The Sweeper: MLS and the Monolithic Media

ESPN Chicago

Last week, I discussed the decline in beat reporting on American sports, which is hitting the less popular sports leagues — such as Major League Soccer — particularly hard. My particular example came from the city I know best, Chicago, where we’ve seen the major daily here cut its beat reporter for the Fire this year and replace him with an enthusiastic but inexperienced blogger, whose work rarely makes the print edition. One potential solution from the team is to look into hiring their own beat reporter.

The Fake Sigi Schmid Blog has a few issues with my piece which are worth considering. Fake Sigi points out (in agreement with Bill Archer) that as print media is dying anyway, there’s little point in MLS worrying about it. Fake Sigi mentions coverage online  in many cities does much of the job print media is failing to do, even if it takes fan efforts like the outstanding 3rd Degree in Dallas or MLSNet itself. Perhaps Chicago is an outlier.

Still, I’ll maintain my original piece identifies a two-pronged problem not solved by amateur or even semi-pro or team-run online coverage. Firstly, we still do not have a replacement for the loss of an independent reporter embedded with the team and travelling around with them — this can’t be done by bloggers unless a much stronger income model is developed and a team-funded replacement is obviously problematic. Newspapers’ near monopoly as an advertising outlet long allowed them to plough over-inflated advertising income to subsidise otherwise unsustainable reporting in all areas, but online media does not have the same luxury.

Secondly, there is the need to reach the general sports fan (and especially those interested in soccer but not yet MLS fans), which could be achieved by appearing in print in the daily newspaper — this is not replaced by independent blogs or MLSNet. Here I did miss an important point:  The elephant in the room on this is actually ESPN, fast becoming America’s monolithic sports media provider for the general reader instead of the daily paper. The expansion of ESPN into local coverage with the launch of the likes of ESPN Chicago and ESPN Boston probably makes this single provider the key battleground for soccer’s general sports media coverage in the future, for good or ill. We have a call in with ESPN to talk about the future of their soccer coverage, so we’ll have more for Fake Sigi to sink his teeth into soon.

Worldwide News

  • It always seemed unlikely Mexico would win a World Cup bid: despite the country’s soccer fever and the considerable number of large stadiums there, most of them required considerable upgrades (even Chivas de Guadalajara’s new stadium would hardly help, as it has a turf field) and perhaps most importantly, the country has hosted two World Cup finals in the past 40 years already. But the news of their sudden withdrawal from the bidding for the 2018/22 World Cups did come as a surprise (the federation cited the global economic situation as a prime reason). The U.S. benefits enormously.
  • A decidedly uneven start to the U-20 World Cup, perhaps because few teams have their strongest talent due to the timing of the tournament: Cameroon were thrashed 4-1 by the U.S. (it could easily have been more) and England were whacked 4-0 by Cameroon Ghana. Video highlights here.
  • Remember when George Gillette said Liverpool had “never been stronger” financially?  Tell that to the banks. Liverpool’s ownership have according to The Times been “issued with an ultimatum by the club’s bankers to attract investors to reduce the club’s debt or to sell up.”
  • And there’s more on the farcical nature of the fit-and-proper persons test in English football, with news that Leeds United are owned by an unknown consortium based in the Cayman Islands.
  • Philadelphia are continuing the MLS trend of expanded youth development, partnering with a local academy to hopefully bring players through from age eight ultimately to the first team, promising to seek out talent in the inner-city as well as those already on suburban teams. Much needed.
  • Don’t worry, folks: Sepp Blatter says he is “sure” a resolution can be found to the dispute over the awkward regulations on men’s soccer at the Olympics. He doesn’t actually offer a resolution, though.
  • Maradona looks for god to again save Argentina. He’ll need the help as long as he’s in charge.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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