Could the MLB lockout make this the Summer of Soccer in the USA?
Pitchers and catchers did not report to spring training yesterday. Nor do pitchers and catchers seem like they’re going to report any time soon. Major League Baseball locked out its players earlier this offseason, and the owners and players seem very, very far from coming to any kind of collective bargaining agreement. So far, the themes seem to be that A) the owners will not rest until they have extracted every last concession from the players that they can possibly think of, B) the players are extremely angry at the owners for attempting to nickel-and-dime them during a period of expanding revenues, and C) neither side seems particularly concerned that fans may leave and never come back, even though all the signs seem to be pointing in that direction.
So it seems like baseball is on the verge of eating itself, although this was also said of baseball in 1994 and hockey in 2005, and here we are today, and both are doing fine. At any rate, this is not my question. My question is this: if baseball doesn’t get it together, is this going to be a breakout summer for NWSL and MLS?
20 MLB teams have an MLS team in their home market (assuming you count the entire Bay Area as one market). Ten have an NWSL team. If there is no baseball, suddenly there are a lot of entertainment dollars to spend and TV hours and newspaper column inches to fill in those 20 cities.
I recognize that baseball and soccer are not perfect substitutes for each other; Twins fans aren’t necessarily going to shrug their shoulders and swap baseball gloves for soccer scarves and become Loons die-hards. Some of them will migrate to golf courses and fishing boats, not Allianz Field, and others will just find anything else to do with their time and money.
But still, there are a lot of people just looking for something to do in the summer, especially here, where we’re mostly stuck inside our homes for five months in the winter. And there’s only so much time that the local media can spend writing about the NFL Draft before they have to find something else to talk about. We’re lucky here, in that we have both the Lynx and MNUFC (and now MNUFC2 and Minnesota Aurora FC and new USL League Two members Minneapolis City, to cover all my local soccer bases).
I’m not talking about attendance here. The Loons fill their stadium anyway, and they’ll continue to do that, MLB lockout or no MLB lockout. But I think the battle for interest and attention are harder to win. The typical Allianz Field ticketholder (outside of the people that stand in the Wonderwall) seems to have a lot in common with the typical person in the stands at CHS Field, watching the St. Paul Saints. They’re interested and they want the team to win, but their level of interest is not the same as the typical Vikings or Timberwolves fan in the stands.
They are not the ones reading my blogs about the merits of the MLS salary cap, in other words.
Attendance, and interest and attention, are obviously correlated, but I think that correlation is weaker than people assume. I think we’ve seen that a lot in soccer in the United States. For years, the soccer refrain was “get people to come once (usually via free or heavily discounted ticket deals) and they’ll keep coming back.”
And it did result in people who wanted to come back - as long as the tickets were still free or heavily discounted.
Getting them to watch the team when they’re not in the stands, to read about them in the media and care about their off-season moves and just generally follow the team - is a lot harder than just getting butts into seats.
I’m not saying that increased MLS and NWSL attention is a natural result of an MLB lockout. It seems equally likely that not having the Twins to discuss won’t mean that soccer gets one iota more of attention, from the media or anyone else. The same goes for the WNBA, which has been around almost as long as MLS, and longer than any of the top-level women’s soccer leagues in the USA. If the media hasn’t covered them yet, there’s no definitive reason that a lack of baseball will be the thing to flip the switch.
All I’m saying is that it’s possible.
- Each MLS team’s breakout player candidate in 2022 - Matthew Doyle, MLSSoccer.com. I won’t give his Loons pick away other than to say it’s someone that I’ve written about a lot this year.