US soccer headed to new heights?

Soccer ball mid-air in international match

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Germany. This year's Team USA is ranked in the top five. David Carter is Director of the USC Sports Business Institute. I asked him what the ranking tells us about the achievements of Major League Soccer here in the US.

DAVID CARTER: If you take a look at what the World Cup is doing and the progress that Major League Soccer has made, as many as half of the players on the roster for the Americans this year are going to be coming from Major League Soccer franchises. And I think that again speaks to the quality of play, I think the quality of play is very important if you're trying to drive attendance. Again one of the things we see about sports in this country is not just you have to the quality of play. You have to have the great fan experience, you have to have an entertainment experience that's great for children. And it has to be somewhat experiential. And I think Major League Soccer is getting there, and so from a marketing standpoint they could certainly learn from the marketing and sponsorship tactics of World Cup, a property that's been around much longer. But they have to grow incrementally before they can take advantage of the marketing opportunities that the World Cup has.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: It's hard to believe but billions of people are going to be watching World Cup. How can the MLS slingshot this interest into even greater TV audiences here in the US and more interest in general for its league play?

DAVID CARTER: Again I think you have to go back and take a look at just how grounded the World Cup is. You mentioned billions of people are going to be tuning in to watch this. And the way soccer is viewed in this country, literally and figuratively, is not as exciting as the rest of our sports. We want constant action. We want high scoring. We want a lot of ongoing stimulation and the World Cup does that. The World Cup provides personalities, it creates this unbelievable aura of nationalism, so there's an ongoing reason to tune into the World Cup. And as Major League Soccer can continue to offer that same kind of buzz, if they can convert these major soccer stadiums into soccer-specific stadiums, more intimate gatherings as you're seeing now in Los Angeles, down in Texas, there's a new stadium opening up outside of Chicago for the Chicago Fire. There is a more intimate setting coming our way. The quality of play is improving, with that will come TV and the rest of the broadcast ratings. So again it's incremental progress. There is much to be learned from the World Cup, but it won't change Major League Soccer overnight.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: During March Madness, CBS allowed some of the early games to be downloaded onto iPods and computers. Would doing that for early Cup matches help increase exposure and popularity for the sport?

DAVID CARTER: If you try to take a look at porting the unbelievable experience that the World Cup has to offer into Major League Soccer and through which you then build that Major League Soccer base, you have to get in front of the young fans. MLS is doing that. One of the problems with soccer in this country is the kids play it young, they check out and don't come back again until they're soccer moms and soccer dads. So if technology and video games and the like and the way they stream video can be a way to bridge that gap, that would be fantastic for the sport.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: David Carter is director of the USC Sport Business Institute. And in Los Angeles, I'm Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.

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