Here's a not-so-dirty secret: I am a soccer fan. I don't always act like -- I miss large swaths of games, and sometimes when soccer's on I just casually flip the channel -- but by and large, I have always enjoyed soccer, and very little excites me like a beautiful stretch of play or a neat flick or a powerful goal.
But here's another secret: I never, ever watch the Chicago Fire. Without the research required to write this article, or, you know, do my job, I would have no clue that Brian McBride, himself a Chicago native, is now playing for the Fire, or that Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco is in the mix. I wouldn't know any of these things. And I like soccer. Imagine how the ignorant the soccer-haters must be.
Just because I pay more attention to leagues half a world away, like the English Premier League, than I do to the one that hosts games in my own backyard doesn't make it so for everyone. How can you gauge the Fire's following?
Well, in 2007, the Fire's average single-game attendance was 16,490. That's not bad for an MLS squad, but compared to the Bulls (21,987 attendees per game) in that same year, it lags behind. Anecdotally, the Fire's best attendance came against L.A., who features David Beckham, a one-man circus of attendance-boosting free kicks. That's not so bad in itself, but it does speak to the increased capacity available when people actually care. 21,000 aren't showing up to root on the home team; they just want to see Beckham do some cool crap with his right foot.
Attendance isn't the only story, of course. There's also media attention. Some of that the Fire can't control. For example, if the relatively select group of people that control sports sections in Chicago -- editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, and various internet spots not unlike this one -- decide that the Fire aren't a story, then they won't be a story. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we journalisty (and bloggy) types aren't dumb; if there's a large interest in something, it gets written about. The bottom line rules all.
So maybe people just don't care about the Chicago Fire, which would ring true, because largely people don't seem to care about the MLS. Garbage in, garbage out. Until, of course, David Beckham comes back to town.