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In soccer, or football, U.S. market now being taken seriously

By Don Riddell, CNN
updated 7:36 PM EDT, Sun May 26, 2013
Manchester City becoming majority owner of a new Major League Soccer franchise is further proof of the U.S.'s rise in soccer.
Manchester City becoming majority owner of a new Major League Soccer franchise is further proof of the U.S.'s rise in soccer.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The U.S. has turned into an important market in the world of soccer
  • Manchester City sees the benefits, becoming majority owner of a new MLS team
  • The new US team can learn from Manchester City, and vice versa

(CNN) -- It's no secret among European football fans that for many years the U.S.'s attempts to embrace football -- or soccer as they like to call it -- were treated with derision.

Their players weren't as good, the sport didn't have any history, the terminology was all wrong and the commentators would get way too excited over average plays.

The ill-fated North American Soccer League, with its countdown clock and refusal to accept a draw as a genuine result, was proof to everyone else that they just didn't get it.

But things have changed dramatically in recent years and overseas fans are now being forced to accept that the Americans may actually get it all too well.

Major League Soccer has doubled its size in less than a decade, now claiming to be the seventh most supported league in the world. And the appetite to consume the game in any way possible has boomed, with the value of Premier League TV rights packages tripling.

It won't have escaped the attention of many English football fans that their teams are now owned by American investors.

This week's announcement that Manchester City will become majority shareholders in the league's 20th franchise in New York City is proof that the strongest football markets are now taking the U.S. seriously.

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Meanwhile, City and Chelsea's post-season tour of America, coming at the end of a long and tiring year for both sides, demonstrates how important the U.S. market is becoming for Premier League teams.

It's good for business when NBC, Fox and ESPN fight over the right to broadcast their games from England, but those teams have to fly over the Atlantic in order to cultivate a fan base and stoke the interest.

On Thursday, City and Chelsea wowed a crowd of almost 50,000 fans in St. Louis with a seven goal thriller and on Saturday, New York fans were lining up for more of the same at Yankee Stadium.

But not everyone is a big fan of these post-season tours.

The players are contractually obligated but surely many of them wouldn't be here by choice.

And the England manager Roy Hodgson has expressed his concern with the ever increasing demands on club players, who are exhausted by the time they show up for international duty.

But there may come a time when Premier League sides aren't made to feel quite so welcome on this side of the pond. In fact, we might be there already.

As Major League Soccer grows in strength and stature, franchise owners want to build and promote their own fan base. They're not going to want their own potential supporters investing financially and emotionally in clubs from thousands of miles away in London and Manchester.

At least not now, not while those teams are bigger and better, with players whose star appeal is significantly brighter.

But Man City might just have struck the perfect balance.

By owning a team in each league, they'll have a foot in both camps. The American team will benefit from City's scouting network and player development, and club Manchester will learn from the Americans' marketing expertise and reap the financial rewards of MLS success.

And in Manchester, at least, English fans will no longer be laughing at their American cousins.

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