By Michael Lewis
When you reside in a metro area that boasts 12 professional sports major league teams, you need all the help you can get.
Let’s see, the New York/New Jersey region has two baseball teams, two football teams, three basketball teams (the WNBA included) and three hockey teams.
And oh yeah, two Major League Soccer teams.
And that’s not counting interest, sometimes very heavy interest, in college basketball and football, tennis and some other sports that pop out here and there.
Beyond the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets and company, sometimes it’s difficult trying to get attention.
Unlike other MLS cities that have perhaps one team in each of the aforementioned sports and sometimes even none, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and wind up at the bottom of the totem pole.
Before the influence of the internet really began to rise some 10-15 years ago, metro newspapers were the place to go for your local soccer fix. However, their decline in recent years and their decision to not cover or ignore the Red Bulls and New York City FC certainly hasn’t helped attendance, especially this year (if you’re talking about local TV news programs having little or no coverage of game highlights, but that’s another column for another time).
Now, I realize some, perhaps many of the said teams’ supporters will claim I am beating a dead horse when I talk about factors that have led to a slump in attendance. But today, I will be taking a new horse to beat, especially in wake of poor attendance on a rather beautiful Saturday, April 6.
NYCFC announced it had attracted 19,353 fans for its scoreless draw with D.C. United at Yankee Stadium, while the Red Bulls said they had 15,706 for their 2-1 loss to Minnesota United at Red Bull Arena that night.
Let’s face it, the demise of newspapers has had to hurt getting the message out about the teams.
Yes, it’s great there are so many different websites to get the news about your favorite team. Like this website, they cater to the soccer fan.
The question is how do you turn a sports fan into a soccer fan?
Well, when local newspapers covered the team on a regular basis, their readers were given an opportunity to read about a multitude of sports. However, cut backs in space has forced sports editors to make difficult decisions on what to cover. And soccer, being at the bottom of the totem pole, was the first to go.
During their heyday, newspapers covered every sport in town and then some.
I come from a generation where there is nothing like turning the page and seeing a headline or a story that might entice me to read a story, regardless what subject it is on. You might start reading a soccer story and perhaps become a regular follower of the team because of a unique player or superstar the club had signed. How knows? You might want to watch that player or club on TV and if you get hooked, attend a game. It has been known to happen.
With soccer in its own bubble on the internet — like any other sport — the chances of attracting new converts, while not impossible, become less.
You might say, hey, wait a minute? How about other cities? Many of their newspapers are in decline as well. True, but how many cities and areas have as many sports teams as New York? Los Angeles comes close. It has two soccer teams and they are usually covered by the very capable Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times.
A few generational things here. Many millennials might not have read an actual newspaper in some time or ever. And, even if you read one on line, you just might go to your favorite team, sport or subject and ignore whatever news there is out there, sports, politics or otherwise.
This is a major step backwards for all news coverage.
But let’s get back to the greater New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.
Soccer always has been a tough sell to the general media here, but in recent years it has been difficult. Sometimes the Red Bulls and NYCFC are not even mentioned in the daily print version of the newspapers.
Back in the day, the press boxes at Giants Stadium and Red Bull Arena were full of writers from local newspapers reporting about a game:
The New York Times
New York Daily News
New York Post
New Jersey Herald
At the beginning of the MetroStars existence in 1996, several other New Jersey papers and even Newsday from Long Island covered the team on a regular basis.
These days, I can’t remember the last time two newspapers were represented at the same MLS game (sorry, U.S. national team matches for men and women don’t count).
On a beautiful Saturday, April 6, there was not one paper covering the NYCFC-Montreal Impact game or the Red Bulls-Minnesota United encounter
In New Jersey, two newspapers that had given the team tons of coverage through the years — the Star-Ledger and The Record — have all but deserted the team. It is difficult to remember when either paper had a writer at a game.
I realize we have written about the decline of Red Bulls attendance ad infinitum and now NYCFC has entered the equation and discussion. But when it comes to attracting fans, every little bit helps, and the declining influence of newspapers has been one of the factors of not attracting new soccer fans.