SALT LAKE CITY – The World Cup brings one thing to Major League Soccer: expectations. The expectations are that the domestic league will see increased interest and growth on the heels of the excitement around the sport's premier tournament.
Salt Lake City sports media personality David James believes that while you may not be able to draw a direct line between the World Cup and MLS, the impact will be seen in other ways.
James, who has a young son who is an avid soccer fan, explains that there are many youngsters who have grown mesmerized by the vuvuzelas, along with the action on the pitch in South Africa. His son is an avid soccer fan himself.
“When he’s 40 and has disposable income, he’d like to own an MLS franchise," James said of his son. "That’s just going to happen slowly over time.”
James explains his own personal introduction to the game of soccer. He knew kids who played soccer in high school and was aware of the 1990 World Cup, but there were lots of roadblocks to him becoming a fan of the game, including the lack of television coverage.
“I didn’t like it, I didn’t hate it – I just couldn’t see it," James said. "The ’94 World Cup sucked me in, and specifically the US vs. Colombia game. It moved so fast. It was over in two hours. There were no commercial breaks, and the action was constant.”
From there, James became more acquainted with the game when Real Salt Lake came to town in 2005.
“Now there’s a team here, and I know the guys here," he said. "And you watch a little bit more and figure some stuff out.”
He explained that between his drive time sports radio show and late night TV sports show, he saw a rise in the interest surrounding the game that lasted for a couple of years after Real Salt Lake came into existence. However, there came a point where the honeymoon feeling wore off.
Then in 2008, Rio Tinto Stadium opened its doors, renewing the excitement that was there at the start. The fact that the team had started to become competitive was the real story.
“The more they win, the more people get into it, especially with a sterling home record," James said. "When people pay money, they get their money’s worth.”
And of course, last year’s MLS Cup championship pulled in those potential fans hiding in the shadows and brought them out into the open.
Today, James says he'd like to see more World Cup stars and US National Team personalities continue to make their way into the league. From his vantage point, this will be the next critical step in continuing the growth of the game.
“I do think soccer has established its niche, and is continually broadening its niche," James said. “They need to figure out a way to get some of the world’s best players here.”