CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto has some ideas for MLS courtesy, largely, of the forgotten but not gone Doug Logan.
For those of you who came in late, Logan was the first commissioner of MLS and, frankly, if he hadn't been replaced the league probably wouldn't still be here. (Argue with me all you want - go ahead).
Ratto says that, basically, AMERICAN SOCCER NEEDS TO FORGET BEING FAMILY FREINDLY and marketing to Mom, Dad and the Saturday morning sandbox leagues, and instead forge a new image as a sport for a hard drinking, hard cursing and, well, hard core group of fanatics.
"Soccer audiences at their best have got to be a little dangerous..."It's three guys with a beer cursing at the guy on the field. It's not a family activity. If you want a family activity, go to the circus."
This approach would of course appeal to an awful lot of the guys who populate BigSoccer and, of course, it's certainly not a new thought.
Nonetheless, the question is: Is it possible that by and large soccer's "natural constituency", the people that MLS knows it needs, don't come to games because they don't want to feel like they're at Disneyland?
Put another way, if you're a fan of the British or Italian or Argentine or Mexican soccer experience, is a day at Seaworld going to feel like the same thing to you?
And how do you change the perception without actively encouraging drunken behavior, something which is not only morally questionable but also frought with legal jeopardy?
Of course Logan didn't exactly make a rousing success of it during his tenure with MLS so maybe his opinions shouldn't be taken too seriously.
On the other hand, he's absolutely right that if soccer has proven anything after 40 years in the US it's that Mom and Dad simply won't show up week after week with little Bobby and Susie in tow. Once, twice maybe, but that's about it.
Because the shocking fact is that,30 years after The American Soccer Explosion began with NASL, league per-game atendance averages haven't changed much. NASL gates peaked at 14,201 in 1980. Sound familiar?
Bottom line, MLS has spent untold millions of dollars and the life blood of countless little sports marketing and sales dweebs in an effort to convert youth soccer numbers into a professional soccer audience, and it's just not working.
Is it smart to bet the entire future of the league on that suddenly changing?
Who was it who remarked on the lunacy of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Of course MLS front offices have struggled mightily at striking a balance between the hard core "Supporter's Group" types which skew heavily towards young males ages 19-29 who show up every week and the suburban families with 2.3 children who pile out of a minivan once a year - if you're lucky.
The problem is of course that the former group often employs a good deal of profanity and other behavior that the latter group finds offensive - or at least claims they find offensive.
So in the interests of appeasing the people who show up occasionally they have to strongarm the people who show up for every game, travel occasionally and spend most of their otherwise productive time on BigSoccer.
In other words: their most loyal customers.
Essentially, what Logan and Ratto are saying is simply that MLS needs to jettison - or at least reduce the emphasis on - the youth league outreach programs which represent the low-lying fruit of their soccer sales efforts.
I think it was Preston MacMurray who used to refer to youth league group ticket sales as "crack" to the teams; they know it's killing them but they can't stop.
I think on some level the teams and the league know this, but it scares the hell out of them. "Come drink your ass off and abuse Tyler Twellman" isn't the kind of marketing campaign they learned about at Enormous State University. They cling to the same old "soccer participation" numbers they've been pimping for 40 years, firm in the belief that one day those numbers will translate into ticket sales.
They haven't so far. And they may need to begin looking at the possibiity that they never will.