Could Soccer Be the Sport Seattle Finally “Beats L.A.” In?

by on May 2, 2012

How long must Seattle sports fans suffer at the hands, bats, shoulder pads, and now feet, of teams from Los Angeles? The Sounders are the latest local franchise to absorb annual Angelino assaults, having won just once in eight MLS matches against the L.A. Galaxy. They get another shot at the Galaxy tonight, at 7 p.m., at CenturyLink Field..

Culturally and aesthetically, we Seattleites have no desire to best Los Angeles. On our weekends we choose hiking over Hollywood, on our bodies we choose Burt’s Bees over botox. In sports, it’s different. A generation of Seattle sports fans has desperately desired to, and frequently chanted, “Beat L.A.” But our hopes, like a North Face sleeveless fleece vest on Rodeo Drive, seem misplaced.

Something about the words “Los Angeles” strikes #FAIL into the hearts of Seattle sports franchises: The dreadful ’70s and ’80s Mariners played the franchise then known as the California Angels as well as they played any other team, and went 66-60 against the Anaheim Angels. Then, in 2005, that franchise added “Los Angeles” to their name, and the Mariners have gone 49-83 against them since.

The Seahawks lost eight straight against the Los Angeles Raiders in the early ‘90s. The Los Angeles Lakers, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, swept the Sonics four to zip in the 1987 NBA playoffs, and again in 1989.

Those late ‘80s Lakers/Sonics matchups may be the best comparison to the Sounders/Galaxy rivalry. Like those Lakers teams, the Galaxy are studded with stars. The supreme stud: David Beckham, one of the best-known people on Earth. The Galaxy also have Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who’ve both captained their respective national teams and are well-known to soccer fans worldwide.

The Sounders are a good team. But who the hell are they? Outside of Seattle, the names Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, and Brad Evans are known only to hard-core fans–much like the late ’80s Sonics Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers, and Dale Ellis.

(While we may argue whether Abdul-Jabbar or the X-Man had the better movie cameo, their relative on-court merits are indisputable.)

You may already be asking yourself: Why do Seattle teams get perennially mauled by those from Los Angeles. You obviously weren’t paying attention to the Black Bloc’s message yesterday. The answer is: Money.

Los Angeles has a larger local television market, so their teams get more lucrative local television contracts, which means more money, which means better players. According to ESPN’s recent (and awesome) survey of world professional sports team salaries, the average player on a Los Angeles professional team is making $3.8 million. The average player on a Seattle professional team is making $1.8 million. (Here, check my work!) Who do you think gets the better players?

It is no accident that the one Seattle team that has the best record against their L.A. counterparts–the Seahawks (11-13 against the L.A. Raiders)–are in the NFL, the one professional league where television contracts are negotiated only on a national level, with the revenue shared among the teams.

Until the other leagues decide to start sharing local television revenue (which, frankly, will never happen), Seattle teams will always be at a disadvantage. The inequity of television revenue may even keep us from getting another NBA team–the Maloof brothers, who own the Sacramento Kings, are considering moving to Anaheim, where they can command a piece of L.A.’s sports market. Even though Los Angeles already has two NBA teams, owning DVR-proof programming in such a large and influential market is more valuable than being the only show in town in Seattle.

Twice the money doesn’t always get you twice the player. But it helps. If you watch the Galaxy/Sounders match tonight (7 p.m., KONG TV), you’ll be watching a team with a $17-million payroll against a team with a $5-million payroll.

On the bright side, a large part of that payroll isn’t with the team today. Beckham, Keane, and starting goalkeeper Josh Saunders reportedly didn’t travel to Seattle. For once, a Seattle/L.A. will be a fair match.

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