­Josh over at Throughball has taken US Soccer to task over it’s latent hostility to the SoccerSphere. If you haven’t read his three-part series, take a few moments to check it out:

How U.S. Soccer can use the blogosphere to increase brand awareness

There’s a lot to cover here, but this is a very important issue. One can’t help shake the feeling that US Soccer views the SoccerSphere as an unruly bunch that they can’t be bothered to associate with. By doing so they risk losing a very important marketing resource. The ‘SoccerSphere’, a phrase coined by Josh, has exploded. From the early days just a few years ago when SoccerBlogs only had 50 or so sites, there are now almost 450 blogs tracked by Soccer Blogs and I expect some others that aren’t.

Soccer in the US needs all the marketing it can get. Nike does a heck of a job trying to spread the word – even if it is for selfish reasons. But in the end people who know nothing about soccer and are curious are going to head over to Google. If they type in American Soccer, guess whose site they see in the #2 spot? That’s right, it’s a blog. Ironically it’s one of the few blogs written by someone who gets access to US Soccer events and media – he’s sponsored by Nike after all (and is also a journalist). But most people know typing in common keywords rarely gets you what you want (soccer, US Soccer, etc). Any soccer blogger who monitors their search referrals knows that people search for more specific stuff like ‘Why do Americans hate soccer’. More often than not, they’ll find a soccer blog. A vast majority of soccer blog traffic comes from search engine referrals.

This is why I don’t agree with Dan Loney’s take:

I think it’s completely the other way round. More traditional media outlets reach the casual observer. Online folk preach to the choir.

I don’t know what someone who hates soccer would get out of this blog, for example. It takes an extremely special writer to get to the “I hate bullfighting but love Hemingway” or “I hate the Raiders but love Hunter S. Thompson” level. Yeah, I know – I’m better than those hacks. But for someone who doesn’t know from soccer, I’d have to be footnoted, indexed and glossaried like a seventh-grade Shakespeare textbook.

Yes, regular readers of soccer blogs are the choir, however I believe they are the minority of soccer blog readers. Most soccer blogs are low to moderate traffic sites that I expect draw the bulk of their readers from search engine referrals. Here’s a breakdown of traffic sources for On The Pitch in 2007. I expect many soccer blogs have similar traffic profiles:


You expect regular readers to arrive at your site directly or sometimes via a referring site (many bloggers visit other sites they like from their own blogroll). You can expect the bulk of the search engine referrals and many site referrals ­to be non regular readers. The point of this is that there are hundreds of soccer blogs, and they end up being found via search engines by inquisitive potential soccer fans all the time. As for the potential confusion new fans might have reading soccer blogs, there’s an easy solution to that. They’re called links. If you’re talking about something that an average reader might not understand, link to a resource. Wikipedia has a ton of soccer information. If you use WordPress to blog, a plugin such as Smart Link or GZ AutoLink make this VERY easy. You setup keywords or soccer specific phrases that will be automatically turned into links in all your posts. I definitely plan to do this at OTP soon.

The point of all this is that soccer blogs do represent a valuable avenue for US Soccer to attract new converts and fans. They should do whatever they can to leverage the SoccerSphere, which is exactly what Josh is proposing in his series.

There is some good news to this. A check of videos posted by US Soccer on YouTube in the past month shows they all have embed links available. Here’s hoping this is the result of an official policy change. Embedding videos have made blogs much more interactive and enjoyable to read. They help both bloggers that embed them and the video creators. One thing many people have asked for from YouTube is some type of small ‘info box’ that shows the source of a video including a link to their profile in embedded displays. This would make more organizations comfortable with allowing video embeds.

But that was the easy part. It really doesn’t cost US Soccer much to allow embedding of videos. I can almost assure you the decision to disallow it at first was made by a marketing type unfamiliar with how viral marketing and blogs worked. Their knee jerk reaction was to disallow it, but clearly smarter heads prevailed, hopefully encouraged by Josh’s excellent post.

If US Soccer decides to recognize the SoccerSphere as a resource and not a bunch of nuts, they have to give some bloggers some type of access. Would it really be that hard for US Soccer to regularly credential a couple of bloggers for events? Look at how well Jarrett covered the 2006 USMNT World Cup Camp. Adam always covers things well at This Is American Soccer. Top Drawer Soccer always did well with it’s team of writers. For every 20 ‘Latest WAG Post Here!’ Blogs, there are a handful of serious, well maintained, and well written blogs by serious fans. And clearly they’ve gotten some access. But US Soccer likely could enhance and expand this a bit.­

Most bloggers can’t afford the time or money to cover events in person, which is why Josh’s followup access suggestions are so important:

  • Allow bloggers to sit in on media conference calls. (Put us on mute, if you must)
  • Distribute some Creative Commons-licensed photos of the teams/training sessions/games for bloggers so they don’t have to steal them
  • Put bloggers on the press release distribution list
  • Give bloggers a media kit and access to the media section of ussoccer.com­

All excellent ideas and not something that would be very hard. First, the SoccerSphere can be view in a ‘tiered’ sort of way. Top tier bloggers would merit credentials to events. The next tier could be given more ‘online’ access like this to help ‘spread the word’. Make bloggers sign stock agreements stipulating that US Soccer can yank their access if they feel their site isn’t living up to their standards.

Here’s another suggestion I would make (one I made to USYSA not too long ago). Create more RSS feeds on ussoccer.com for things like SoccerWire, all press releases, and other types of articles they regularly publish beyond USMNT and USWNT news. They currently only have RSS feeds for team news and the RSS feeds aren’t embedded in page sources for browser to automatically highlight.

Much of the disdain bloggers receive is due to mainstream media outlets concerned about their encroachment on their turf. Look at how political blogs were ridiculed for years – now they regularly participate on conference calls and lunches with congressional leadership, etc. The politicians realized how powerful the political blogs had come in getting the word out. It was ironic how blogs spent more time fact checking mainstream media content and calling them out for regurgitating talking points and not vice versa. This is why it drives me nuts to see blogs disregarded as fringe nuts when the majority are seriously committed writers who care about he subject they cover.

But US Soccer’s online problems go beyond ignoring the soccer blogs. As someone who has been involved in ‘The Web’ since the early days of Mosaic and NCSA, it is easy to differentiate between a site designed with online marketing and user friendliness in mind vs just old school marketing. US Soccer comes from the latter in my opinion. It’s difficult to navigate (click to expand menus – bad), relies too much on PDFs for content (provide both HTML And PDF!), and dedicates too much real estate to sidebars and not enough to content (thus the very small font).

Many, including myself, feel that soccer is at a tipping point in the US. US Soccer has to be a part of that and they need to understand that utilizing the Internet and the SoccerSphere in particular can help expand their reach. By taking some relatively small steps overall, they can vastly improve US soccer blogger’s access to information they will in turn disseminate to a much larger audience. Trust me when I say that a new soccer fan is likely to read a lot more blog based information than just browsing ussoccer.com. The online team at the USSF needs to understand that.