Reluctantly Thanking the LA Galaxy

Thank you, LA Galaxy.

It’s hard to type those words, since I am not a Galaxy fan. Far from it, actually.

I am a New England Revolution fan. Well, to be honest, I am an MLS and US Soccer fan who supports my local New England Revolution. I’ve not (if I’m totally honest) proclaimed “New England ’til I die” like some of those I most commiserate with.   (More on that some day…)

Yet, despite that qualifier, it is still hard to thank the LA Galaxy for much from where I sit.

So why, then, would I?

David Beckham.

I haven’t spent much time commenting on Beckham’s impact on MLS on SoccerSoapBox. In fact, I had to search the site to remind myself of my own prior commentary.

There was one brief post (here) however, that sums up my desire to thank the Galaxy for bringing David to our shores. In reference to the “drama” that surrounded him, I wrote: “Frankly, I love it. The more drama, the better.”

I actually did once say (here): “This is not because I’m anti-Beckham, in fact, I think MLS is better with him in it than without him.”

And that is why I thank the LA Galaxy.

I believe that the coverage, attention and (often ridiculous) focus that David Beckham gets, on balance, benefits MLS tremendously.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t add unnecessary distractions (who remembers the media circus that was his first game?), locker-room confusion (the silly Beckham/Donovan tiff) or huge costs to his team.  He does.

But that’s the point of my thanking the Galaxy, or perhaps the Galaxian fans, for putting up with this. He adds those things – while not yet significantly adding to on-field production – to the Galaxy, but the rest of the teams (and fans) gain the impact of increased exposure.

Is all that exposure always good for MLS?  That’s hard to measure.

Having him play a full match in England for Gary Neville’s testimonial today when granted a leave of absence from his team and missing a mid-week MLS game adds fuel to those who position MLS as “bush league.”

Of course, this isn’t the first of this type of absence… as his insistence on long loans and training stints that lasted through MLS preseasons are already well known.  (Cut to MLS article with key teammates saying obligatory nice things about testimonial matches, despite what they might really feel, here.)

So there’s a limit to “any press is good press” mentality out there, but at some point another oft used line matters equally. Beggars can’t be choosers.

And in many markets and within the consciousness of a Joe Blow sports fan in the USA, MLS is still largely an unknown, if not actively denigrated, entity.  And that affects TV ratings.  And that affects sponsorships.  Etc.  Etc.

It’s not insignificant that when I searched for a link describing Beckham’s first game in MLS, the key article that was linked was from People Magazine. For better or worse, that’s Americana for you.

However, this is hardly out of context in a David Beckham world.

I played around with Google Trends a bit (beware, it’s a great way to lose an hour of your evening) and did a quick comparison of news articles and search requests of a few related topics.

Here’s one link you can spend some time contemplating. It covers the topics “Beckham” and “MLS” over the last 12 months. (You can probably find umpteen other interesting and related searches.)

What jumped out at me?

When looking at what is searched for, Beckham (admittedly, getting a few extra hits from “Posh”) gets around half as many searches as MLS does and twice in a year was searched for MORE frequently than the league itself. That is one player, or one player’s family name, getting more search interest than his league.

Maybe that’s because people don’t search for a league? Well, have at it, search for other players, other teams. Players in other sports… (Interestingly, here is “David Beckham” vs. “Tom Brady.”)

But while that is interesting, the second (much smaller) graph you see is “news reference volume.” And in this metric, “Beckham” typically gets more mentions/coverage than the rest of the league – with only a few exceptions over the last twelve months.  This means that at the end of the day, there’s more coverage of the man (and family) than the league.   Presuming that many of those articles somehow allude to his team, or at least the country where he remains a professional soccer player, that’s (generalized) exposure for the league.

There is clearly a quality-of-mention metric (articles saying he’s a pompous jerk who is mailing-it-in in MLS versus articles saying he’s a leading world star that chose MLS as his new home) that would need to be applied on top of a simple review of the quantity of mentions achieved to understand the true value to MLS from Mr. Beckham’s notoriety.  But come on, what other soccer player had a detailed article in Women’s Wear Daily about their upcoming merchandising efforts this week?

So, for all us fans that don’t need to deal with the localized team drama, but do get some benefit from Beckham’s ability to keep the in front of cameras and on the mind of writers, adding much needed buzz to our league… we owe the Galaxy a thought, even if not vocalized, of thanks.

However dirty that makes some of us feel.