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Does English football really matter in USA?

Moyes' sacking, crunch title games and Americans buying EPL teams, the interest is not reflected on America's streets.

Last updated: 02 May 2014 10:52
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The departure of Scotsman Moyes 'Dis'nae' matter to Americans [AP]

Imagine this scene in the New York Stock Exchange:

A flurry of shouts and panic, paper being waved in the air, frantic phone conversations and one trader desperately trying to discover the route of the pandemonium.

“What's the Pwanic?”

“It's Mwoyes”, says the wolf of Wall Street, “he's gahn”.

“Omg, get me a cwarfee. Dis is big!”

Was Moyes sacking major news?

A caricature yes, but barely more ludicrous than the notion that David Moyes’ exit was a big deal on the NYSE, or New York, or anywhere in the US.

If Britain’s media want to make this a lead news story, let them. The appetite was indeed substantial in England and at least this was fact rather that tiresome speculation and invention. But don't pretend the world moved off its axis. In the US, this was particularly small fry.

I was there at that time and I can tell you that interest was still in the NBA and NHL play-offs, not Premier League managers. Unsurprising, I would say.

A reality check is needed then it comes to English football and America but we've reached an interesting stage. Significant progress has been made, a tribute largely to the incredible Premier League brand that can bring in over $8bn in overseas TV rights. But becoming part of the fabric of American sport consumption is not an overnight deal.

It could be argued that the last few years have been very significant – perhaps the most important chapter – in the relationship between the US and the country that developed football. Including the Glazers at United, roughly a third of Premier League clubs are owned by Americans, a statistic I find remarkable.

Shahid Khan, owner of NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, bought Fulham [GALLO/GETTY]

Reasons to buy

I spoke to Shahid Khan at the start of the season to ask one of the world's richest men why he bought Fulham, currently struggling every bit as much as his Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team. He talked of the tie-in between the teams, the importance of London, the excellence of the Premier League, the charm of Fulham, but it still doesn't explain fully what he gets from it.

Or even Randy Lerner at Villa and Ellis Short at Sunderland. I see what's in it for Huw Jenkins at Swansea and indeed the Abu Dhabi-based controllers of Manchester City. But harder to put your finger on an American businessman's need to own and run a loss-making organisation, an English football club.

City, of course, are expanding in the other direction. New York City FC will arrive next year and that's going to be a litmus test for the real appetite for the global game (in a part of the US already served by New York Red Bulls).

Beckham eyes success

Then there's David Beckham, the truly global sports brand, and his new Miami franchise. After building a fan-base in the country during his time at LA Galaxy, Beckham and his entourage expect success. He certainly has a strong track record in business (if not persuading FIFA to miraculously give England the 2018 World Cup or Stuart Pearce to play him in the London Olympics).

Currently the Premier League is prominent enough in the States. Whether it's the scheduling of many live matches, the big advertising campaign on the distinctive New York taxis or even English broadcasters making their mark for networks such as ex-BBC pair Arlo White and Rebecca Lowe.

'Soccer' expansion

The MLS continues to expand and increase its popularity in a crowded sports market. By 2017, there will be 22 teams, an addition of nine franchises since 2005. And for the first few weeks of the news season, attendances were up on last year. In theory, Premier League’s popularity has not taken away from the growth of MLS. There is room to succeed for both.

The US national team continues to be underrated as it prepares for its seventh consecutive World Cup. Interesting that most people were surprised they managed a draw against England in their opening game at South Africa 2010. Not sure what football reasons that was based on, looking at how the teams were actually performing at the time.

And the news that the USA will stage the 100-year centenary of Copa America is quite a coup, a consolation for the 2022 World Cup bid failure. With Concacaf teams included, it promises to be a memorable occasion for the oldest of the international/continental tournaments.

Chelsea win at Liverpool was watched by less than a million people in the US [Getty Images]

So there is plenty of evidence of the continued rise of the men's game in the US (and the women's game is a phenomenon of participation). But job done for English football? Not yet. Less than a million people watched NBC's live coverage of Liverpool v Chelsea, far from disastrous but an important dose of reality for a game so pivotal to the title race.

And anecdotally? Make of this what you will. In over two weeks in Florida I spent much time among tens of thousands at tourists at various tourist spots and and parks, most of those dressed in casual wear including some hideous football shirt fashion no-nos and indeed American sport fashion atrocities.

Yet I didn't see a single Manchester United shirt. Not one. Maybe it would be different in Florida. The handful of Chelsea and Liverpool shirts I saw, going by the accents of their owners, were tourists not Americans. There were many Barcelona shirts, about ten times more than every other shirt put together. Some Real Madrid ones. A fair amount of Brazil and Argentina kit on display. There’s a Latin American presence in Florida. But 'say what you see' as Roy Walker used to say on the TV show Catchphrase.

Maybe one day there will be as many United shirts as there are Mickey Mouse in Orlando. But right now the departure of Scotsman Moyes 'Dis'nae' matter to Americans, despite what some fantasists would have you believe.

 


Lee Wellings - Sport Correspondent at Al Jazeera English. He tweets @LeeW_Sport

 
 

This column appears on the Insideworldfootball.com where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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