RESULTS: North American Soccer Fan Survey [from 1995]

We're living in the future
I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper
Fifteen years ago

Now we're all driving rocketships
And talking with our minds
And wearing turquoise jewelry
And standing in soup lines

- John Prine, "Living In The Future"

What follows is a fan survey held by the North American Soccer mailing list back before the official MLS unveiling in 1995. As today we ponder the fate of our beloved league, or in some cases misbeloved, this look back at the hopes and fears of our medieval ancestors provides a fascinating look at what has and hasn't changed among American fans.

Tempted though I was to interrupt at times, I have left my commentary to the end. I have only redacted a few dead e-mail addresses and websites.

Along those lines, I did e-mail Professor Allen for permission to repost this. Perhaps unshockingly, I got a message back from my old pal MAILER-DAEMON. Although the survey itself asks to be hailed and trumpeted far and wide, that may not necessarily be the case today, so if Professor Allen or anyone else connected with the making of this survey is unhappy, I understand. Who among us is the same as we were fifteen years ago?

Certainly not Major League Soccer.

Subject: RESULTS: North American Soccer Fan Survey
From: "Christopher S. Allen"
Date: Sat, 14 Oct 1995 18:29:23 -0400

The following is the result of a poll of North American soccer fans surveying their opinions on scoring/standings systems and the rules under which MLS (and, by implication, all of North American pro soccer) should adopt.

The first section is an "Executive Summary" which explains the poll's rationale, methods used, major findings and implications. The survey questions and their answers follow.





For many years -- since the start of the North American Soccer League (over 25 years ago) -- US soccer officials have made numerous assumptions about what soccer fans want and don't want to see in terms of scoring systems and laws (rules) of the game. Yet little -- if any -- concrete evidence has ever been presented that actually shows real fan preferences. This survey addresses this issue and provides some concrete data from the fans -- that is, the customers -- of pro soccer in North America to determine what we DO want to see.


An initial survey questionnaire was designed by Gervase Lam and circulated on the North American Soccer mailing list ( on the Internet. After considerable discussion among list members, with significant additional input from Eric Vormelker, Mr. Lam initiated an email poll via the na-soccer list. At the same time, Matt Mathai designed a World Wide Web version of the poll and conducted the same survey on his Washington MLS supporters' web page. It was also accessible via Mark Wheeler's US Soccer page.

Voting was open for 1 week in order that results could be tabulated and disseminated widely before the MLS press conference on October 17th.

There was a statistically-significant total of 550 valid responses (562 total, 101 via the na-soccer mailing list and 461 via the WWW page). In order to prevent "ballot stuffing", duplicates were screened, with only the latest vote from a duplicate address being recorded. There were fewer than 10 duplicates.


The most significant general finding is that an overwhelming majority of respondents favor FIFA Standards, especially on what we are calling
"core" issues. Equally significant is that *85%* of the voters were from North America.

+ CORE ISSUES (those affecting the structure of the game):

+ 94.3% want a 90 minute running time. No 60 minute stop clock!

+ 88.8% want a 3/1/0 (W/D/L) scoring system! Fans want draws!

+ 87.1% want throw-ins, not kick-ins!

+ 83.2% want no timeouts interrupting play!

+ 69.4% want promotion/relegation within 5 years!

+ 89.0% want it within 10 years!

+ FIFA-Standard Playoff formats are preferred:
+ 48.3% want a 2 leg (Home-away) system with aggregate (totaled) goals.
+ 15.2% want a one game "knock out" system.
+ only 24.4% want a version of the US-style "best of three" playoff.

+ 80.5% want NEITHER a USISL "live shootout" NOR an 18 yard penalty kick

+ PERIPHERAL ISSUES: (not affecting fundamental structure of game)

+ if there are to be playoffs, 56.3% want 4 or fewer teams to qualify

+ 66.1% prefer Penalty Kicks vs Shoot Outs as a playoff tiebreaker

+ 50.2% want to retain the 10 yard free kick wall

+ 59.9% want "good/non-gimmicky" team names. (28.4% more want "international-style" ones)


Many of the poll's findings seem to contradict the assumptions that have animated US soccer for over 25 years. It is elementary that any good business should understood -- if not heed 100% -- customer preferences in order for the business to succeed.

If US soccer officials would like to survey fan preferences more widely with a professional marketing research organization, then please do so and publicize the findings. Perhaps a wider sample consisting of: soccer publications' mailing lists; MLS (and other pro leagues') season ticket depositors; soccer catalog mailing lists; and World Cup ticket purchasers, among others would provide additional findings. We invite other professional attempts to replicate or falsify our survey.

The main point of this exercise, however, is that we don't think that a firm should undertake key business decisions without actually knowing what their customers want!




(*) denotes the answers that go towards the FIFA percentage (see later).


1) What points system would you like to be used to compile the league table? (546)

a. International (FIFA) standard 88.8% (485)*
3 for a win,
1 for a tie (draw),
0 for a loss
b. A-League system 8.1% (44)
3 for a normal time win,
2 for a shoot-out win,
1 for a shoot-out loss,
0 for a normal time loss
c. USISL system 3.1% (17)
6 for a win after normal time or OT
4 for a USISL shoot-out win
2 for a USISL shoot-out loss
0 for a loss after normal time or OT
*PLUS* a point per normal time goal (but no more than 3)

2) When would you like the MLS to have promotion/relegation? (526)

a. As soon as it starts 27.6% (145)*
b. Within 5 years 41.8% (220)*
c. Between 5 to 10 years 19.6% (103)*
d. Between 10 to 20 years 6.3% (33)*
e. Over 20 years 0.2% (1)*
f. None at all 4.6% (24)

3) Would you like the MLS to be...? (546)

a. A one league, full season competition 38.6% (211)
b. A regular season competition with conferences, followed by group rounds 12.1% (66)
c. A regular season competition with conferences, followed by play-off games 49.3% (269)

4) If there are to be games after the regular league season, how many teams would you like to qualify for these games? (531)

a. 2 10.2% (54)
b. 4 46.1% (245)
c. 6 16.0% (85)
d. 8 23.7% (126)
e. More 4.0% (21)

5) If there are play-off games, what format would you like them to follow? (540)

a. Just 1 game 15.2% (82)*
b. 1 game. If the game is tied, the game is replayed 12.0% (65)
c. 2 leg (Home-away) system with aggregate (totaled) goals 48.3% (261)*
d. 3 game series with tied games 8.7% (47)
e. 3 game series with no tied games 15.7% (85)

6) If a play-off game or series is tied (depending on the scenario you have previously chosen) and the tie has to be resolved, how would you like the game or series to be resolved? (538)

a. Go immediately to penalty-kicks/USISL shoot-out 2.2% (12)*
b. 30 min OT, followed by penalty kicks/USISL shoot-out 25.1% (135)*
c. 30 min sudden death OT, followed by p-kicks/USISL shoot-out 31.4% (169)*
d. 30 min OT followed by infinite sudden death OT 18.4% (99)
e. Go immediately to infinite sudden death OT 22.9% (123)

7) If penalty kicks or a USISL shoot-out has to decide a game, which would you prefer? (528)

a. USISL shoot-out 33.9% (179)
b. Penalty kicks 66.1% (349)*

8) How many additional substitutes should be allowed over a period of OT? (548)

a. None 20.6% (113)*
b. 1. 39.8% (218)
c. 2 38.0% (208)
d. 3 1.6% (9)

9) When the ball goes over the touch (side) lines, what method would you like to be used to put the ball back into play? (549)

a. Kick-in 4.7% (26)
b. Kick-in within a mark 35yd from corner flag, otherwise throw-in 8.2% (45)
c. Throw-in 87.1% (478)*

10) For a direct free kick, what should be the distance between the ball and the defending players' wall? (549)

a. 10yds 51.2% (281)*
b. 10yds, but then 15yds if players encroach the free-kick spot AND the free-kick taker would gain an advantage 32.2% (177)
c. 15yds 16.6% (91)

11) What additional penalty should a team incur if the team concedes more than a number of direct free-kicks? (539)

a. Live shoot-out 7.1% (38)
b. 18yd penalty kick (not normal penalty kick) 12.4% (67)
c. No penalty 80.5% (434)*

12) How many time outs would you like to see per half? (548)

a. None 83.2% (456)*
b. 1 12.4% (68)
c. 2 4.4% (24)

13) How would you like the overall game time to be kept? (547)

a. With a 60 min start/stop clock 5.7% (31)
b. With a 90 min running clock, with the referee taking into account any long delays 94.3% (516)*

14) As soon as MLS starts, what should be the maximum number of foreign players in a team? (545)

a. None 3.3% (18)
b. 1 0.2% (1)
c. 2 4.0% (22)
d. 3 20.0% (109)*
e. 4 42.4% (231)
f. More 30.1% (164)

15) If the maximum number of foreign players is to be changed from the maximum number set at the start of MLS, when should it take place? (536)

a. After 1 or 2 seasons 33.6% (180)
b. 3 or 4 26.5% (142)
c. 4 or 5 14.2% (76)
d. More 3.2% (17)
e. Should not be changed 22.6% (121)

16) In the end, what should be the maximum number of foreign players in a team? (539)

a. None 2.8% (15)
b. 1 0.9% (5)
c. 2 8.5% (46)
d. 3 31.5% (170)*
e. 4 28.9% (156)
f. More 27.3% (147)

17) How important do you think the quality of the names of the MLS teams are? (547)

a. Important 41.7% (228)
b. Could be important 45.2% (247)
c. Not important 13.2% (72)

18) Which naming style do you prefer? (550)

a. American style nicknames 12.7% (70)
b. International style nicknames 28.4% (156)
c. I don't care, as long as they are good/aren't gimmicky 58.9% (324)

19) How important do you think the quality of the merchandise (e.g., soccer shirts) sold by the teams is? (542)

a. Very 86.5% (469)
b. Not very 13.5% (73)


20) Where is your country of nationality? (550)

a. Africa 0.2% (1)
b. Latin America 3.6% (20)
c. Asia 2.4% (13)
d. Australasia 0% (0)
e. Europe 8.5% (47)
f. USA/Canada 85.1% (468)
g. Other 0.2% (1)

21) How old are you? (550)

a. Less than 11 years old 0.2% (1)
b. 11-15 3.5% (19)
c. 16-20 20.0% (110)
d. 21-35 54.4% (299)
e. 36-50 18.9% (104)
f. Over 50 3.1% (17)

22) Are you female or male? (547)

a. Female 7.5% (41)
b. Male 92.5% (506)

23) Do you play soccer...? (547)

a. In a serious team 25.6% (140)
b. In an organized recreational team 25.8% (141)
c. Informally (eg. pickup) 32.0% (175)
d. Not at all 16.6% (91)

24) How often do you follow soccer in your country? (548)

a. Often 63.9% (350)
b. Regularly 27.7% (152)
c. Sometimes 8.4% (46)

25) How often do you follow soccer in your continent (other than your country)? (547)

a. Often 35.5% (194)
b. Regularly 25.0% (137)
c. Sometimes 34.6% (189)
d. Not at all 4.9% (27)

26) Where is the country of nationality of the friend or relative who has had the most influence on you on soccer? (548)

a. Africa 1.5% (8)
b. Latin America 7.7% (42)
c. Asia 2.0% (11)
d. Australasia 0% (0)
e. Europe 29.6% (162)
f. USA/Canada 44.2% (242)
g. Other 1.1% (6)
h. I have none 14.1% (77)

27) Including this person, how many of your friends and relatives have a strong interest in home soccer and/or overseas soccer? (548)

a. None 1.3% (7)
b. 1 or 2 11.3% (62)
c. 3 or 4 14.8% (81)
d. 5 or 6 13.7% (75)
e. More 58.9% (323)

28) What foreign or domestic club tournament do you enjoy the most and could be used by MLS as a tournament format? (Free form question)

England's FA Cup and European Champions League Cup were the most mentioned. FA Cup was mentioned by about 100 people and the Champions League by about 60. What follows is a list of other tournaments that people liked. Each was mentioned at least once. In no particular order:

US Cup, US Open Cup, Parmalat Cup, Mexican Championship, English Premier League, League Cup, World Cup, UEFA Cup, European Cup Winners' Cup, the South American Libertadores Cup, Italy's Serie A, Germany's Bundesliga, Copa America, Brazilian Championship, England's Umbro Cup tournament, NCAA, USISL, NFL, Olympics, Marlboro Cup, NPSL, Major League Baseball, Spanish Premier Division, Chilean Championship, Dallas Cup, Copa Italia, Dutch Cup, MISL, Scotland's Premier Division, Japan's J-League, CONCACAF Cup, German Cup and CISL.

A few other people used this free-form section to say their views on other matters:

1) Having a separate league and play-off (knock-out) cup would give more incentive to the teams (e.g. League and Cup double).
2) Every 5 min of OT take 1 player from each team off until 2v2 left.
3) Having a group round after the regular conference season is confusing and overly complicated.
4) Scoring systems (5/2/1 + goals but no more than 3)

FIFA Percentage

This is calculated by calculating the percentage of people choosing the choices marked * as opposed to the other choices in the same question. The choices marked are mainly rules that are used, or WILL be used in the near future, by most of the world's soccer federations.

FIFA percentage = 65%

As the genteel modern reader must always be aware of the context when reading Jim's name in "Huckleberry Finn," so too must we realize that until fairly recently, American soccer was such a piddly little affair that Mexican fans didn't even take the assumption of "North America" personally. That too is a sign of success of American soccer, slightly less so of Canadian soccer, but one must recall that Mexican soccer didn't raise a noticeable complaint about the NASL name back in the 70's, either. A similar survey today would of course be called something different.

The second thing one notices is that 550 fans was taken to be a representative sample. So small was American club soccer back then - it was infeasible to conduct a nationwide survey of fans entirely by one e-mail list...but not by much.

Even worse, it was thought noteworthy that 85% of the voters were from the US and (presumably) Canada. Unless every international voter was serving in the armed forces or otherwise temporarily abroad, those foreign votes should have been shitcanned with alacrity. Were people supposed to fly in from Inverness or Gdansk or wherever the hell to see MLS games? Shouldn't a survey of potential customers have been whittled down to actual potential customers?

So little did the American fan think of himself (and it was pretty much a himself deal back may think soccer today is a Fete du Sausage, but trust me, it's freaking Lilith Fair compared to what it was back then), he still accepted guidance from his well-wishing though condescending brethren.

The reason that such condescension was welcomed was a genuine, pervasive fear of what those investing in American soccer were capable of. The questions nearly all assume serious diversions from the game as was known in Europe. Many of the questions assumed diversions from the Laws themselves. I believe but can't verify that MLS had already assured people they would not be using larger goals, otherwise that too would have been a question in this survey.

Unsurprisingly, then, our ancestors chose a game that very closely resembled the way it was structured in Europe. MLS ignored many of those recommendations, only to later adopt most the ones that didn't cost money. There were three exceptions.

Golden goal, popular among the survey's respondents (despite the vaguely genocidal term "infinite sudden death"), briefly adopted by MLS in 2000 then meekly abandoned when FIFA stopped the practice.

The second was, God help me, promotion and relegation. I admit, I want to get a time machine and go back to slap around 500 people. But, again, we have to remember what an unstable proposition MLS looked in 1995. (And on beyond 2001.) The A-League, as many at the time pointed out, had actual teams playing actual games. Many of those teams were popular and good, at least by the standards of the time. It's unfair to have expected the respondents to know that all but two of the original MLS teams would still be around a decade later (and one of the two would get its team back a couple of years after that), while most of the A-League and USISL teams would head for the Last Roundup. The assumption that some A-League or USISL teams would be strong enough to justify assimilation lasted well into the MLS era.

The assumption by the respondents that MLS wouldn't simply expand, rather than exile its existing clubs into a second division netherworld, probably should have occurred, though. I might still need that time machine.

The third was nicknames. "I don't care, as long as they are good/aren't gimmicky" is a complaint with a storied past and a brilliant future.

Other than that...the respondents would eventually get what they wanted. Me, I preferred shootouts to penalty kicks, although that's a lot like asking which of the Proclaimers you'd rather be molested by.

And the survey didn't foresee the fiercely controversial countdown clock, an idea too unappreciated for this cruel world. The volume of complaints about refereeing tend to range from shrill to cacophonous, so it seemed to make sense to make one of the most widely-abused referee powers visible to the fans. The next time you complain about Manchester United winning in Fergie time, remember, Doug Logan died for your sins.

Note the serious concern with the number of foreign players. This was on its way to being relaxed even before the arrival of Chivas USA and Toronto FC, but in the mid-90's, protection of the American player, and a prevention of the Yank-free NASL lineups, was an extremely pressing concern. In 1996, had the Galaxy put on its roster three unknowns calling themselves Pele, Leonidas and Arthur Friedenreich (or whatever the hell their names are), they would have quickly hit the skids both on and off the field.

Today, of course, there are more Americans abroad, as well as more international spots for MLS teams. However you feel about what MLS should do in the future, it seems pretty clear that MLS did a world of good for the American player as a whole.

You would think, therefore, that our forebears from 1995 would be quite happy with how the league has survived and grown.

Assuming any of them survived the unveiling of the team uniforms later that month.