Can soccer fans start a revolution? One man says yes

By Dan Cowan

Soccer’s popularity here in the U.S. has always been a conundrum as children raised on playing soccer cast it aside
when it comes to following a professional team. But on July 28 a small grassroots movement was initiated on the streets of New York City where American soccer fans, both young and old, could be seen wandering the vast landscapes of the city in
bright red shirts and clipboards in hand. Their goal? Revolutionize the way soccer is covered in America and prove that soccer fans not only exist but they exist in large numbers.

The Next American Revolution (thenextamericanrevolution.org), is a non-profit group that
is trying to gain 20 million signatures in support of changing the way soccer
is covered by the mainstream media in America as well as uniting a stronger soccer community. The event this past Saturday was the first real step
in trying to reach that goal of 20 million signatures.

In just three hours, 50 volunteers, headed by founders Burke Cherrie and Executive
Members Keegan and Mike Moyer, collected 2,275 signatures from all types of
soccer fans in the melting pot of New York City. In a movement that is just starting
to pick up momentum from word of mouth publicity, the dreamers of the
Revolution have already collected 5,000 signatures in just a week.
Reflecting on the event, Cherrie said, “The response from the New Yorkers
was brilliant. People from all walks of life signed in support of the cause and
that is what this whole movement is about, bringing the soccer community
together.”

In some ways the petition comes at an odd time. David Beckham is in Los Angeles and the country is more soccer
crazy than ever (or, maybe it’s just star crazy with two new media icons to
fill the pages of tabloids and internet blogospheres). Either way,
‘Beck’s’ arrival has generated increased coverage and conversation amongst
hardcore soccer fans and those who are asking around, “Who is David Beckham?”
And while the coverage of Beckham’s first appearance, all 16 minutes of it due
to an injured ankle, drew the largest rating for any non-World Cup soccer game
on sports powerhouse ESPN, seen in an average of 947,000 homes based on a 1.00
rating, some are wondering if the soccer coverage in the US is enough.
And that’s why some in the sports TV community are puzzled by the unhappiness.

What else do they want?

“We have the greatest commitment we’ve ever had for the sport: MLS, the U-20
World Cup on ESPN-U, US Men’s National Team games are on, College Final Four,
and mixing in more highlights from tournaments like Copa America and Gold Cup
then ever before that’s not during a World Cup,” claims Mac Zwulu, avid soccer
fan and part of ESPN Communications Department. “There is almost a
saturation as of late of soccer coverage, and you have to be careful not to
overload the passionate soccer fans-they can only watch so much soccer.”

With all the coverage that soccer now receives in the U.S., especially on Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN, Zwulu finds himself questioning what
else people want in coverage. People keep demanding or criticizing their
coverage, but ESPN is a general sports network and ratings show who is watching
what.

But Zwulu also says that efforts like The Next American Revolution are great
for the sport; he just hopes that these types of efforts don’t overlook and
diminish those steps that have already been taken, like broadcasting every
World Cup match last year in HD.

“One of the biggest ways to make changes is for the fans to go to the MLS games
in person, bring their friends, get excited, and then come home and also watch
the games on TV, that will as greatly show a demand and interest than anything
else,” says Zwulu.

Every bit counts

One person who has quickly gotten behind the efforts of such passionate fans
such as Burke is Dan Courtemanche, Senior Vice President of Marketing &
Communications for Major League Soccer & Soccer United Marketing.
After hearing about the efforts of this group, he has already been in
communication with Burke about the efforts of the foundation and how and if
Soccer United can help in their cause.

“The thing I’m most impressed about is the professionalism with which this is being
done,” says Courtemanche. “Every little bit counts in the effort of
promoting soccer, and too often broadcasters and editors are met with angry
messages about lack of coverage in a non-professional way.” Courtemanche
says newspaper editors and producers would be more inclined to increase
coverage of MLS and U.S. soccer if they received positive feedback when they do cover games and events,
instead of just negativity for not covering them.

Courtemanche acknowledges that while 20 million signatures can open the eyes of producers,
it’ll take a percentage of those petitioners to tune in and watch and
acknowledge the efforts of broadcasting soccer when they do happen.

Why a Revolutionary?

Overall, Burke Cherrie is your typical college student. An upcoming senior at
NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, Burke was an avid soccer player and continues
to be deeply rooted in the game as a fan and supporter. However, Burke is
different in that he is trying to change the way soccer is covered and enjoyed
in the United States.

“I was in London, watching Everton v. Fulham and we were just discussing the extent of
coverage of the game in England,” explains Burke who is an aspiring
documentaria. “And I just wondered why not in the U.S.? With all the
extensive coverage of other sports, why not soccer?”

With this thought, and the support of friend Keegan Moyer and father Mike, director of
Gameface Managaement, LLC, they started, The Next American Revolution. They
hope that in their mission to gain 20 million signatures networks will have to
take notice and see that there is a segment of the population wanting increased
soccer coverage. He acknowledges however that channels, like Fox Sports Soccer,
for whom he has interned and has the utmost respect for, are dedicated to the
sport and have extensive coverage of it, but like he says, “They’re not ESPN.”

What he wants is a change in coverage and more respect by those covering it on sports
programs. He understands the uphill battle that soccer still faces, but would
love to see dedicated soccer shows, like that of “Baseball Tonight”
or “NFL Live” on a major sports station such as ESPN in the near
future.

However, Cherrie doesn’t want to stop at just media coverage. One of his other goals is
to unite soccer supporters across the country, especially at MLS games to
create fan bases and fan experiences that emulate and rival those of the
European supporters.

“I went to a D.C. United v. Red Bulls game, and the DC United Fan Base is
spectacular. They had a cook-out, drinks; it was like a pre-match Block
Party,” he says.

Fan support and camaraderie like this is one of the goals that Burke and The Next
American Revolution now have to unite and grow the soccer community, and they
are looking for others with their vision and passion to join their Revolution.

The Next Step

After the kickoff event on July 28, Burke said he was pleasantly surprised at
the response of the New York City population. “As a New Yorker myself,
I’m use to people brushing petitioners off, but when the word ‘soccer’ came up,
more and more people stopped to listen and actually got into lengthy
discussions about their passion for the game. It was amazing!”

Next is another signing in Harrisburg, PA, as the Everton Football Club (Liverpool,
England) Youth Director will be hosting a clinic for 750 players and their
families. After that the hope is to focus on building strength along the
East Coast to gain momentum and footing as an organization, while hopefully
forging working partnerships with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, U.S. Soccer
Federation, MLS, and the NSCAA.

Whether the arrival of David Beckham and the increased media buzz and coverage lasts
throughout the year and the 5 years that Beckham is signed with the L.A. Galaxy
seems to ultimately be up to the fans of the game in the United States.
To use a popular quote, “Build it, and they will come”, in this instance it
seems, “Come, and they will cover it.”