You will laugh at this prognostication now, but pull this article up in ten years, and I will be the Amazing Creskin and Nostradamus, on his better days: The NFL will be the No. 2 league in American sports. World football will rule.
"Soccer" is dead. Long live World Football!
NBC launched its coverage of the Barclay's Premier League (BPL) with two games on its NBC flagship Saturday: Liverpool v. Stoke, and Manchester United versus Swansea City.
Games are free. The American majors have taken the majority of their games and put them under pay-per-view deals. NBC will be airing games across their broadcast and cable offerings, and they will make them available on computers and tablets and phones. BPL's Premier League Extra Time package will be made available on cable systems across the United States. Unlike the big four, it may be available in many markets at no additional cost (for now).
We've been seeing the trend evolving for years. ESPN went into the worldwide football biz, and has moved MLS games from ESPN2 early in the morning to showing them on ESPN at prime time.
Our large populations of multi-generational immigrants from football-crazy countries in Europe and Latin America are already big fans. There is a vast audience for the sport from millions of adults and kids who've played it for more than two generations.
Seats at major league American sports have been priced to levels that they become a rare treat for hometown fans. New ballparks for the Yankees and Mets both down-sized, knowing that the days of 55,000 screaming fans passing through the turnstile for 85 games a season are long behind them.
American sports leagues have varying degrees of national appeal, with their league "power" usually concentrated in the big markets like Boston and New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Most have little or no real appeal outside of their regions, and virtually none world-wide. There are maybe a dozen+ clubs in all five major league sports that have branding that can be found in large presence outside of their immediate region. Virtually none, though, other than perhaps the New York Yankees, have much recognizable marketing globally.
The BPL however is a different story. Man U is global. It is the Yankees, Patriots, Heat and the entire NHL all rolled into one if you count their global fan base.
While not without their controversies, the BPL has been a much better steward of its brand, and has managed, warts and all, to expand the world appeal of its teams globally in a way that has perpetually eluded the American majors and their stabs at putting footholds down in Europe and Asia.
BPL plays exhibition games in every part of the world. Their television offerings have reach of which the American majors can only dream.
Once the sound heard on every street corner, barber shop, MLB has slipped from the American Pastime to a 'roid-ridden afterthought that is one step above slipping into "entertainment" status with professional wrestling.
The poor and occasionally criminal behavior of a few American athletes, usually more off the playing surface than on, has made ESPN seem more like a true crime network, not a sports network. That's been something of a fan turn-off.
Instead of putting athletes up on a pedestal, most major league sports fans take pot-shots at the biggest name/dollar players for their high pay, poor performance and the odd police mug shot.
American sports at their zenith were the domain of the common man. Today they are owned lock stock and skybox by America's elites. The skyboxes and the good seats belong to people who used to never sully themselves at a "common" sporting match.
World football is still very much the common man's game. It's never been a particular national pastime. It has always been a world obsession.
Can world football finally "catch" in the U.S.?
We're not a country of large industrialized urban areas with strong ties to pro teams anymore. You're as likely to find a Dell Computer headquartered in the Austin 'burb of Round Rock, Texas or a Microsoft in faraway Washington than you are to find world corporate headquarters in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
That base is easier for the BPL to reach.
Yes, Major League Soccer (MLS) has spent years trying to build up world football in the United States to limited success. Yes, the same claims have been made at different times in the history of trying to launch world football in the United States.
The declining years of Pelé. The rising years of Freddy Adu.
Yes, many American sports reporters have demonstrated xenophobic zeal in bashing the sport, particularly the Rush Limbaugh of sports punditry, Jim Rome.
These are different days.
"Friendly" exhibition matches have been high sell or total sell-outs in major American cities, international clubs in U.S matches like Man U., Real Madrid and A.C. Milan. It's not regional either. World football has had success in Miami, New York, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and just about everywhere that it has been played.
The people attending aren't your "core" American sports fan. They're working people, more often than not, with home ties to world football. They're young people who have played and followed the game here. When more traditional American sports fans find the games, the exhibitions will all be sellouts.
In 2011-2012 Fox carried a dozen BPL games. NBC's 380-game deal across their multiple networks on cable and the web is far more expansive, with nearly 1600 hours of BPL programming. MLS on ESPN is becoming a much bigger thing. You see their games at prime-time on ESPN-1, not pushed to the ESPN-2 2:00a slot they once occupied. It won't be too long before you see other networks reaching out to make deals for clubs like Milan, Münich, Barcelona and Persib Bandung (Indonesia).
The last great stage will be when MLS can starts fielding teams of Americans who can go toe-to-toe with the big clubs of the rest of the world.
That day too will come.
My shiny two.