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'Connection' is Key for MLS
Houston Chronicle, December 14th, 2007 3:45PM

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Perhaps more than any other professional sports league in the U.S., Major League Soccer is uniquely positioned to have its players promote the league on a grassroots level. For example, says the Houston Chronicle's Glenn Davis, "Talk to the players on the Dynamo and you will find articulate, educated and enthusiastic players who can speak on a variety of subjects…Perfect for getting out and about in the community."

Indeed, because their celebrity is more -- let's say -- muted, MLS players can connect with their communities on a level that NFL or NBA players could not. Says Davis: "Clinics and personal appearances by players are worth their weight in gold as promotional vehicles," because they foster a lasting connection between players and fans." Davis uses the example of his own son, who on a recent trip to New Jersey reminded him that New York Red Bulls midfielder Seth Stammler was his youth coach -- something he'll remember forever. You can't put a price tag on that kind of connection.

Of course, he adds, "Soccer in the United States will not grow in awareness without the tertiary support of the media," and that means outlets like ESPN, which broadcast MLS games, need to create more of a mainstream discourse around the game and its stars. Indeed, even soccer-bashing pundits like ESPN's own Jim Rome are good for the game because they at least get people thinking about it.

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