James, Kevin Durant and according to Nielsen Sports their teams have brought ratings up 32 percent this season so far. With so many young talented players, things are only looking brighter for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league owners.

There is some hope for soccer, though. While youth sports across throughout the country have been taking a hit, especially football, soccer hasn’t lost as much ground. According to Engagesports.com, from 2009 to 2014 touch football participation went down almost 30 percent, and tackle football went down 18 percent. Soccer players dropped only around 8 percent in the same period.

The English Premier League has actually overtaken the NHL in average viewers per game at this point. The British and German clubs have been making a big comeback in America, and are keeping the sport alive singlehandedly. MLS, on the other hand, is seriously lacking. Viewership for the league has been under 300,000 per broadcast consistently this season. Those kind of numbers aren’t going to impress investors, but more importantly they aren’t going to bring in fans.

Without a bigger youth movement, young talent will continue to leave for greener pastures. And with that lack of talent, the sport is going to struggle finding a face and fan base to build upon.

At the end of the day competition in this country for sports fans is at an all-time high, and soccer has been losing every battle.

Unless things change soon American soccer will be relegated to a slow, painful death. But after seeing the product put out by the MLS, maybe it should.

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