Major League Soccer has officially put the 2012 season to bed. In a rematch of last year's finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamos 3-1 after scoring all three of their goals in the second half, two of which were penalty kicks.
The game, of course, was a fitting cap to David Beckham's career, which is all anyone can talk about when it comes to soccer. In America, we're still waiting for a transcendent star to break the glass ceiling of soccer's appeal to the masses. Many thought it would be Beckham, but while plenty are finding reason to celebrate in his going out on top, there have been rough patches in his MLS career as well.
The simple truth is that soccer, even at its post-Beckham level, is nowhere near the popularity of the four major sports in America. Football is king. There are a myriad basketball and baseball purists. Even hockey, a virtually unheralded sport in New Mexico, has regional swells of popularity. By pure television rankings of championship events, the Super Bowl crushes all the sports combined. An estimated 111 million Americans tuned in to the big game last February. The last baseball championship, where the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers, managed 15.5 million viewers for Game 4. The Miami Heat’s triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 nabbed 18.4 million viewers. When the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6, the NHL only wrangled five million viewers. This year's MLS Cup meanwhile, backtracking on the progress they'd made last year, managed only a 0.7 Nielsen rating. This translates to just over one million viewers.
Experts have offered suggestions about how to improve the ratings, but it still remains that soccer is averaging significantly fewer viewers for its championship game than the NCAA women's college basketball championship game, which is dismissed outright by many sports fans. It seems to be a chicken or egg problem: sponsors aren't going to spend money supporting a game that isn't bringing sets of eyes to the tube, but without that money and hype, how will people be attracted?
David Beckham was going to be that answer. For now, the question remains unsolved. But don't feel bad for Beckham. He's going to play for another year somewhere before returning to MLS with some sort of managerial or ownership role. And don't pity the Los Angeles Galaxy. Joining the NHL Kings, they're now the reigning champs of a sport that few might be tuning in for, but which still allows plenty of room for growth.