Photo: Jane Gershovich | Prost Amerika Soccer
Writing editorials is not my thing. I tend to keep the material on TheCup.us to strictly reporting and keeping people informed about the tournament (someone has to) but I thought it was appropriate to write a kind of, “State of the Open Cup” piece. This is not the umpteenth “how to fix the open cup” article (although I have a couple suggestions), or a list of complaints (I think most of us are aware of the competition’s shortcomings) — but rather a statement of where I think we are.
The US Open Cup has a long history but 2010 might have proven that it has an even better future. The competition has admittedly gone through some stages of near dormancy, but as of 2010, it seems to be stronger than ever but still has a very long way to go.
The record crowd of over 30,000 at this year’s final in Seattle testified to a great degree of interest in that soccer-mad town and proved that with proper marketing, the competition can appeal to the soccer fans of this country. It is probably only fair to give due credit to the marketing folks in the Sounders front office who apparently threw all the skills and resources they could muster at selling tickets for the final and promoting their tournament games.
It has to be said that the City of Seattle and Sounders FC are at the forefront of this revival in the cup’s fortunes, and those of us who follow the tournament closely hope that this level of excitement isn’t limited to just the Emerald City. Since the Sounders entered MLS, they have won the Cup twice (2009, 2010), and prior to joining the league, the USL franchise of the same name earned back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2007 and 2008. The question becomes, was this purely a Seattle thing or does it take four straight semifinal appearances and a couple of championships to reach this level of enthusiasm and interest?
We won’t know if the crowds in Seattle got the attention of the casual soccer fan until next year’s tournament, but I would like to think that four-digit attendances for the championship game are a thing of the past. However, in reality, as long as the title game continues to be held midweek, that will continue to be an issue.
Another independent media outlet who did a great job of covering the US Open Cup is Daniel Feurstein’s podcast “Feurstein’s Fire.” Daniel provided fans throughout the tournament with previews and recaps of each round and interviews with the players and coaches involved with the competition.
Check out Feurstein’s Fire’s podcast archive
The only thing fans of the US Open Cup can hope is that the pro teams in this country, and most of all the United States Soccer Federation, were taking notes of Seattle’s marketing efforts. Will we see 30,000 on a Tuesday night for next year’s final at a non-Seattle venue next year? I hope so. But one game does not a tournament make. MLS, with their greater resources, should not be getting outdrawn by PDL teams in early round games. Sure, it’s hard to get MLS fans to get out to support their team against a lower division club they’ve never heard of. If that’s the case, maybe lower division teams, for the good of the tournament, need to get preference in hosting games? (The flawed bidding process is a whole other monster)
The fact that there are soccer fans in this country who are unaware of this tournament is really the biggest tragedy. Is it that hard to ‘sell’ a tournament like this? Whenever I am interviewed about the Open Cup, the most popular question is, “How can the US Open Cup become more popular?” I believe the answer is simple. Tell the fans about it. Hell, I don’t even have trouble selling the tournament to non-soccer fans. I’ve had co-workers at my full-time job ask about the website that I run, and I tell them about the tournament. I usually put it in baseball terms and that does the trick. “Imagine if the Lansing Lugnuts (or insert any local minor league baseball team, or you can even use the local beer league team as an example) had a chance to play against the New York Yankees in a single elimination, March Madness-style tournament.” Sold.
But there are reasons for optimism.
We can point to the growing number of visitors to TheCup.us, and our social media accounts like Twitter (@USOpenCup – which, as of writing this, has over 2,400 followers) and Facebook which have seen increased numbers. Which is impressive considering we don’t have an advertising budget (or any kind of budget), so people are seeking out the tournament on their own.
The increase in viewers is also impressive considering the history section still hasn’t been fully moved over from the old USOpenCup.com website (USOpenCup.com now points to USSoccer.com — here’s the reason why, in case you missed it). This delay is due, in large part, to the fact that very few people work on this website, and all of our available time was making sure we covered the 2010 tournament. Real life gets in the way sometimes.
The goal for this off-season is to get most of it posted on the site before the 2011 tournament begins next Spring. Certainly, if you are passionate about the tournament and would like to contribute, we would love to hear from you. (EMAIL HERE)
Another reason for optimism is the press coverage that continues to improve with each passing year. The success of the Sounders, we saw a huge spike in interest out West, where there was unprecedented coverage in quantity as well as quality.
One of the websites that caught my eye was ProstAmerika.com, which is based in Seattle, but isn’t just a Sounders website. They certainly give the home team tremendous coverage, but they strive for impartiality in their work rather than reflecting a home team bias, all the while providing league-wide and local soccer coverage.
Since I wasn’t able to make the trip from Michigan to Seattle for the championship game, I needed someone to cover the final for me, so I contacted Prost Amerika editor and fellow North American Soccer Reporters member, Steve Clare, to write our Cup Final match report.
(Fun fact: As sad as it may be, it’s true … the guy who runs TheCup.us hasn’t been to an Open Cup Final since 2002 in Columbus)
The quality of his match reports is already recognized in Seattle, having won the Emerald City Supporters award for Sounders Match Report of the Year every year since the inception of the award beating out the mainstream press and the club itself. The site was covering the Open Cup the way it was meant to be covered, and after a well-written match report and other post-game coverage, we hope to work together with Prost Amerika in the future.
So the competition, one of the oldest in world soccer, begins qualification for the 2011 tournament this month. The Wisconsin state qualifier, unfortunately, only had one entry so Bavarian SC has punched their ticket to the Region II tournament.
The television rights for the tournament are up in the air for 2011, which could play a big role in the promotion of the Open Cup. Hopefully wherever it lands, it will include more than just the final. Anyone who follows the Cup, or any knockout competition, knows that the best drama happens in the early rounds.
There’s a lot to fix, we all know that. But if 31,311 can get together to watch an Open Cup game on a Tuesday night, maybe there’s some reason for optimism.