This tweet, with a screenshot from the 2018 U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting book, created some consternation:
Did I say consternation? I meant confusion. Perhaps they shouldn’t make footnotes bigger than the headlines. (As an aside: Due to the collapse of the newspaper business model, hundreds or maybe thousands of people who worked in editing/page design have been displaced in the past decade and change. So, businesses and nonprofits? Hire them. Communication is good.)
So once you realize that the footnote is actually a footnote, it starts to become a little clearer. Chart 2 (which is the first chart in that screen capture) gives the numbers from all games and compares them in the last column to the same numbers from 2016. Chart 3 (the second chart) omits the numbers for the games outside USSF’s commercialization capabilities and compares those games to the same numbers from 2016.
But to put it in full context, you have to go back to the previous year’s book …
… which doesn’t have the same sort of figures. Oops.
We do have this …
And that tells us pretty much the same thing — 2016 was an outlier for both the MNT and WNT. The men had the Copa America Centenario. The women had the Olympics.
We can easily explain the women’s ratings here. Chart 2 is comparing the WNT games of 2017 to the WNT games of 2016. The latter would include the Olympics, so of course, the 2016 ratings are going to be considerably higher. Chart 3 would omit the Olympics from that comparison because USSF doesn’t have those rights. In 2017, USSF had the commercial rights to every WNT game, but in 2016, they did not.
So I have a couple of remaining questions:
- What’s a “year”? The WNT played 16 games in 2017 — 13 in the USA, one in Canada, two in Europe. Were four not televised? Off the top of my head, I can’t recall that. If it’s a fiscal year, then it’s a partial year, isn’t it?
- What’s included in the list of games USSF can’t commercialize? The Olympics, certainly, but that only affects the WNT. How were 10 of 18 MNT games not included? They played 19 games in 2017 (see ratings at World Soccer Talk, though those are English-only) — eight World Cup qualifiers (four home, four away), six Gold Cup, five friendlies. The away qualifiers are tricky, which is why the biggest debacle in U.S. Soccer history was only seen by those of us with beINSports. Does USSF get nothing from Gold Cup even with SUM in the mix?
On another note, I’ve compiled registration-fee numbers from every organization from the last eight years. And they tell us … very little?
Quick reminder: USSF charges adults $2 each, so the USASA registration numbers are basically the USASA fees divided by two. (Unless there are some waivers somewhere.) The youth fee is $1 per player.
But we can’t quite equate that last line to the number of youth players registered. Here’s why:
- U.S. Club, USSSA and maybe AYSO numbers might include some adults.
- Some youth players may be registered in more than one organization (a point Eric Wynalda is making).
Yet this is an apples-to-apples comparison from year to year, for the most part. And … I can’t really detect a trend. I see fluctuations that could be accounting flukes as much as anything else. The numbers are basically flat.
And yet we keep hearing horror stories (and I keep repeating them — in several presentations and maybe even a book over the past few years) of participation dropping. Take a look at Project Play, which says the percentage of children aged 6 to 12 who participate in outdoor soccer plummeted from 10.9% in 2010 to 7.7% in 2016.
What’s going on here?
- Consider the methodology. The Project Play numbers come from an online survey of 24,134 “individuals and households.” Could our changing online habits (less computer, more phone) be skewing the numbers? (I’d turn it over to a data scientist, but after the 2016 election, I’m starting to view “data” as applied to polling with a higher margin of error than the data scientists would care to admit.)
- Could it be that there are indeed fewer people playing soccer but that USSF’s organizations are managing to register a higher percentage of those people? Isn’t that the opposite of what we’re hearing from the presidential candidates — that tons of kids (and adults) are playing in unaffiliated leagues?
Hard to say. But the evidence certainly doesn’t point to a sport on the rise. (Please don’t respond by saying the numbers are increasing in high schools. That’s generally a function of having more high schools. The number of soccer players at a high school of significant size equals the number of players they can take, not the number who are interested. My local high school could probably field 10 teams if they had the field space. They have four — boys and girls varsity and JV. A lot of travel soccer players won’t make the cut for either one.)
So whether this is an outright crisis or just a little hiccup, it’s worth addressing.
If you can derive any other conclusions or insights from this, please share.