Why is MLS kowtowing to the Eurosnobs?

By Paul Gardner

It ought to be possible, from now on, to get a clear, undistorted view of what is happening in MLS. So far, the league’s season has been pretty much of a mess, overshadowed one minute by the Olympic Games, almost blotted out the next by what I’ll call "summer soccer."

The Olympics have been nearly three weeks of all-consuming TV presence -- but a legitimate presence, of longer and higher standing than MLS, a once-every-four-years event that can be lived with.

But not a word of what I have just said in acceptance of the Olympics can be said of the summer soccer games. These are blatantly money-making tours by (mostly) European clubs. They fit in perfectly with the current obsession for celebrity events -- highly publicized and absurdly over-priced happenings with nothing more real than exhibitionism at their core.

They shouldn’t be counted as soccer events at all -- in fact the sponsors of the biggest circuit of these games do not use the word soccer -- preferring the title World Football Challenge. A choice of word that tells you quite a lot about the brains behind the games -- and what they think of American soccer and MLS.

Among those brains we have Charlie Stillitano, a thorough, and much respected, soccer man who now works for Creative Artists Agency (CAA) sports division, where he heads up the soccer interests ... including the World Football Challenge.

Not that long ago Stillitano was an independent promoter who ran the Champions World tournament -- that was also a summer-soccer extravaganza. It failed, but it rattled the MLS biggies by showing that there was money to be made by staging games featuring top European teams. Games that took attention away from MLS games -- and quite possibly diverted fans and money too. Suddenly, Stillitano was persona non grata whose name could not be mentioned in MLS circles without being festooned with cuss words.

The obloquy did not last long. MLS had gotten the message: There was money in them thar tours. Through its own promotional arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), it began to bring in famous teams -- to play games in the summer. In direct competition with its own MLS games. After a year of competition (2009) between SUM and Stillitano -- now running the WFC for CAA -- the competitive spirit was abandoned, all was forgiven, and the two groups joined forces, the better to exploit the pockets of the nation’s soccer fans.

Whether those fans are also fans of MLS is very doubtful. Whenever European teams show up on the U.S. scene, it is the signal for the Eurosnob fans to forsake the boozy TV bars where they normally gather and flock to the stadiums. There we find masses of otherwise intelligent middle-aged fans decked up in the shirts of “their” clubs, buying tickets at prices anything up to 10 or even 20 times what they would pay for an MLS game.

And there’s the rub. Because the Eurosnob doesn’t buy tickets to MLS games, he wouldn’t pay a cent to go to an MLS game. The snob in him prevents his presence at something he regards as a hopelessly inferior product, an ersatz American attempt at the sport, carried out under that dreadful name soccer.

When the Euro-celeb teams arrive here and find themselves at the center of mindless adulation, their response -- a natural one, I’d guess -- is to become patronizing and tell us, in oleaginous tones, how surprisingly well we’re doing at their sport -- although we’re not there yet, of course, oh no -- hence the need, so graciously met by England’s Chelsea for one, to supply coaching expertise. Even before that, certain U.S. youth clubs have been “granted the honor of playing in Chelsea kit.” Then comes “the opportunity to train with Chelsea coaches.”

If you’re a devout Eurosnob such treatment presumably borders on heaven. Should you not be quite so en-snobbed, it’s worthwhile asking what expertise Chelsea youth coaches have to offer -- considering that the vast majority of Chelsea’s first team players have been bought from other clubs. (Of the Chelsea starting 11 in Sunday’s Community Shield game against Manchester City, only John Terry has any claim to being a Chelsea product -- and he spent the first three years of his youth training at West Ham United).

You might think that the brains at SUM and CAA would be thinking of ways to encourage their Eurosnob clientele to show more interest in the American MLS. You might -- and you would be resoundingly wrong. The proof takes us back to that title -- the World Football Challenge. Why football and not soccer? Because the CAA and SUM people have covertly sided with the Eurosnobs. They don’t want to irritate them by talking of soccer. Hence the snobbery takes over, and we get football.

And we get a bigger anomaly. These summer games, be they either soccer or football, have not been particularly good. Surely, snobbery has its limits? Just how long the snobbery factor will permit the Eurosnobs to pay through their upturned noses to watch farcical games involving massively disruptive substitution?

SUM, as a partner of MLS, might be asking itself what MLS takes from a game in which the Los Angeles Galaxy -- which has some pretty important MLS games to worry about -- is wiped out 5-1 by Real Madrid? A game in which both teams made 11 substitutions at halftime.

Not just the Galaxy, of course. And not just MLS. The problem of Eurosnobbery pervades the entire American soccer scene. Pervades and divides it. And by doing so, obstructs it progress. So, CAA brains and SUM brains, thanks for all your help in promoting American soccer.

30 comments about "Why is MLS kowtowing to the Eurosnobs?".
  1. R2 Dad, August 13, 2012 at 1:24 a.m.

    If MLS operated during the "normal" soccer season, this would be a non-issue.

  2. Bruce Moorhead, August 13, 2012 at 6:56 a.m.

    R2 Dad - It snows alot in the US and Canada during the normal soccer season, and I don't see that changing for the next million years or so. You "normal" people must first respect climate reality. Though it might happen in the NFL, I don't see MLS fans flocking to games in blizzards for at least a few more decades, and MLS OWNERS care very much about the fannys in the seats. I believe commissioner Garber has been saying the same thing.

  3. Charles O'Cain, August 13, 2012 at 8:39 a.m.

    It is supremely ironic that Mr. Gardner (in view of his oft-illustrated anti brit bias) insists on the use of an upper-class English slang term (soccer) for what the rest of the world calls Football. Who is the real snob here? Do the terms of his green card insist on his dedication to the principles of American exceptionalism? Would he like CONCACAF to become CONCACS? I'm no true believer in the free market under all circumstances, but there's a reason tickets for these exhibition matches command prices far in excess of those for the usual MLS contest, and it's not snobbery.

  4. Gene Jay, August 13, 2012 at 8:44 a.m.

    Gee Paul, we are a free country last I knew. if the good folks in the USA want to see Liverpool vs Spurs at Fenway, who is MLS, Paul Gardner or anyone else to suggest or even hint this is bad thing. if it is bad, why did they fill the place? And I attended. Am i suppose to feel guilty because Paul Gardner hates the English? Not exactly like this was a Nazi rally or something--it was football! (okay, i threw that in there to piss Mr. Gardner off a little!).

  5. John Krahulec, August 13, 2012 at 10:05 a.m.

    Soccer, football, I don't care what people call least they are talking about it. We need more of talk/coverage/etc to help get a better foothold in America where it competes with so many other sports.

    I'd rather people argue about the proper name for it rather than not talk about it at all...

    ...But I have to agree a little with this author about the 'snobbery'. Sure, MLS isn't quite as good as European leagues, yet. But we gotta start supporting MLS, otherwise if this league fails, so will soccer/football in the U.S.

  6. Walt Pericciuoli, August 13, 2012 at 10:06 a.m.

    If it makes MONEY,then MLS and US Soccer wants it.Oh yes,the US Federation gets its' cut for all these "International" games.When has the MLS shown any desire to improve the level of play thereby improve their product?MLS denigrates their own league and its' importance by bringing in these teams during heat of its's own season. No professional league in the world would do that.The fans understand the message from the MLS. Our league is not that important,we are only interested in the money.R2 Dad is correct,if MLS played the normal FIFA schedule,no problems. By the way, it snows in Europe too.

  7. John Hamilton, August 13, 2012 at 10:20 a.m.

    Eurosnobs will go to the ends of the Earth to prove that they are "legit" fans of their respective EPL and La Liga teams. It's all crap and eventually they will recognize the folly of their ways and become MLS fans/supporters.

  8. Derek Dunmire, August 13, 2012 at 10:52 a.m.

    you are a unhappy negative and depressed man. you never have anything positive to say. I feel sorry for you...

  9. David Mont, August 13, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.

    Walt and R2 Dad, what is "the normal FIFA schedule"? Never heard of one.

  10. Peter Skouras, August 13, 2012 at 11:24 a.m.

    Eurosnobs? "Soccer Purists" or "Traditionalist" is more like it!

    There's really no "passionate" community interest other than our "young 17-18 year olds coming up through the Youth Systems.

    Promotion-Relegation is another major issue! MLS, NASL and USL all need to merge and become "1!" Not happening due to the "Economic" difference between the MLS and NASL and USL? US SOCCER needs to put forth an "EXECUTIVE ORDER" Look at Rangers...tied this past weekend in the Scottish 3rd Division!!! It happens in "every single league" in the World!

    NCAA with 8 home games? Forget it!

    Want "Footballing or Soccer interest? Log on to!

  11. John Hooper, August 13, 2012 at 12:27 p.m.

    Why does not liking MLS make one a "Eurosnob?" I like the Mexican league, whatever English league Southampton happens to be in, and I enjoy wathcing Champions League, but I can't get behind MLS. This isn't bwcause I hate America or whatever, but because the soccer is poor and, for the most part, not fun to watch. Also, I live in Tucson, so there's no real local team--why should I want to support a team from LA or Texas or wherever? If MLS can give me local team, or at least one in Arizona, things might change. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way.

  12. Alex Michalakos, August 13, 2012 at 1:46 p.m.

    I agree entirely.MLS teams can't win with these games.If they win the game: well,the Euro teams are just in training and not really trying.If they lose:see,the level is lower here.Truth is,MLS teams play mostly their reserves,too.So why would I want to go watch my MLS reserves against the Euro reserves-and the game means nothing? If MLS says 'well if someone is going to make money on this it might as well be us,'maybe it's ok because eventually the demand will subside.Other than those actually from abroad-Eurosnobs are usually one of two kinds:1)causal soccer fans who will only go to one or two games a year anyway, or 2)fans who loved soccer before there was MLS, and had no other choice.The first kind-they don't have their own real opinions so they just want to be a part of the 'best' soccer.I don't think they actually watch that much soccer.They cite the 'level of soccer' but that is a ruse which helps them feel personally superior about themselves.Could they actually sit through a mid-table EPL match?Is MLS is "lower level?"Yes it is in the ordinary sense.But aren't college basketball and college football a "lower level" than their pro counterparts?Of course they are-then by the Eurosnob argument no one would watch those games!But they are wildly popular!There must be something else other than 'level of play'-and that is the experience of having your own team in your own country, having your own competition and tradition, and going to a live game. I'm 42-in the 90's you HAD to go to bars to get a soccer experience and you HAD to watch English or Italian league. But not anymore!I grew up on English and Italian League.ManU was my team in the early 80's because they hadn't won in such a long time. And Juve--mainly because that's who was always on.But now I've grown up and moved on.It's like:Why would I care so much about someone else's girlfriend when I can have my own? What's more-MLS is so unique because it's not a league of 2-4 haves vs. have-nots.I want to watch that-much more interesting than seeing if ManU can beat Hull again, or trying to "qualify for Europe." Isn't it so un-American to admit from the start that you have no hope to win the league or that you hope to finish in the top 10, or to celebrate crazily if you're not in the bottom 3, just so you can try not to finish in the bottom 3 the next year again!Eurosnobs indeed,because we buy in to the idea that these are good ideas, out of insecurity.Except for a few markets MLS has succeeded in getting fans in the seats.Now MLS needs to increase their TV ratings in order to achieve the next level of income which can allow the league to grow (which leads in to the next Paul Gardner-ish topic of why MLS games HAVE to be wrestling matches).If you come from abroad you may always be a snob.But hopefully those who are snobs because that's all there was back in the day will either grow up or eventually give way to the younger generation.And we won't have to worry about Eurosnobs at all.

  13. Kenneth Elliott, August 13, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.

    The way I see it, most of us watch European teams because that's where the superstars are. We watch to see Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Van Persie, etc. Even those that come over to MLS after they can no longer compete at the top level in Europe don't attract the same attention. I am a Gunner, my favorite all time player is Thierry Henry, but I have yet to tune in to a Red Bulls game. It's not the same. And, no, NCAA football isn't a lower form, per se, than NFL. It's a younger form, perhaps, certainly different, but there are exciting, elite teams and players in college, just as there are in the NFL, and in the EPL for that matter. Not so much in MLS. When MLS attracts Chicharito and Neymar and Wilshere, THEN it will be what it wants to be.

  14. Paolo Jacobs, August 13, 2012 at 5:47 p.m.

    The Bigger football clubs like to go overseas in preseason to expand their club brand...MLS has opened their summer schedule to allow these friendly exibitions....I def. think their is alot of people who think Euro football is vastly superior to MLS.. acourse,, they are,, they have huge bank accounts to buy the best players....the more football over here, the better... MLS is a concacaf league, not a Euro league...slow growth,, not super club ala the proper way to grow the league...The Dp's have made a huge difference...

  15. CHARMAINE FELIX-MEYER, August 13, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.

    The LA Galaxy had to squeeze their 2 matches in between a dozen home and away games, playing literally every 2-4 days. That, on top of the MLS All-Stars match and the Olympics and Now CCL... I am biased because I want to see my team scrape their way back into the top 5 and I feel their focus and performance suffers with such a jam-packed schedule, not to mention the risk of fatigue and injury. It is unfortunate that in the planning, more consideration is not given to the League schedule and actual high-stakes matches. Furthermore, it broke my family's hearts to see so many Madrid fans cheering against LA in OUR own stadium. I get it. I LOVE watching great soccer as much as anyone else and know that MLS has a long way to go but with 2 budding soccer stars in my house, it is hard to get excited by this somewhat exploitative enterprise they call "World Football Challenge".

  16. Andy Maier, August 13, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.

    I'm so tired of Mr. Gardner's stupidity and conformity!!! The beautiful game shouldn't be called soccer EVER. NEVER. The name of the beautiful game is FOOTBALL and to call it anything less is an endorsement of "American Football" affectionately known as Throwball in the Nothing but Felons League (NFL). As others point out you're also glossing over the popularity of these events and 2nd tier status of MLS.

    It's quite clear it's time for you to retire and waste your energy on nursing home residents too incoherent to form a simple rebuttal to your dribble.

  17. Joseph Pratt, August 13, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.

    Gardner is right: the key is to promote MLS soccer and the league's games. These "World Tours" do the opposite. Commissioner Garber himself, upon taking the job, said "my goal is not to convince fans of American football or baseball to become soccer fans. My goal is to convince the American soccer fan (e.g. the Eurosnobs) to become MLS fans." If that's the target audience, and it seems like the right choice, then promote MLS, not European soccer!

  18. John Bamford, August 13, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.

    What a silly argument Gardner makes here. Exhibition games against the best teams in the world RAISE the visibility and credibility of MLS teams (and the league in general,) not the opposite. While a Bruce Arena understands this --- see his post-Madrid comments --- Paul Gardner seemingly does not. He's too irritated by "Euro-snobs" to think straight. Ignore the "Euro-snobs," Paul: The point is to continue improving the level of play in MLS, and playing exhibition games against the best teams in the world is part of this effort.

  19. Daniel Clifton, August 13, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.

    PG is right that there are "Eurosnobs" who are not going to watch MLS. I don't care for it either. The problem is what to do about it. The obvious answer is to improve the quality of play in MLS. Until that happens the snobs are going to remain "Euro". The snobs complaint about MLS is the low level of skill. The snobs have a point there. There are obviously some passionate fans of MLS out there (have you ever watched a game played in Seattle, I had to make sure I hadn't accidentally turned on the EPL). It seems to be me part of this is marketing MLS for the younger fans, which is working in the Pacific Northwest.

  20. Joey Tremone, August 13, 2012 at 8:31 p.m.

    I don't know that it's a 'silly' question, as it's sort of mystifying people still buy this subpar preseason product but then talk about MLS being 'subpar.' But I do think he winds up answering his own question when he points out that MLS has found a way to make money off of people who turn their noses up at MLS while also making money off their own fans . . . most businesses would kill for that kind of business model.

  21. Brian Something, August 13, 2012 at 9:06 p.m.

    The only thing these friendlies do for MLS is to help its bank account. Nothing else. To me, it’s a slap in the face to regular league fans for this reason. Several MLS teams play their regular season, playoff and CCL games on garbage artificial turf. But as soon as Euro celebrities jet in, they find a way to make real grass appear in their stadia. Why? Because top class teams know that you can’t play good soccer on crap turf. But this is what several MLS teams play on. They play on a real surface for meaningless friendlies but on crap for the games MLS wants us to believe mean something. It's a major own goal for MLS.

  22. Karl Ortmertl, August 14, 2012 at 5:56 a.m.

    The MLS is minor league soccer. When a Real Madrid or one of the others comes in, we're talking major league soccer. It's really as simple as that.

  23. Karl Ortmertl, August 14, 2012 at 5:59 a.m.

    By the way. We have to call it soccer because it needs to be distinguished from football in this country.

  24. David Mont, August 14, 2012 at 6:51 a.m.

    To Andy Maier: Would you like to write a letter to World Soccer to point out their stupidity and conformity and ask them to stop endorsing the NFL?

  25. Charles O'Cain, August 14, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.

    One wonders if Mr Gardner would be making the same arguments if his darling Barcelona team had made the trip rather than the evil Real Madrid? But then his personal Eurosnobbery wasn't the focus here (was that him I saw in the Messi shirt?). Perhaps he can tell me which MLS team I should support (I would have to remind him that the closest to me is still an 8-hour drive away).

  26. Roger Sokol, August 14, 2012 at 10:08 a.m.

    MLS has taken a rather pragmatic view of the summer Euro invasion. Make a few bucks off it where you can and adjust your schedule to accomodate the impact of the Euro teams. Competing Euro exhibitions do have an impact on MLS games in the same city. So scheduling MLS at the same time isn't smart. Some MLS fans will go to these exhibitions to see the famous teams and players. As far as Eurosnobs are concerned, MLS has figured out that they will probably never be MLS fans. It's too easy for them to slag off the league. So what? MLS has quietly gone about its business of establishing and nourishing a domestic soccer league. At this point, the league is solidly entrenched and progressing. The next big effect will be as the MLS team youth academies start producing the quality players necessary for MLS teams to compete more effectively against the Euro sides. We're just starting to see some evidence of the acadenies in the US youth competitions. Give it another 10-20 years and I'm sure MLS teams will be more than a match for our summmer visitiors.

  27. Saverio Colantonio, August 14, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

    Not all EPL teams are created equally. I remember when a few years back Sunderland came to town to play our local "all star" team composed of amateur players playing in our local Div.1 league. Sunderland left with 1-0 lucky win, they moved on to play the Vancouver Whitecaps (of the USL) where they were thrashed 3-0. While sitting with long time soccer friends we all agreed that Sunderland would be demoted the following year and they were. What is my point? Well, we shouldn't be comparing the MLS to the Real Madrids, Man U's, Juve's of the world but instead compare them to the Fullhams, Gatafes and Parmas instead. I enjoy watching the the Whitecaps more than some game between bottom of the table clubs of the EPL, Sere A or la Liga. As for attendance. Some of these clubs from Europe would love to have attendance and atmosphere that places like Seattle, Vancouver, Philly, Portland have. Yes, the MLS has a way to go, however, it will take time to develop a soccer culture like the rest of the world. We have more sport competition than most countries. Having said that, the MLS average attendance is hovering near the 19,000 per game mark which is better than average attendance in Brazil's Serie a. Yes, that is not a misstatement--better attendance than Brazil's top league.

  28. Michael Wolf, August 14, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

    I've been to a few of those games and I don't see them overrun with 'Eurosnobs' as you call them. They're fun events that in my experience, the crowds fully enjoy. I think it's fantastic that it brings additional attention to a game that I absolutely love. I'm a fan of MLS as well as the EPL and other leagues, so I find it pretty exciting when there's an opportunity for me to see my favorite MLS players go up against some of the best European players (even in a friendly). The short view is that these games take away from the focus on MLS and are only designed to make a few bucks. The long view is that the more we raise the exposure of the game and show what an enjoyable sport it is to watch - all while the MLS continues to improve and gain credibility - it is the US fan who benefits. I saw Swansea v San Jose a couple weeks ago and paid $29 per ticket for excellent seats and saw some pretty damn good football. Two years ago, I saw Real Madrid beat the Galaxy 4-3 in a fantastic game at the Rose Bowl that cost me roughly $50 a ticket. What's the problem?

  29. Millwall America, August 14, 2012 at 8:21 p.m.

    A number of my friends have been persuaded to attend MLS games after having a good time watching an EPL/World Soccer Challenge friendly in the US. The MLS is doing exactly the right thing: increase the profile of the game in the US, make a few bucks (which always helps the league), and maybe even make a few new fans for MLS teams. Everyone wins (except maybe PG).

  30. Millwall America, August 14, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.

    Also, "soccer" is a perfectly appropriate name for the sport, as the sport's formal name is "association football". For many years in various countries (including the UK) it is or was called soccer for short.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications