Did ‘Ted Lasso’ Increase Soccer’s Popularity in the US? We asked the experts

Long before he helped develop Ted Lasso, a television series about an American football coach and a fictional English football team called AFC Richmond, Brendan Hunt was a young actor working with an improv company in Amsterdam.

And he had no use for football, which dominated Dutch culture.

“I didn’t hate it,” he says now. “It was something distant for me that I was rarely exposed to, and I figured its absence from my life was probably for a good reason.

“But when I left Amsterdam,” he added, “I was hardcore.”

How hardcore? Hunt, an actor, writer and producer who won two Emmys for the Apple TV+ comedy focused on the sport he once fired, is in his third season as a LAFC LA Football Club season ticket holder and is a staunch supporter men’s and women’s national teams. And if a Chicago Bears fan like himself can make the transition from football agnostic to football fanatic, Hunt believes others can too.

“It’s totally possible,” said Hunt, who plays the loyal and laid-back Coach Beard in “Lasso,” now in its third season. “Once you get a serving of it, you really look at it, you see it has basically everything else that every other sport has that makes you want to see it.”

Apple is banking heavily on Hunt being right. Last summer, while the tech giant was “Lasso” high, it struck a $2.5 billion 10-year global broadcast deal with Major League Soccer, the sport’s top division in the US and Canada . It’s two years longer and nearly three times the price of the league’s previous broadcast deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision — and it’s more than 16 times what MLS earned in TV revenue less than a decade ago.

Launched in February, the MLS Season Pass is designed to be a one-stop shop for all things MLS, including live broadcasts and replays of all league games; a revolving highlight feature similar to the NFL Network’s Red Zone; and shoulder programming with studio analysis and post-game press conferences.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, whose portfolio includes Apple TV and Apple TV+, emphasized that the success of “Ted Lasso” was not a factor in the company’s decision to invest billions in football. “But it doesn’t hurt,” he said.

“They’re obviously free. I really liked the game. It grew. So it’s more of a coincidence.”

No coincidence: Apple’s broadcast deal will cover the 2026 and 2028 seasons when both the Men’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics are held in the US, which will almost certainly lead to a significant increase in football interest and viewership.

The MLS Season Pass isn’t Apple’s first foray into live esports; Two Major League Baseball games were streamed on Apple TV+ last season. But it’s the first significant milestone the company has set in the streaming sports market, where packaged subscription revenue is expected to reach $22.6 billion by 2027, up 73% year over year. according to a recent report by Parks Associates, a leading research and consulting firm.

And there were several things about football in general and MLS in particular that convinced Cue that this was the right sport, time and league for Apple to get involved.

“If we wanted to get into esports, I wanted to work with a league or a sports company where we could really innovate and be really creative together,” he said. “We love the fan base. It’s younger than everyone else, very family oriented. Demographics are over. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from.

“For me, growing up in the US, it reminded me of college: a rabid fanbase that really cared about the team and the game.”

This fanbase is likely to have grown because of “Ted Lasso,” who focuses on a well-meaning, soft-featured college football coach who is lured to London to manage a Premier League football club despite knowing little about the sport.

“He’s egoless,” said Sudeikis, 47. “He’s Mr. Rogers meets John Wooden.”

The series debuted in August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lasso’s tireless optimism, goofy aphorisms, and unrelenting hope and compassion proved the perfect pick-me-up for the time.

Sudeikis and Hunt stumbled upon the concept for the show and the characters they play while performing with the improv group Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. When Sudeikis decided to buy a PlayStation for the theater’s dressing room, the only game he could find was “FIFA”, a video game about soccer, a sport neither actors understood nor appreciated.

Within weeks, the couple were addicted to the sport; The show that came out of it is both a tribute to the game and absolutely unrelated.

“This show is about football as much as ‘Rocky’ is about boxing,” Sudeikis said. “But we wanted football fans, athletes and supporters to feel that it honored the spirit of this beautiful game.”

A decade ago, a lack of knowledge about soccer in the US would have made it difficult to write a series about the sport, even if the game is largely in the background. But football has since made huge strides in popular culture, with NBC winning the rights to broadcast English Premier League games – the characters of Ted Lasso and Coach Beard debuted in two promos to hype those shows – and the women’s national team winning two world championships.

“I’d like to think our show is bringing football into some living rooms where it was previously banned. And it might even be the gentlest way to get people to care about a football team,” said Hunt, 51, who added that the amount of actual football content in Ted Lasso has increased every season. “Then hopefully maybe that can be transferred to a real football team. The opportunity is certainly there.

“People who just wouldn’t have given two s- about football before might now at least give one s-. People at least have respect for it or an appreciation for the scale and grandeur and dedication it inspires. At least people can’t call it off anymore.”

That’s not the same as being a fan, though — and it’s an even bigger step in convincing people to put up $99 for the MLS season pass, said Vlad Dima, a Syracuse University professor who teaches courses on Football and Pop Culture: “It’s a big accomplishment to say, ‘Well, if that show was popular, then people are going to watch MLS too.'”

Americans love winners, and the top US sports leagues—the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NHL—all have the best players in their world in their respective games. The MLS, on the other hand, remains stuck in the shadow of the major European leagues; Even the best Americans now play in leagues overseas and not the one Apple TV+ has partnered with.

So while the success of “Ted Lasso” has certainly made viewers more aware of the sport, it’s the game itself that will turn them into fans.

“MLS has gotten bigger and better over the last 10 years. That helps with general knowledge,” says Dima. “I taught this course last semester, first year students who are all pretty good at football, they played the game. And one of the questions concerned the popularity of the game. The consensus was that the men’s team needs to win consistently on the world stage.”

Even if Ted Lasso were a real coach, he probably wouldn’t be able to realize that. But as Cue Dima said, when it comes to popularizing football, the TV show certainly doesn’t hurt.

“Maybe it made a slight dent,” he said. “It’s a classic feel-good story, isn’t it? It’s unrelentingly optimistic, and I think it struck a chord more than anything in that way.

“Actually, I would like to say yes, it contributes to the popularity of the game in the United States. Minor.”

Or, as Ted Lasso might say, Apple has had reason to believe.

“Ted Lasso”

Stream: AppleTV+
If: New episodes every Wednesday
Evaluation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)

Source : www.latimes.com

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