Monday, July 23, 2007


The republic seems to have survived the U.S. debut of David Beckham, despite the typical ESPN overkill. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated had a good article on Beckham's MLS debut Saturday, which was covered more like an Academy Awards show than a soccer match.

Some may argue that the coverage reeked of excess and overkill, which of course it did. But it's still ESPN's best strategy, given the celebrity-conscious nature of our culture. But there's two bigger cultural problems that all of ESPN's money and coverage can't fix. Primarily, Americans won't watch professional soccer. The same American kids who play soccer by the millions apparently ignore the sport when they become adults. Every four years U.S. fans might tune in to a few minutes of the World Cup, but then it's back to football, basketball and baseball.

The other big problem is Beckham himself. U.S. sports fans have always preferred home-grown sports stars to expensive imports. Pele made a big splash when he came to the NASL in the 1970s, but not enough to save the league. Wayne Gretzky was supposed to save the NHL in Los Angeles, but now the league is barely breathing south of Philadelphia. Once upon a time Indy racing boasted names like Foyt, Rutherford and Mears. Now, with a cast comprised mainly of foreign drivers, its position as the premier racing league in America has been firmly supplanted by NASCAR, which features local drivers and teams.

ESPN got the ratings spike it wanted for Beckham's debut, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the curiosity factor wears off. And no matter how much the network pushed the celebrity angle Saturday night it could not hide the fact that the game ended 1-0--another low-scoring, not-made-for-prime-time soccer match. No matter how much lipstick you put on it, a pig is still just a pig.


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