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Michael Lewis


December 31, 2012
Blatter doesn't get it; It's evolution, not revolution for MLS

By Michael Lewis Editor

FIFA President Sepp Blatter just doesn't get the American sports scene.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter just doesn't get the American sports scene.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Obviously, Sepp Blatter doesn't understand American sports.

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither were any of the professional sports leagues, whether it was baseball, football, basketball and even hockey.

If the FIFA president realized how many years these leagues needed to establish themselves, he wouldn't have had criticized the Major League Soccer's slow growth since the 1994 World Cup in a recent interview with Al Jazeera TV.

MLS, which originally was set to kick off in 1995, was pushed back a year because organizers and owners did not want to rush into things, claiming they wanted to get it right.

"It is a question of time, I thought -- we had the World Cup in 1994," Blatter told Al Jazeera. "But it is now 18 years in so it should have been done now. But they are still struggling.

"There is no very strong professional league [in the United States]. They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society."

In 2012, MLS averaged a record 18,807 fans per game, which was good enough for third place in the American sports scene between gridiron football and baseball and ahead of basketball and hockey.

MLS has not caught on on a national basis. True, it's TV ratings are miniscule. At the moment, it is essentially a local and/or regional league.

But if you compare it when it started, there is no comparison.

In 1996, the league started with 10 teams. It has 19 with a 20th team in New York City, if MLS commissioner Don Garber has his way.

All of the teams called American football stadiums home. Today, 14 teams play in soccer-specific stadiums, which has much better atmosphere than that other cavernous grounds (just wonder if Blatter has ever visited a soccer-specific stadium here in the states).

Blatter should know better than that, especially since he represents an organization that has such slow change that it makes paint drying seem like a sprint.

To establish anything the right way, you need to grow it slowly.

MLS did not want to go the way of the original North American Soccer League, which enjoyed the highest heights, but crashed and burned after only 14 years.

Incidentally, MLS will kick off its 18th season in March.

The league isn't perfect, but it is pointed in the right direction.

While we live in a society that we want things five minutes ago, when you're trying to establish something for the long run, it is evolution, not revolution.

If FIFA followed Blatter's words, the organization would have had sweeping internal changes on transparency years ago.
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