CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 12: A fan of Mexico cheers on his team against Costa Rica during a CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 match at Soldier Field on June 12, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Mexico defeated Costa Rica 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is almost done and last night's set of semifinals at Reliant Stadium left us with the final everyone expected in the first place. The USA will face Mexico on Saturday in Los Angeles with a crowd demographic that should line up with what we saw during the second match last night. Such is the state of things that with the exception of Columbus and Kansas City if the USA is playing a CONCACAF opponent, there is no such thing as home field advantage...especially against Mexico.
That's not a shot as the USA supporters, it's just the truth. However, I really don't care that much about international soccer so what interest I have in the Gold Cup has more to do with how it relates to and affects club soccer in the United States, specifically, MLS.
Here in Houston we regularly see solid and diverse crowds at Dynamo matches which is typically not the norm at most stadiums around the country. We are the exception but even that doesn't mean that the Dynamo or MLS are making serious in-roads in reaching the vast amounts of soccer fans in this country. You don't need to look any further than the meaningless friendly between El Salvador and Honduras on May 30th. Robertson was packed to a level that even a visit from David Beckham or Theirry Henry can't even reach.
The first question is of course should we even care? MLS has its fans and it's growing slowly as attendance around the league has in general improved. Plenty have said who cares if the fans who packed Robertson for that match don't pay attention to the league. MLS sure cares or they wouldn't be playing multiple games per week on Spanish language channels or incorporating Spanish in to the league's marketing scheme. They clearly put a lot of effort in to reaching out to that fan base and they are systematically rejected.
I think the lesson the league and its teams needs to take from the Gold Cup is that you're just not going to get those crowds that packed Reliant and other stadiums across the country over the past couple weeks. There's nothing wrong with marketing to those fans and trying to draw them in but don't forget the fans you already have and forget to cater to them. Most markets are doing this just fine but it's always something that marketing departments should keep in the back of their mind.
I think MLS officials see 70,000 people at these Gold Cup matches and get a little overexcited about the potential crowds that they can't seem to get for their league matches. They need to remember to take a deep breath and realize that those fans are likely unreachable and over focusing on trying to grasp that forbidden fruit will ultimately hurt them more than it will help.