Saturday, June 19, 2010

Whither Soccer?

The argument pops up roughly every four years around World Cup time, and it has some strong ammunition this time around. Global interest in soccer is peaking, the U.S. television ratings are very high, and millions kids are playing youth soccer all across the country. At some point, the U.S. has to fully embrace soccer into the culture, doesn't it?

Actually, no it doesn't.

The argument here is whether the sports media can change culture or merely reflect it, and I would argue strongly for the latter. The sports media show us who we are and what we like; they do not turn us into something we don't want to be. Some might argue about the power of television to help football supplant baseball as our national pastime, but it's not like football was a cultural outcast at the time.

One argument says that when all those soccer kids grow up they'll become hard-core soccer fans as adults. But I've been hearing that for the past 40 years, ever since I was a kid in Dallas during the days of the North American Soccer League. Pele, Brandi Chastain, indoor soccer ... nothing could help the sport gain a major foothold in the American consciousness.

No matter how much exposure soccer gets in the U.S. during this World Cup, it will never rival football, baseball, car racing and basketball. The U.S. made a dramatic run to an Olympic silver medal this winter, and almost beat Canada in an all-time classic. But hockey is like soccer ... it's more important to people in other countries than it is here.

Think of it this way: right in the middle of the World Cup, the dominant sporting event on the planet, what story dominated the U.S. sports media? NCAA conference realignment.

When does football season start?

3 Comments:

Blogger S. Andon said...

The referee controversy aside, your analysis is spot on, but it's not soccer's fault. The problem is distance, is it not? When the Yanks - and the world's best - are playing thousands of miles away and at times not too conducive to television viewing, it's hard to catch on. The sport is also hampered by the World Cup's once-every-four years staging. Considering the domestic leagues in Europe, where the majority of the world's best players compete, the problem is the same.

All that being said, I'm pretty sure Major League Soccer here in the US is ecstatic with its growth over the past two decades. The time has come where almost every team that will play in 2012 will have its own designated stadiums that privilege and celebrate a small, but dedicated, group of fans. When I turn on a game to see thousands of these kinds of fans singing and cheering throughout the game, it makes me think that there is a future for soccer fan growth in this country.

9:04 PM  
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5:24 AM  
Blogger Andrew Howe said...

I'm always amazed when European sports commentators refer to the sport as "the world's game." After all, the three most populous nations in the world (China, India, and the United States), which make up about 45% of the global population, do not have rich soccer traditions, placing their emphases upon other sports. Still, it must be admitted that soccer is the closest thing to a globally-shared sport, and that interest is growing in two of these three countries (China and the United States). In regards to the United States, the 2010 World Cup was the first in history where ALL of the matches were broadcast. Even in 1994, when the US hosted the event, this was not the case. We have come a long way in the past 40 years, but as the author of the original post pointed out, there is still a great deal of ground to cover.

2:38 AM  

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