MLS - give me something to cheer for

I've been reading lately about the MLS's (Major League Soccer) connundrum regarding attendance and tv ratings.

The MLS has a vibrant fan base who attend games en masse. They have multiple franchises who average more attendance per game than many MLB teams, and league-wide their attendance numbers are on par with those of the NBA and NHL.

Major League Soccer also has a fan demographics that bodes well for their future - it's extremely popular with fans under 34 years old, hispanics and other non-white Americans, and its fanbase has a higher average income than most other sports.

Yet, despite all this fervent support, their TV ratings are dreadful. They're being lapped by every other American sport, as well as by English soccer.

And I'm part of their problem. I'm an ardent soccer fan - I play soccer, my son plays soccer, we talk soccer, we play soccer video games, and we watch soccer on tv. We just don't watch MLS games.

I can't speak for everybody else, but here are three reasons why I haven't watched more than a couple of MLS games on tv:

1.) Nobody to root for

Phoenix doesn't have a team, so who do I root for?

LA Galaxy? I've spent 4 decades hating the Lakers and Dodgers. Now I'm supposed to cheer for LA..? Nope.

Seattle Sounders? With the current Cardinals - Seahawks rivalry, and the history between UA and UW, WSU, and Gonzaga? Nope.

Portland Timbers? I'm still mad at the Trailblazers' knocking the Suns off in the early 90's. Nope.

Houston Dynamo? Another Texas team? No thanks.

If MLS had a franchise in Phoenix, I'd watch every game and pay front row attention to the league. But as it stands today, I don't have a rooting interest in any of the teams, and the league is kind of an afterthought.

2.) Inconsistent tv times

My week is too busy to hunt for the game times & channels, and then rearrange my plans around it. I might find some interest if there was a game time that became part of my weekly routine, but I don't have enough interest to hunt and search.

3.) Inconsistent tv teams

Trying to learn the players of every team on a sporadic basis is too hard. It would be better if I could see the same team consistently; I could learn their players quickly, and those of its opponents over time.

This builds on #s  1 and 2 above. If I don't have a rooting interest, and I'm not watching a lot of games, I'm not developing a familiarity with many of the players, which makes it even less interesting to watch.

The English Premier League, on the other hand, signed a deal with NBC two years ago, and we've become fluent in the whole league over that time.

We don't have reasons *not* to root for any particular team, so my son and I each picked a couple teams to keep our eyes on.

The games are on tv every Saturday morning like clockwork. We either watch them live if we're home, or we record them and watch them later in the day when there isn't anything else going on.

And because we can watch the same teams over and over again (since ALL games are broadcast), we quickly learned the various players, coaches, and styles - not just of our own teams but of the teams throughout the league.


The MLS is doing a lot of things right, and its long-term future looks bright. But if they can't get a soccer loving fan in the country's 7th biggest market to watch any of their games, they have plenty of room for improvement.

- Chris Butterworth


US wins Women's World Cup

Congratulations to the US Women's National Team, who scripted a perfect ending to the Independence Day weekend by avenging their bitter shoot-out loss to Japan in 2011's championship game in a big way - blowing the game open early in route to a 5-2 whooping.

This was a terrific example for all of us - of what's possible with dedication to a goal. Long term, hard work, consistency, discipline, laser focus, day after day...

It led the USWNT to be World Champions. What can it do for you?

- Chris Butterworth


2 examples why playing sports is GREAT exercise

Yesterday after work I convinced my 11-year old to go for a jog with me. I didn't want to burn him out or push him too hard, so I thought we'd go at a nice easy pace for about a mile and a half - "let's see what the kid's got", I thought to myself. I upped the ante by telling him if he wants to bring his soccer ball we could stop at the park on the way home and kick the ball around.

youth soccer - club soccer

Now, this is a kid who plays club soccer, which means he's playing soccer almost year round, a couple times a week (or more). So I assumed a 15-minute jog wouldn't be too much for him. Well, that was the understatement of the week!

Example #1: The soccer player was in better shape than the moderately fit guy.

While I jogged along at a moderate pace (probably about 9:30/mile but I wasn't timing it), my son was dribbling a soccer ball - zig-zagging back and forth across the path, stopping and starting, doing fancy moves, sprinting ahead of me before stopping to juggle the ball, etc. It was ridiculous! I would have been completely gassed if I had been doing what he was doing.

Granted he's 11 and I'm... much older. But still - that kid is in great shape even compared with other 11-year olds. Playing a high-intensity sport like soccer, consistently - week in and week out, is a great way to stay in shape.

Example #2: Playing soccer was much harder than running.

Once we had run our loop and ended up back at the park, we started kicking the soccer ball back and forth with each other. Kick the ball, trap the ball when it comes to you, dribble once or twice before kicking the ball back to the other guy, run a few steps so the other guy can pass to a moving target, cut back when you receive it and pass with your other foot, etc. etc. It was a lot of short bursts of energy - no more than a couple-few seconds at a time.

After 15 minutes of goofing around kicking the ball back and forth, I was far more tired than I had been after jogging. My heart was racing, I was covered in sweat, and I was panting for air. Not to mention I was using more muscles with greater intensity and range of motion.

If I had to choose which exercise would burn more calories and give me the best full-body workout for a given amount of time, I'd say playing soccer beat running yesterday - and by a large margin.

- Chris Butterworth

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Football vs Football

The New England Patriots win the NFL!

Well, maybe not yet, but let's imagine a couple changes we would see if American football leagues (NFL and College) were more like English Football (Soccer, and the English Premier League).

League Champion

League champion in the EPL is determined by the best regular season record, and then by goal differential as the first tiebreaker. That's it. Done. No playoffs, no wildcards, no elimination games. Nada.

The NFL ended this regular season with 5 teams sharing a 12-4 record: New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers. But the New England Patriots have the best point differential with 468 points scored and only 313 points allowed, for a +155 dif.

As we sit here ready to head into my favorite football weekend - the Divisional Playoffs, with 4 games on the slate, each of which has a win or go home at stake (Not to mention the first ever college football playoff championship game on Monday..), I couldn't imagine having already crowned a champion. That would be a travesty.

Even worse would be those seasons where a dominant team finishes 15-1 or 14-2 and wins the League Championship with two weeks left in the season. Yuck!

Promotion and Relegation

On the flip side of no playoffs is the most awesome system for rewards and punishment ever created.

Finish at or near the top of your division, and you get promoted up to a higher division. Finish at or near the bottom of your division and you get relegated down to the next lower division. This is the exact opposite of giving the first draft pick to the worst team. Instead of rewarding ineptitude, you kick it out of the league and bring in another team who has shown they can be successful.

This would be difficult for the NFL to do, because they don't have a minor league. But imagine the college football landscape:

In the PAC-12 Conference this year, Colorado finished 0-9 and Oregon St was 2-7 (tied with Washington St but WSU won the point dif tiebreaker), so CU and OSU would get relegated to the Mountain West Conference next year, while Boise St and Colorado St would get promoted from the Mountain West into the PAC-12 after having finished 7-1 and 6-2, respectively, in the Mountain West.

Taking it a step further, UNLV finished 1-7 in the Mountain West and Wyoming was 2-6 (so were San Jose St and New Mexico, but we'll use the point differential tiebreaker again), so they could be relegated to the Big Sky Conference next season, while Eastern Washington and Montana would get promoted from the Big Sky into the Mountain West.

Next season in that system you would have Montana playing against Colorado as a conference game! Wow, and if only...

Eventually the perennial doormats would end up in the lower divisions, while the dominant programs would have more challenging competition. Even better, every team would have the same opportunity to reach the top of the pyramid through successful hiring, recruiting, facilities development, and teamwork.

I'm enjoying soccer more and more every year. It's not football yet, but it's a good watch and it has some ideas to offer that could make our football even better. Just a little something to think about as we head into a great football weekend.


-Chris Butterworth


youth soccer tryouts and placements

It's that time of year again...

For the families of kids who play competitive soccer, this is one of the most stressful weeks of the year (at least here in AZ). Our little Peles or Mia Hamms have gone through tryouts, and now we're waiting the results, with far more questions than answers:
  • What team will my son play on? Did he make the "A" team, or will he get relegated to the "B" team?
  • How about his friends from last year's team - where will they end up?
  • Who will be coaching this year?

Then, as word starts getting out and parents start talking to each other, the gossip really flies:
  • Did you hear about that family we all really like - they won't be on our team next year.
  • I heard that family nobody likes might be on our team this year.
  • So and so told me about what's his name who is moving to a different club this year - good for them. I hope they find a better situation.
  • Gabby Gossip told me we're getting a player from that other club, and he was asked to leave that club because his parents yelled at the coach.
  • There's another family moving clubs - bunch of idiots think the grass is going to be greener over there?!

On one hand, this is completely ridiculous. The kids care about who's on their team and who their coach is, sure. But really they just want to go out and play soccer. The parents, on the other hand, sometimes care a little (or a lot) too much. We can get so over the top about the whole thing that the season becomes un-fun.

I do understand it to a certain extent - you're spending a lot of money for your child to play competitive sports, so it makes sense that you want your child to be on the most competitive team possible. Your family also has at least a little competitive streak, or you wouldn't be here in the first place. So year, I get it - you're competitive and you want what's best for your child. But even so, let's try to keep things in perspective, shall we?

Overall I'm happy with Jason's club and team, and I love watching him play. We're looking forward to a great season come fall...

photo credit: 4DsCreativeSolutions

-Chris Butterworth


Lance Armstrong - the ends justify the means

Lance Armstrong - the ends justify the means

Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour de France

There's been quite a bit of negative news about Lance Armstrong lately, and it's pretty much impossible to believe he wasn't involved with any PED (performance enhancing drug) shenanigans at this point.
  • In August, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced it had enough evidence to strip Lance of his 7 Tour de France titles.
  • Armstrong declined to continue the arbitration process with the USADA, which many took as an admission of guilt.
  • The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are in step with the USADA.
This week, Nike has withdrawn its sponsorship of Lance Armstrong and his LIVESTRONG Foundation, and Lance himself has stepped down as chairman of the charity organization he founded.

livestrong banner

My take?

This is much ado about nothing - a lot of noise regarding nothing that matters in the present - and the ends do justify the means.

Let's talk PEDs in cycling

Cycling as a sport has a long history with PEDs. From a Wikipedia entry titled "Doping at the Tour de France":

"For as long as the Tour has existed, since 1903, its participants have been doping themselves. No dope, no hope. The Tour, in fact, is only possible because - not despite the fact - there is doping. For 60 years this was allowed. For the past 30 years it has been officially prohibited. Yet the fact remains; great cyclists have been doping themselves, then as now."

As much as baseball has a black eye from the "steriod era", we still only estimate about one half of the players might have used PEDs, and we're not entirely sure which half. Many of the all-time greats - Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, Curt Schilling - have never been accused, tested, or even implied as having been on the naughty list.

The same can't be said for cycling.

Lance didn't make a choice of whether or not to use drugs. He made a choice of whether or not he wanted to compete at the highest levels of competitive cycling. Once he decided that's where his goals and dreams lay, the rest was just part of the process of trying to achieve his goals.

Exhibit 1 - Jan Ulrich was one of Armstrong's primary competitors. He won the Tour in 1997, and took second 5 times during Lance's run. Ulrich was later found guilty of using PEDs.

Exhibit 2 - Alberto Contador won the Tour de France 3 times, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and was considered to be the best climber in the sport. However, he was stripped of some of his victories after being found guilty of doping.

Exhibit 3 - Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France 5 times in a row, from 1991 - 1995. Indurain was found guilty of using a banned substance in 1994, but was not stripped of his titles.

When the sport of cycling is clean, from top to bottom, then I'll join the witch hunt against anyone who cheats. But when the entire sport at the elite level is built around cheating, I'm not getting too worked up about one guy cheating better than his rivals.

Now let's talk charity work

Armstrong has raised $400 Million for cancer-related research and support since 1997. $400 Million! No other athlete has come anywhere close to that amount. Ever.

Barry Bonds used his juiced up numbers from 2001 to earn a 5-year, $90 Million contract in 2002. (after already being one of the highest-paid players in the league.) How much charity work have we heard about from Bonds?

Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 Million contract in 1997. Then, in 2007, he signed another 10-year contract worth $275 Million. Oh, and by the way, he admitted to using steroids for part of his career. Over a half billion dollars earned. And his charity work? He gave about $4 million to the University of Miami to renovate their baseball stadium, which was then renamed as Alex Rodriguez Park.

Armstrong cheated, and used his popularity to raise $400 Million for OTHERS. OTHERS BATTLING CANCER! How he became popular is immaterial. So is how much money he's earned personally. The Livestrong Foundation is his story - his legacy.

If Armstrong had never used PEDs, and his rivals had won, would Ulrich have raised this much money for charity? How about Contador?

Bottom Line

Lance Armstrong probably cheated. He probably isn't the angel we all wanted to believe he was. But that doesn't diminish what he's been able to accomplish at all. He could have easily won his tours, filmed some ads, pocketed some sponsorship money, and gone off into the sunset. But he didn't. He's continued to work hard raising awareness and funding for those who need help, and fighting against a deadly disease called cancer.

You've done good, Lance. Real good. Keep it up!

(more photos below - all are clipped from recent stories online, and I don't have the copyright for any of them. Hmmm, speaking of cheating...)

-Chris Butterworth

** Updated 10/31/12

Armstrong has now been officially stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles. But the USADA is not awarding his titles to the 2nd place rider, or even the 3rd place rider, from those races. Why not? Because ALL the riders were dirty! Which proves my point exactly - when everybody at the forefront of the sport is dirty, there isn't an unfair advantage. Hey USADA - make the sport clean, legitimately, and then get back to me.

Per a Fox News article:

USADA also thinks the Tour titles should not be given to other riders who finished on the podium, such was the level of doping during Armstrong's era.
The agency said 20 of the 21 riders on the podium in the Tour from 1999 through 2005 have been "directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations" or other means. It added that of the 45 riders on the podium between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by cyclists "similarly tainted by doping."
20 out of 21 riders. And 36 out 45. This whole thing reeks..

/end update


high five or fist bump?

high five or fist bump?

Can we just decide, once and for all, which one we're going to use?

Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder do the fist-five mix-up as the Tigers take a 3-0 lead in the ALCS.

I like the high five in the heat of the moment, when adrenaline is pumping and you're all fired up about the great play your team just made. Slapping hands is a congratulatory, motivating, and team building action. And you can hit hands as hard as you want - whatever emotion you're feeling carries over into the high five, without having to worry about breaking anything or hurting anybody.

I like the fist bump better as a greeting - before the game, after the game, sort of a blend between a handshake (business settings) and a high five (in-game setting).

Either way works fine, but we all need to get on the same page. These "one guy's open hand covering up the other guy's fist" celebrations just aren't working out..

-Chris Butterworth


Arizona Wildcats - National Champions

Arizona Wildcats - National Champions

First of all, congratulations to the Arizona Wildcats baseball team. That was an awesome run through the college world series, capped off by a sweep of the two-time defending champs.

And when you listen to Coach Andy Lopez talk about it, he repeatedly refers to having a good plan and then focusing on that plan - the games are merely the result of all your hard work. Hmmm, sounds a little familiar - I've been saying the process creates the results for awhile now..

Great day to be a Cats fan!

-Chris Butterworth