A dedicated effort, though, has helped soccer finally earn validity in Australia, with the promise that it might soon explode in popularity: Australia's A-League—the country's highest division of professional soccer—just posted better attendance figures for a number of its weekend fixtures than the rugby league's opening round.
A decade ago, this would have seemed impossible.
So what can U.S. soccer's chiefs learn from the Australian game, which has similarly pursued a national presence and has finally impressed the peanut gallery?
The A-League is a streamlined, slickly marketed professional romp that succeeds not just because of its glitzy imported players (as is often the prescription for flailing sports) but because local players view the league as a destination and not merely a stepping stone. To rouse fan interest, the game's modern savior—shopping-mall honcho Frank Lowy—started by enlisting foreign talent like former Manchester United poacher Dwight Yorke, Brazil's Cassio, the once-prodigious English striker Robbie Fowler, and, more recently, Italy's "Little Painter," Alessandro Del Piero. (The Los Angeles Galaxy has adopted a similar approach in recent years, signing English star David Beckham and Irish striker Robbie Keane.) These and other international names have been bundled together with attractive uniform designs, contemporary team monikers, and more gentrified stadiums.
However, Lowy's strategy went further than just establishing one or two premier-team brands and one or two marketable names. He helped drive the sport's national TV presence by ensuring games aired live on Fox Sports, the country's primary sports network, and shifted the competition from winter to summer. The rugby diehards had no choice but to take notice (next season the A-League will go free-to-air, too). Lowy and his Football Federation Australia also enticed reputable European coaches to run the national squad, like the highly regarded Dutch tactician Guus Hiddink, the defense-minded Pim Verbeek, and Holger Osieck, a former understudy of German coaching legend Franz Beckenbauer, who each helped recast the sport's image with new techniques and ideas.
All of these initiatives transformed both public and media perception by emphasizing the international idealism of the World Cup, and encouraging a more stylish and exciting brand of soccer from the top down. After 16 years of middling results with relatively unaccomplished American coaches, this revolutionon has finally begun in America with the hiring of German great Jurgen Klinsmann to lead the U.S. men's national team.
Winning the Crowd
Australian soccer players have rejected British footballing staples—namely hard tackling and speculative long balls—and broadened their tactics. Creativity like this attracts new fans, plus many of these stars are (or have been) regarded among the best on the planet at their position.