Editor's Cut: Twelve articles per year…multiply by eight years. Damn, I’ve written a lot of these.
But this is the first time that I am going to use this space to call attention to a specific person who deserves a bit of praise.
My first job was with the Continental Indoor Soccer League, a now defunct professional indoor soccer league. On day three, my boss, Dan Courtemanche—who I still consider a friend 20 years later—came by and asked me, “Hey, wanna go see a soccer game?”
That game was my first outdoor soccer experience. It was a World Cup match between Sweden and Brazil in Los Angeles. In 1994, there wasn’t “One Nation, One Team.” There were Team USA fans, and they were passionate, but they were far from being an army. And nobody was shouting that they believed we could win. That was the year that Alexi Lalas led his band of ragtag players out of Group, only to be defeated by Brazil in the elimination round. Soccer fans were thrilled to see the U.S. get competitive, but nobody else really cared. There was a lot of room on the bandwagon back in 1994.
By the end of that summer, U.S. Soccer held its Annual General Meeting. I was there on the day that Major League Soccer was born—or at least was voted into being. But again, aside from those of us in that ballroom, nobody really cared. Soon after, my boss went off to join this newborn league, trying to sell what so many said was unsellable.
Fast-forward to Brazil in 2014. The U.S. represents the single largest contingency of fans who traveled to be at the World Cup. U.S. soccer jerseys are about as hard to find as a yeti. More than 200,000 World Cup tickets were sold in the U.S. Twenty-four million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. play Ghana—that’s 10 million more than the average World Series game last year. Viewing parties are filling parks and stadiums around the country. Tim Howard is a sex symbol and is featured on the cover of PEOPLE magazine. I believe that we can win.
Yes, I believe in soccer in America. It has been decades in the making and will likely take decades more to rival the big three (MLB, NBA, NFL) in popularity. But today, I am a proud friend who looks out to see what has been accomplished by the people I have known for two decades. Even during the days when nobody came to watch—when stands were filled with more family and friends than fans—you stuck with it and helped build that following.
It is easy to point to guys like David Beckham and Landon Donovan for breathing life and passion into soccer in America. But I point to guys like Dan who stuck it out behind the scenes, building the soccer brand in America and turning it into something very real and relevant to an ever-growing customer base.
So as we revert to being soccer skeptics, I ask you to stop and appreciate the world-class marketers who stuck with soccer and turned it into the brand it is today.
And to Dan, I say thanks. When you look out at all the fans, see the painted faces and hear the roar of Team USA fans—that “large contingency” that is chanting and screaming—just know this: You did that. Without guys like you, we wouldn’t have soccer-only stadiums and team shirts being sold in airports around America. Twenty years ago, I would have never made the bet that soccer could come so far, so fast in America. But it has. And you, my friend, need to stand up and take a bow.
Until next month!