White Line Envy, or Attendance Numbers and Sepp Blatter’s Comments

A few months ago, I was watching a Liga MX playoff game. I could not for the life of me remember who was playing, just that it was not Tijuana (my Liga MX club of choice). As the game played out, certain things were apparent to me. Firstly, the quality of play was better than that of MLS. It was not better by leaps and bounds, but it was certainly a higher, more technical class of play. Dispute it as we often do, Liga MX is better than MLS. It will continue to be better than MLS for some times.

This is not to say MLS is no good, awful, horrendous, and unwatchable; it is just to say that MLS is only 17 years old. Think of your performances at 17 years old. Compare that to a much older pro. Do you really think you were that good as a 17-year-old? If you do, I suggest asking around. You may be overrating your skill – but I digress.

The other note I took was that there were white gridiron lines on the football pitch. What is that you say? Soccer will never make it in Mexico so long as they paint gridiron lines on soccer pitches. You probably did not say that; however, when it is done at BBVA Compass, it is a criminal offense of MLS, the Houston Dynamo, the city of Houston, and whichever college team painted those heathenish lines. It is a crime worthy of relegation and death from professional soccer. Yet we do not hear those complaints from the Mexican fans of the team – or at least based on my cursory knowledge of the Spanish language we do not. Now when this happens in America the whine fest is irrational, unstoppable, and vast. American soccer fans have White Line Envy.

White Line Envy is like the Penis Envy of sports. We want to be like other sports…no, we want to be better than other sports. We want MLS to be the most popular league in the world. We want soccer to be the most popular sport in America. We want Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Claudio Renya, Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, and Paul Caligiuri to be placed on the pedestal with Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Jim Brown, and the other greats of American sports folk lore. When this does not happen, we point out the flaws with everything else. We point out what is poor about the other sports, as compared to what should and could be better about us. We want what others have so we attack their minor flaws. Because soccer is the greatest thing ever. Ever! EVER!

But here is the thing, no matter what you call it – football, soccer, futbol, calcio, etc. – this sport is not at the top of the heap in America. “Tomfoolery!” you claim. You point out to me, or whomever, that an ESPN poll has stated that soccer is the second most popular sport in America. You call me a blowhard and explain to me that it is the most participated in youth sport in America. You say I am a caveman, then you tell me how MLS games have better attendance averages than the NHL and NBA. All of these statements are true. They show a growing of the game, but they are just White Line Envy.

It is great that when you combine the English Premier League, La Liga, Liga MX, MLS, Eredivisie, Bundesliga, and whatever other soccer league people are following, that the fans of it almost outnumber those of the National Football League. I say that without the least bit of sarcasm. It is a huge deal. It is showing a growth in the sport at all levels. However, some are trying to make the argument that those numbers show a growth in MLS, the American league, but they do not.

As far as the youth numbers those are undeniable. Some, nevertheless, argue that many will not play past 12 years old. Sure, I continue to play soccer, and my three kids play, but I still hear fathers at local recreation department games telling their kids, “I can’t wait until you can play a ‘real’ sport.” Claiming these passing by youth players mean anything, which they do not, is an excuse. Just another example of our White Line Envy.

And I love that the Seattle Sounders average something in the realm of one-hundred-billion fans a game, but while average attendance is nice, it is the television numbers that matter. Yes, MLS is the seventh most attended league in the world – based on average attendance – but the money is not in attendance it is in television ratings. Fox did not break the bank to cover the World Cup due to its average attendance. They did it due to its monstrous television ratings. After all the World Cup Final averages more viewership than the Super Bowl; meanwhile, the most recent MLS Cup Final could not break a 1.0 share when combining the Spanish and English broadcast. The MLS Cup Final’s ratings are lower than the television ratings of regular season NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, and PGA events.

But the White Line Envy in us go to the average attendance, and popularity of the game, and the youth market, to show that there is nothing wrong with the low ratings. Well, actually maybe there is something wrong with low ratings, but we just assume that it is because others are smart enough to get soccer. White Line Envy strikes again.

Granted, I actually believe that soccer works best as an in-person sport – perhaps that is the White Line Envy in me. The problem, with NFL games – and the other major Canadian and American sports leagues – is that the experience at the stadium is not better than sitting at home, and it costs a whole lot more. MLS games, on the other hand, are better in the stadium, and with many supporters’ section tickets costing just north of twenty dollars you get more than your money’s worth.

And yes, I understand that the attendance numbers are an undisputed fact. They just are. However, anytime someone makes any negative remark about MLS, our White Line Envy jump to the attendance numbers.

“Hey,” a passerby might say, “MLS is okay, but I prefer basketball.”

“Oh yeah!” yells the irrational supporters, “well MLS has better attendance numbers.”

“I am not a big fan of the New England Revolution crest,” states the casual fan.

“Then why does MLS have a higher attendance average than the NBA and NHL?” screams the supporter.

“Boy, that new David Beckham cologne does not smell too good,” says a random person in the fragrance aisle at Target.

“Oh yeah, well MLS’s average attendance is better than that of your stupid NHL and NBA, dumbass!”

Sometimes the facts do not match the argument. And that is a huge side effect of White Line Envy. Recognizing that some people will just never watch MLS and being okay with that might just be the next major evolution of MLS and the American soccer supporter. Do you think Joe Six Pack cares that I do not watch NASCAR? Do you believe that baseball traditionalists care that I find their game abhorrently boring? I do not need to justify my enjoyment of soccer to anyone. I do not need to justify my support of MLS to people who think it is garbage.

I enjoy MLS, I really do, but I recognize its weaknesses. So when Sepp Blatter comes out and says something about MLS I do not need to attack him. I do not point out the attendance number, because those attendance numbers do not show Sepp anything. I do not need to protest – on Twitter mind you – that Sunil Gulati and the USSF should call for an impeachment of Sepp Blatter.

I mean seriously, folks, Seppy Blatts called a dog a dog. Put aside your White Line Envy for one moment and think about what he actually said. He alleged that most Americans do not recognize MLS. Guess what? They do not. Try coming to the Southeast and talking about MLS; Hell, try going to New England and talking about the Revolution. Try talking about the Revolution around Gillette Stadium, in Patriot’s Place, on a game day, most people there do not even know there is a game, let alone a team, and league. Seppy said he thought the league would be further along than it was by now. Didn’t we all? Sepp thinks more money should be invested in MLS. Here, here! Then there is the whole change of schedule things. Okay, I actually do disagree with the guy there, but still.

Regardless, the guy was not throwing crap at the wall to see what stuck. He was saying what most of us already say. But the fact that we have this White Line Envy of other sports, of how popular soccer is throughout the world, and then you add in our inevitable and completely reasonable hatred of Seppy, and we attack.

Listen, if you want to go on the rampage, go on with your bad self. But remember, calling a spade a spade is not a crime. American soccer fans, we do not need to overreact. MLS has flaws. It is okay that it has flaws. The league is 17! Attendance is great. But just because attendance is good does not mean all is great. And until MLS can become bigger than the NFL and college gridiron, we might just want to chill out on complaining about gridiron lines – even in soccer-specific stadiums.

It is a growing process. We are growing the game. We love the game. So why are we needing to apologize, or convince others, that this is an okay thing to do? I know I do not. My White Line Envy is there, yours is too, I am just not willing to let what others say about my league, its rating, its quality, or the appearances of another sport’s white lines on my pitch ruin the experience for me.


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