Happy Nye Lavalle Day!

Nye Lavalle

(Courtesy New York Times.)


With the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway and the United States team set to play Ghana in its opening match on Monday, let us take a moment to recognize a momentous anniversary.

Twenty years ago today – June 15, 1994, a story on the front page of the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted sports marketing analyst Nye Lavalle, who was not exactly bullish on the long-term prospects of the new professional soccer league that was due to start up in the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup.

“There is no chance it will survive. Absolutely no chance whatsoever.”

Well, here we are, twenty years later. Major League Soccer now has 19 teams (a 20th, New York City FC and 21st, Orlando City SC, begin play in 2015) and is on its way to 24. Seventeen of the 21 either already play or will soon play in stadiums build primarily for soccer. It has a new television contract that pays it more than ever. Attendance now surpasses the six million mark annually and will continue to rise. Its stature and place in the world game is also rising.

How do you like that prediction now?

To be fair, the game’s prospects on these shores could not have been considered promising in 1994, given the death nine years prior of the last, best attempt at a national league, the US team’s long absence from the World Cup, the dearth of soccer on television and in the American sporting consciousness and skepticism over USA ’94. But to not just say “It’s unlikely to work, based on history, among other things” would have been one thing. To say that not only wouldn’t it survive, but that there was absolutely no chance whatsoever it would survive…well, that is the type of Shermanesque statement you get called on by people like me after the fact when it turns out you were as wrong as you were vehement.

Lavalle – whose other pronouncements and predictions included “(Baseball) has peaked and now it’s on a decline (1994),” “Baseball is not a TV sport and never will be (1994),” “The next few years are going to bring about the biggest falling out of the sports industry in history, something not unlike the deregulation of the airlines (1992),” and “There aren’t that many people interested in hockey (2004) – did foresee the mortgage crisis long before it nearly wrecked our economy. But his prediction about the future of Major League Soccer was completely and utterly wrong.

He wasn’t the only one making such predictions, just the most vehement and the one I’ve chosen as the poster boy for the skeptics. Here’s a sampling of the sentiments expressed by some media mavens in the run-up to MLS’ launch in 1996:

“No matter how many American soccer converts were made (by the 1994 World Cup), no matter how many kids were enticed to run off with the circus someday, no matter how much cash the World Cup pumped into the nine host cities, the idea of major-league soccer in this country simply won’t fly anytime soon.”
Steve Wilstein, Associated Press, July 18, 1994

“There’s a better chance of a national health plan being passed by Congress than of a major pro (soccer) league in America.”
Art Spander, San Francisco Examiner, June 5, 1994

“Our national team is spread out among 10 localities and charged with making us like the game. This would have been like taking the 1980 US Olympic hockey team and starting a whole new league by placing its members around the country. And the ice hockey team did, incidentally, win a gold medal, as well as whip the Red Army. Chances of that working would seem to be better than this.”
Bernie Linciome, Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1996

“The World Cup, should no one get killed, is a fabulous event. Enjoy it. And enjoy the next one. And if, in between, you patronize any and all pro soccer leagues that begin here, enjoy them too. They’ll be gone faster than the girl over there with the hula hoop.”
Phil Mushnick, New York Post, June 15, 1994

All wrong. (Spander gets bonus points because Congress actually did pass a national health plan.)

We’ve beaten the odds, boys and girls. The days where skeptics could say “It’s never going to work,” and, later, “It will surely fold soon” are over. Major League Soccer isn’t going away, and is only going to continue to grow and improve. The naysayers have less and less to naysay with each passing day.

Lavalle made his prediction about MLS prior to the actual start of the 1994 World Cup; a month later, he gave at least grudging kudos to the tournament itself, but still didn’t like MLS’ long-term prospects when quoted in the New York Times on July 19, 1994:

“For World Cup soccer worldwide, the World Cup gets a grade A; for staging of the World Cup in America, it gets a grade A. But for the future of soccer in America, the grade is incomplete. If you want a prediction, it seems like the term paper will be turned in and it will get a failing grade.”

The papers are all turned in. The assignments are done. We’ve passed.

Happy Nye Lavalle Day, everybody.

17 comments on “Happy Nye Lavalle Day!

  1. Keith says:

    This is my favorite day of the year. For those of us who huddled together in our mostly lonesome, soccer-loving foxholes through the 90’s, it never gets old gloating. Looking at ESPN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup with great discussion of all the matches, it’s hard to believe we’re only 20 years removed from the kinds of articles you quoted.

    • admin says:

      If you’d have said in 1994, “Soccer will never be a major sport in this country,” then ( a ) you’d have had plenty of nodding of heads, ( b ) we could still argue about it to this day, but, okay, fine, whatever metric you want to use or definition of “major” you want to parse, that’s fine.

      But you didn’t say that in 1994.

      You said not only that MLS wouldn’t make it, but that there was….

      Absolutely.

      No chance.

      Whatsoever.

      To come back 20 years later and split hairs with ratings points (by the way, are the people watching on Univision not “Americans,” Nye? Are you really going to go there?) and whatever other goalpost-moving metrics you want to come up with and say, “Well, but soccer is never going to be a major sport in this country,” that’s not what we’re talking about here.

      You.

      Were.

      Wrong.

      MLS has made it. It’s not going away.

      Not only were you wrong about that, when you doubled down after the World Cup and said when the paper was turned in, we’d get a “failing grade” for soccer in America, you were wrong AGAIN.

      Vague, debateable terms like “major” don’t help your case when no one can agree on what that means. We’re all very glad to stipulate to “major,” and, to be honest, we don’t really care because when soccer gets close to mainstream, we get Gus Johnson calling the World Cup.

      But pick any metric you like from 1994 and compare it to today. We’re up. In twenty years, we’ll be up some more.

      And MLS will still be surviving and you’ll still be wrong.

  2. Nye Lavalle says:

    Many times, quotes need to be taken in context and some quotes are read without the context they were meant be in. My analysis and STILL my opinion is that Soccer and MLS WAS NOT, IS NOT STILL AND MAY NEVER BE A MAJOR LEAGUE SPORT!

    Yes, I have many friends who love soccer, play professional soccer, and even an ex client who is commissioner of your sport and has taken MLS to another level. In fact, MLS is coming to Orlando and a new stadium is blocks from our condo there. However, EVERY American soccer fan I know (still nowhere near football/baseball numbers) WATCHES MORE AND PREFERS MORE International Soccer such as the Premier League, USA matches ad friendlies.

    That’s why MLS stadiums are built to 20,000 seat capacities, not 80,000 plus capacities, something Garber has been brilliant with! However, Don can’t single-handedly change the history of the sport in America, allow a new immigration bill to pass, make American athletes more interested in playing soccer, make American soccer players better, make a USA team win, and change the general apathy towards the sport by the vast majority of “Americans!”

    As I said then and I will say NOW once more 20-years later. Anyone heralding that soccer will be one of the top MAJOR LEAGUE sports in America in the next 10 years and RIVAL the NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball in interest and ratings (local and national) is NUTS! That was my context in “making it,” not in mere survival, but in the context of hype that U.S Soccer speaking heads were shamelessly promoting it to be then.

    I also added in many interviews the following factors that could propel Soccer’s growth in America and change those numbers:

    #1 More immigration of Latin Americans and Europeans into America and the increasing Hispanic population;

    #2 The US Team actually WINNING a WORLD CUP, not merely a World Cup match or round;

    #3 The US developing a Major international soccer star with the gravitas of PELE, Maradona etc…

    I recall meeting and having drinks with Landon Donovan one evening at my buddy’s Tongue & Groove nightclub in Atlanta. No one came charging up to him for autographs or offering to buy him a drink. Except for the couple of friends he was with that introduced him to me, no one knew his face or who he was in a MAJOR city! America’s greatest soccer star was a virtual unknown. I was more known and would be more recognized in Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and other major cities.

    The facts are that MLS is a Minor League product when compared to Premier League and other international soccer leagues. If i am wrong, just ask yourself this question honestly…

    Do you prefer watching MLS games week in and week out that you do Premier League or other international leagues or teams? Do the Sounders command your interest and TV viewing more than Manchester United or Arsenal? Would you rather watch the MLS Championship or Premier League or European Championship?

    It’s a basic formula I perfected years ago. Why I did the research since there was so much BS and hype by every sport claiming to be biggest or fastest growing. In any sport where there is a discernible “performance differential” fans are going to gravitate to the better product. (i.e. NFL Football vs. Canadian or Arena Football or the WNBA to ANY male basketball product)

    The NBA was ill-advised to take my research that showed women were growing in #s towards the NBA and create the WNBA. The reality is legions of more women love the NBA than WNBA. It’s a far inferior product.

    Look at these most recent numbers to illustrate my point!

    Through the first four matches of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014, Univision’s coverage is pacing ahead of its 2010 World Cup coverage through four matches by +25% among Total Viewers and +10% among Adults 18-49. Through these first four matches, Univision Deportes is outdelivering ESPN’s coverage by +34% among Total Viewers and +21% among Adults 18-49.

    Univision Deportes presentation of the Mexico vs. Cameroon match delivered an average of 5.0 million Total Viewers and 2.6 million Adults 18-49. The match aired on the Univision Network, and was simulcast on Univision Deportes Network (UDN), from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. on June 13, 2014.

    Univision Deportes coverage of the 2014 World Cup is pacing ahead of its 2010 World Cup coverage through 4 matches by +25% among Total Viewers and +10% among Adults 18-49. The match reached 9.2 million Total Viewers who tuned into all or part of the broadcast. Univision Deportes’ coverage of the match outdelivered ESPN2’s coverage of the same match by more than double the number of Total Viewers and Adults 18-49. ESPN2 averaged 2.1 million Total Viewers and 1.2 million Adults 18-49.

    Univision Deportes outdelivered the ESPN network’s coverage of all three World Cup matches among total viewers by +136% for the Mexico-Cameroon match, by +6% for the Spain-Netherlands match, and by +14% for the Chile-Australia match. Through the first 4 matches of the World Cup, Univision Deportes is outdelivering ESPN’s coverage by +34% among Total Viewers and +21% among Adults 18-49.

    I look and analyze reliable facts and data, not hype, BS, and dreams!

    Sorry soccer fans, that is reality 20-years later!!

  3. Geoff says:

    Hello there Nye,

    You just posted a long diatribe on incredibly obvious comments. There isn’t a soccer lover out there who thinks MLS is above any of the big 4 leagues in terms of talent or prestige. The point you seem to be missing, is that most of us that do watch MLS prefer it to euro leagues because its ours. We can actually attend the games or watch on TV at desirable time in the afternoon or evening.

    So while you are correct in saying its not the best (again, no shit, captain obvious) that doesn’t mean the league isn’t making it.

    And your stadium size comment is laughable. How many 80k seat stadiums exist in the EPL? I’ll wait for your answer.

  4. Sal says:

    average attendance in 2012–kenn please update numbers if you have time
    NFL-67,358/game
    MLB-30,334/game and declining trend
    MLS-18,733/game and rising trend
    NHL-17,455/game
    NBA-17,273/game

    of course, someone can come up with reasons why (more games in NHL/NBA, less capacity in buildings, costs more, etc), but there is no denying that MLS is growing in popularity and is clearly here to stay. if MLS is not considered “major” where does that leave the NHL and NBA? MLS franchises keep getting more valuable and more expensive to enter into the league, but it doesn’t stop new teams from popping up and new cities wanting to get involved. a lot of smart owners from other industries are looking to buy franchises. have they all of a sudden become bad businessmen?? repeat after me…I…AM…SORRY

  5. Dave Clark says:

    Nye,

    You’re right. MLS will never reach the big four.

    – Signed Seattle Fan about to see his MLS team average more fans than a MLB stadium can hold.

  6. Fnarf says:

    “That’s why MLS stadiums are built to 20,000 seat capacities, not 80,000 plus capacities”

    The UK has one stadium with 80,000+ capacity: Wembley. Most are in the mid-30s, but there were eight stadiums in the Premier League this year in the 20s.

    Italian top flight: one stadium at 80,000+, many in the 20s, even some in the 10s. Spanish top flight: two at 80,000+, many in the 20s and 10s.

    This is the kind of BS that people who don’t know anything about the world game besides “Barcelona” and “Real Madrid” are constantly retailing. Is the US league as good as the Premier League or the Bundesliga? No, of course not. Are our best clubs as good as Real Madrid? No, of course not. Neither are anybody else’s clubs!

    This is like saying that baseball will never catch on in Chicago because the Cubs and the White Sox are bad teams. It’s like saying no one will ever bother playing golf because Tiger Woods is better than them. It’s just ignorant. Our teams don’t have to be the absolute very best in order to be good enough to be worthy of our attention. Soccer is played in more than 200 countries; are they all going to fold too?

    By the way, Seattle Sounders outdraw most of the clubs in the Premier League, most of the clubs in La Liga, and almost all of the clubs in Serie A, Ligue 1, and the Eredivisie.

  7. Chad Johnson says:

    ” Do the Sounders command your interest and TV viewing more than Manchester United or Arsenal? ”

    Absolutely.

    But I wouldn’t watch either of those teams, as I have no connection with England. I did, however, grow up in Frankfurt am Main, in what was then West Germany. I count myself as a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt.

    If I have the choice of watching a Sounders game or an Eintracht game, I’m watching the Sounders game. It’s the team that I have now. It is my local club, not Eintracht. It is the team that I take my boys to see. It is the team that runs the soccer day camp that I’m going to send my oldest boy to this summer.

    If I have the choice of Sounders tickets or Seahawks tickets, I’m taking the Sounders tickets. I cannot think of any other tickets I’d rather have than Sounders tickets.

    It may be different where you live, but when the kindergarteners in my neighborhood talk about CenturyLink Field, they refer to it as “the soccer stadium”. As in the question my oldest son asked me once, “Dad, why do the Seahawks play in the soccer stadium?”

    And that’s why you were wrong, Mr. Lavalle. As the younger set gets older, more and more of them are going to turn to MLS as a (or even “the”) primary sport for their entertainment at the expense of the NFL, the NBA, the MLS and the NHL.

  8. DaveS says:

    Why not link to the actual article he wrote?

  9. RMc says:

    I wonder how Nye found this blog post? Is he one of those guys who Googles his name every day?

    Anyway, his prediction 20 years ago was obviously wrong and kinda silly, but…well, you remember what pro soccer was like in this country in the early 90s. All we had was the misbegotten APSL, with teams with names like the New Mexico Chiles and Penn-Jersey Spirit, playing on high school fields in front of friends and family, with nary a TV camera in sight.

    To say in 1994 that MLS had “absolutely no chance whatsoever” of surviving was obviously hype, but not totally crazy. (And, indeed, the league almost died a couple of times in the late 90s/early 00s.)

    But MLS survived, and it’s beginning to thrive. By mid-century, it could well be on the same level as the top leagues in the world. Soccer fans 1, Nye nil.

  10. Nye Lavalle says:

    Some of you all need to get a life is Happy Nye Lavalle Day is your favorite day of the year!!! LMAO!!!

  11. Badger says:

    LMAO- at least we know you’re with it when it comes to internet abbreviations.

  12. RMc says:

    I prefer ROTFLMGDAOSTC.

  13. Jason says:

    On every Nye Lavalle Day I raise a glass and toast the men that founded MLS and kept it going during the lean years. I’m thinking of guys like Alan Rothenberg, Phil Anschutz, the Hunt family, Robert Kraft, etc.
    We never would have seen success stories today like Seattle and Portland and even the re-boot in KC if they hadn’t done all that groundwork and spent as much as they did. Of course there has been missteps along the way, but this is the one start-from-scratch league in this country that absolutely can be considered a success.
    Happy Nye Lavalle Day!

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