Tim Leiweke was wrong.
As the president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Galaxy, Leiweke promised that the team’s signing of David Beckham four years ago would alter the sports landscape in this country.
“David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally,” he said after the deal was done.
“We are acquiring an individual that will not only be the best ambassador and the best role model for athletes and fans of soccer but the best example of what any athlete can and should be. David is truly the only individual that can build the ‘bridge’ between soccer in America and the rest of the world.”
It hasn’t happened.
Not only has Beckham been a poor role model — he’s consistently put his wants and desires ahead of the Galaxy’s — but his presence in Major League Soccer has done nothing to increase the level of awareness of the league.
Chad Ochocino will do more to raise the level of awareness just by training with Sporting Kansas City.
The Galaxy kicked off the MLS season Tuesday against Seattle, and it was tough to find the rating for the game, although it was readily available for the WWE. That’s no surprise.
The league’s TV ratings were horrendous before Beckham’s arrival and they haven’t improved at all. The WNBA is drawing more viewers. Some within the league have tried glossing over the league’s TV ratings, saying they are not a true gauge of viewership.
So I went to sports fans themselves and devised my own Beckham Experiment: Eight questions on what they know about MLS.
I went for a diverse group, some who have been to soccer games or watched on TV and others who follow mostly the NFL, NBA, baseball and colleges. (One person said: “Why are you asking me this? It’s March Madness time!”)
Although it is just 10 respondents, they live around the country, are in established MLS cities (KC, Chicago and Denver), new MLS cities (Portland) and in non-MLS cities such as Atlanta and Indianapolis.
I didn’t ask if anyone has watched an MLS game since Beckham’s arrival, because I wanted to find how deep the league had penetrated their overall awareness of the league.
Here’s what I asked:
1. Who is David Beckham?
2. What Major League Soccer team does he play for?
3. Can you name one of his MLS teammates?
4. Can you name another MLS player?
5. How many MLS teams are playing this year?
6. Can you name another MLS team?
7. How many MLS Cups have the Galaxy won with Beckham?
8. Who won last year’s MLS Cup?
Simple, right? Not really.The highest scoring respondent could only answer six out of eight correctly.
Here is the breakdown:
10/10. Not surprisingly, everyone has heard of Beckham. That’s to be expected. Really, that’s what his arrival here has done: raised awareness of Beckham himself. A lot of people bought his jerseys, but that’s as far as it’s gone.
9/10. Again, I figured nearly everyone knew what team he was on. While a couple of people thought he was done playing in the U.S., I counted their answer as correct because they knew he played for LA. “I know he’s contractually obligated to LA, but he doesn’t play much,” said one person.
5/10. Seriously? Not everyone knew of Landon Donovan? And of the five who did know a teammate, every single one said Donovan. No one could name another player. One person even asked if Freddy Adu was still in the league. Yikes.
1/10. The lone person to answer this said Omar Bravo, who technically hasn’t played a game yet. And they knew about Bravo because we’d talked about his arrival in MLS.
0/10. Admittedly, that’s a tough question, even for soccer fans that follow only the Euro leagues. But I thought maybe someone would know.
4/10. This was sad. Two people said the Chicago Sting, which played in the old North American Soccer League. While neither of the two resides in Chicago any longer, they still should have heard of the Fire. Another person, who was 4-years-old when the NASL folded, said the Cosmos.
8/10. This was a surprise. I thought people would expect Beckham to have been at least partially successful on the field. But nearly everyone knew he’s been unable to win any hardware in the States. Again, people know of Beckham if not soccer.
2/10. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. I bet more people could name last year’s Stanley Cup winner. This shows how unfamiliar sports fans are with MLS. Remarkably, one of the people to tell me who won last year’s MLS Cup lived in Denver! One person said the Houston Aeros – a minor-league hockey team.
I encourage soccer fans to ask these eight basic questions to their friends who are not soccer fans. Maybe you’ll get a different response, and please let me know if you get a different response.
But, in my findings, Beckham has not raised awareness of the game in this country. The U.S. men’s national team, and Donovan in particularly, did a better job of that with last summer’s World Cup run than he did.
Beckham was once a great player. But the Beckham Experiment? In my mind, it’s been abject failure.
| Pete Grathoff, firstname.lastname@example.org