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June 26, 2014: A look into the Future? - This Is Sports Zone

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 is a day that may very will live in infamy for generations, similarly to the way June 17th 1994 will always be a day that holds a special place in sports history. Now, I doubt that there will be a high profile car chase with a Heisman winner but nevertheless, it is shaping up to be a very eventful and will most likely shape the future of sports in America and possibly across the globe.

The first major event that needs to be addressed is the World Cup game between perennial powerhouse Germany and the upstart USA Men’s National Team. The US can advance to the knockout stage with a draw or a victory, but this game has so much more riding on it than just advancing to the round of 16 of the World Cup. The United States is really on the precipice of embarrassing soccer whole heartedly. The ratings are huge and the atmosphere around these games is even more enormous. Huge crowds are gathering in public parks to cheer on the US team, a phenomenon that is rare for even the reigning king of US sports, the NFL. An Estimated 24.7 million viewers across two television networks, ESPN and Univision tuned in to watch The US and Portugal play to 2-2 draw. In reality, the number is much higher due to all the people watching in bars and other public venues. Also, the Neilson rating system is hopelessly outdated and if social media is any indication, close to 100 million people tuned in to the USA-Portugal Contest. If this trend continues, soccer can easily become the third most popular sport in America, passing Major League Baseball, and trailing only the NFL and NBA. In fact, the World Cup got better ratings than the NBA Finals and the World Series. Only the Super Bowl and BCS Championship bested the World Cup in ratings to date. The main reason that Soccer hasn’t caught on in America is because the landscape of sports is really saturated and the sport is not as conducive to advertising because of the lack of breaks in the action. This brings us back to June 26th, 2014.
imagesGWC4CTOA This date is also the 40th Birthday of Baseball Mega Star Derek Jeter. The reason I mention this is because soccer is demanding more and more of the US’s eyeballs, the popularity of baseball is waning severely not only because of the rise of soccer but because of changing societal demographics and technology. Twenty years ago when Derek Jeter was breaking into the league, MLB arguably experienced their most popular and profitable period. The Steroid era was in full effect, home runs and the Yankees’ Dynasty were fueling MLB’s popularity and profitability. The landscape is very different today; the end of the steroid era has ushered in a “nu-dead ball era” and millennials are simply not enamored with baseball anymore. In today’s day and age people want instant gratification and baseball is simply a slower sport that provides little excitement and is very slow to adopt new technology. It took baseball forever to use replay technology, scoring is at an all-time low and the ratings are at unprecedented lows. Earlier this year, Houston Astros draw 0.0 TV rating for game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the attendance figures are not much better, even big market clubs like the Yankees are having trouble selling out games and stadiums across the country are half empty. A team like the Miami Marlins, which just built in a state of the art stadium with taxpayer money has not seen a significant increase in attendance compared to their old decrepit stadium.

It has been my prediction, for over 10 years now, that by 2025, soccer will be significantly more popular than baseball and it’s easy to see the blueprint. You don’t need to look any further than the Seattle market; the Seattle Sounders of the MLS are selling out every game with a rabid fan base while the Seattle Mariners are struggling with attendance, they are currently 23rd in the majors in home attendance. Portland has had similar success in the MLS with the Portland Timbers. The MLS is hardly a top flight league compared to their counterparts in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and a number of other countries. Soccer is rapidly expanding in the United States, with a total of 24 teams planned by 2020.
6261 Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and New York are all planning on adding teams in the coming years. Minneapolis, San Antonio, Sacramento and Las Vegas are also looking into getting professional soccer clubs. The success of the Sounders and Timbers could be replicated all over the country if done correctly. That success hinges on the outcome of the June 26th matchup which pits the U.S. Men’s team against Germany. If the US can pull an upset, it would make American soccer a serious contender on a global scale and kids growing up watching the 2014 World Cup would see the advantage of playing soccer as opposed to other sports, which would make soccer’s future in America that much brighter. Future generations of soccer players would identify this World Cup as a game changer that led American athletes to recognize soccer as being on par with American Football and Basketball. Soccer players are the only truly global athletes and if America can steer some of their athletes in that direction, America can become the dominant country in soccer just like it is dominant in Basketball and a litany of other sports. Imagine if LeBron James, Adrian Peterson and Mike Trout played soccer- the US would most likely be a favorite to win the World Cup.
imagesLU5MAHEE The other major event that can shape the landscape of US sports for years to come is the 2014 NBA Draft. Most experts predict this to be the best draft since 2003. In 2003 players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and David West embarked on their NBA journeys and have had a significant impact on the popularity and competitiveness of the NBA. Three of the highly drafted players, James, Bosh and Wade would go on to team up and establish a dynasty in Miami that went to four straight finals, winning two of them. Carmelo Anthony is one of the most talented scorers in the league and plays for the biggest market in the world (as of this article). The 2014 Draft has some lofty expectations and could go on to rival the 2003 draft class in terms of impact players. The NBA relies heavily on the Draft to bring in a new influx of talent and marketable superstars. The NBA is the most individualistic major sport, where one player can make a team a contender almost single handedly. The 2014 class includes two of the most anticipated players in years, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, who will most likely be the stand outs of this draft class and could potentially be superstars in this league. The rest of the class has some question marks but if injuries don’t derail them, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid can be phenomenal players in a few years if they land with the right teams. In addition to those four highly regarded prospects, this is a very deep draft and could potentially be one of the greatest draft classes of all time. Players like Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott all have all-star potential and could put this draft in a whole different category if one of them breaks through as a superstar player. Off course, all of these players have some limitations and the rigors of the NBA could make this potentially lucrative draft a bust of epic proportions. Although most experts agree that so many highly regarded players not panning out is very unlikely.

There you have it– will June 26, 2014 be cemented as a day that all sports fans will remember as a turning point in American Sports? Or will Team US fail to advance to the knockout round, and will the 2014 NBA draft be mired in mediocrity like the 2000 NBA draft, which was at one point highly regarded, but produced such duds as Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer. In this commentators humble opinion, I think the nation will always remember June 26, 2014, and one day there will be a documentary detailing this historic date, so remember where you will be this coming Thursday.You may tell your grandkids about it one day.

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