#operascores: Soccer as a model for reviving opera?

Ever since the United States' Great Recession, the overarching theme for discussions on opera (and classical music in general) is the death of the genre.   Ticket sales, donations, labor contracts, and bankruptcies dominate the opera news landscape. We insiders (or in my case, budding insider) hear about shortened seasons and folding companies on a regular basis. Many proclaim that opera is a dying art form, and based upon the evidence, I would agree.

 Westminster College Opera Studio 2013 production of Purcell's  Dido and Aeneas

Westminster College Opera Studio 2013 production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

While not hemorrhaging, opera is slowly bleeding to death. When my same-aged peers describe an opera singer as a fat lady who sings at the end of the show, you know the art form has lost its relevancy and will continue to lose relevancy if the bleeding isn't stopped. So why the hell am I so optimistic about the future of opera?

There's proof that bleeding to death by irrelevancy can be stopped and even reversed. Ten years ago another performance-based industry was looking at a sad and lonely death in the United States. Revenue was abysmal, and only an elite, nerdy few were aware of the basic ins-and-outs of the industry, but this summer, 26 million tuned their US televisions to watch the best of the best prove their merit at the highest level, even without any Yankee competitors. I'm of course talking about soccer.

In an interview with Forbes' magazine in 2013, Clark Hunt, the heir of the Lamar Hunt sports dynasty (including Major League Soccer team, FC Dallas), spoke of the struggles faced by the professional league over a decade ago.

“We’ve been hard at work for 18 years. There were some days early on where we thought it wouldn’t make it,” said Hunt, 48, who along with father Lamar, was instrumental in launching the professional soccer experiment in the U.S. in 1996 and has stubbornly refused to let it fail. “Just 10 years ago we had 10 teams, three owners and we were really in trouble.”
— Clark Hunt to Alex Morrell for Forbes' magazine: November 2013

But as the article describes, soccer is now a financial force to be reckoned with. A poll of 18,000 by ESPN in 2012 demonstrated MLS fandom wasn't far behind NHL (National Hockey League) numbers percentage-wise. The US Soccer Federation (USSF), the nation's non-profit in charge of all things fútbol (from your niece's under-5 league through to the World Cup qualifying national team) boasted total assets of $85,777,263 for the 2013 fiscal year. While the Metropolitan Opera would sneeze at that much money, it's important to note that this is a +7% increase from the previous year ($79,519,980). That translates into more interactions with possible future fans such as those soccer newbs among the 26 million who watched the 2014 World Cup Final: Germany vs. Argentina. Or perhaps a chance to expand their youth programs to reach beyond the 3 million kids who now currently play privately organized soccer and will purchase over-priced US soccer jerseys as adults (this number excludes students playing for a school team).

I joined the soccer fan world in 2007 when my then-boyfriend-now-husband shared with me his elite, nerdy world. It's been incredible to watch our team, Real Salt Lake, grow from a team almost sold to Saint Louis, MO to becoming 20,000-seat stadium filling MLS Cup Champions. Yes, I know the analogy isn't perfect (find me one that is), but I believe soccer can teach the classical music world a thing or two about resuscitation and revival. Through future #operascores posts, I plan on exploring some possible explanations for US soccer's rise from ashes and the implications to the classical music world. I personally have had enough of opera's fascination with dying. Let's focus on staying alive instead, shall we?

I Believe.