Bad Boys & Branding – Just What The Game Needs?

Jarkko Varvio, Nemanja Vidic, or Nikola Vucevic? Outside the United States, there’s a high probability that if you asked a stranger which of these three professional athletes was a soccer player, they would immediately answer sir Vidic (Manchester United). Why is it then, we here in the greatest nation, struggle to recognize icons so large in terms of global appeal that they trump almost every significant signing the likes of Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the NBA have inked in the last decade?

So where are our American soccer icons? We will never be able to appreciate the Wayne Rooney’s of the world without first knowing our own national heroes. Why haven’t we plastered the faces of US soccer all over the country? In the last 5 years, you will struggle to recall more than 3 names you can remember as the league’s domestic franchise players? I’m suggesting we are in desperate need of a bad boy, a story line, an interest. Get these players attention, and you will draw America’s attention.

Viewership, crowd attendance and TV ratings are increasing. People are listening; slowly. The time is ripe for brand recognition to explode. America needs to be told to watch. Its culture breeds a longing to be part of the next big thing. Who’s going to step up and tell them this is it?

In September 2010 a media blitz of NBC’s the Event created huge buzz around a manic sci-fi drama without presenting any real information about the prime time show. It became a need to watch more than a desire to watch. 10.88 million viewers tuned in for its premier. 600,000 viewed Major League Soccer’s opening act in 2011. What’s the difference? Major League Soccer is not impacting the nations hunger for drama. Who is there to talk about?

No face is etched into American soccer. There is no lasting impression, no reason to keep following. To the simple American, love of sport will not be born of lackluster plot lines and gradual build up. American’s live in the now, give them that. Create an identity. Create rivals. Start with individual players. American soccer players are not in the spotlight. Get people talking about who said what about who. If you want to establish a larger following, why not take from ideas that have been raking in cash hand over fists for years? The WWE is a great example of the idea that Americans with action and a little bit of script can become long time followers of sport.

Obviously American soccer doesn’t want to be associated with bad cribs selling overly dramatized relationships, but what does American soccer want to be? Has it shown who or exactly what it is? This shouldn’t be a weekly strategy as it is with the WWE, but nothing drives interest as much as an element of danger when it doesn’t involve the viewer.

Allow players to take on figurehead roles. Advise players to talk, to tweet and to openly hit the airwaves. Figure out what American soccer is. Allow the public to choose sides. Maybe then you’ll see further growth opportunities present themselves. Why not?

It isn’t the most natural idea; creating negative attention. But when controlled it can develop interest in an area American soccer may be failing to recognize. Shows like Fear Factor and COPS have been staples in TV viewing. American audiences want some fall out after events. Average Joe, doesn’t hand over 90 minutes without having an active interest in what’s presented to him. Give him what has proven to work. Let them turn on the TV for any reason. You can’t start a following if they don’t.

It starts by building interest in brand name players attached to clubs, attached to the league. Water cooler talk is instigated by ‘the did you hear?’, or the ‘did you see?’. What’s the last thing you heard David Beckham say? What’s the last thing any MLS player did? Let’s change this and what better time than now.


Soccer Speak USA as you may or may not know is the pre-launch blog of Soccer Support.

This blog was created to start the conversation about the game today and where we, the fans, would like to see it go forward. Today we are pleased to post our first guest article from John Rahmes who lives in San Diego. Follow John @PenaltyHick

If you would like to contribute an article to Soccer Speak please email it to us in a word document to


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