Saturday, July 08, 2006
Well, with this World Cup the anti-soccer people have come out of the woodwork again in North America, trashing this sport and claiming it will never catch on. Here's an interesting article in USA Today about the whole debate on whether soccer will ever catch on as a major sport in North America.
Among other things, it quotes legendary soccer-hater Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated fame, who trashes soccer and claims it has had every chance to make it in North America, and that Americans have rejected soccer!
On the other side you have all these pro-soccer guys, still preaching how soccer is going to eventually be a major sport because all these kids in school play it, and all these immigrants to the United States are interested in it, and bla bla bla. But it's been the same old story for years; as soon as these kids hit high school they immediately lose interest and join the football or basketball team, and that's the end of the sport! And immigrants in the USA have always been big soccer fans, there's no argument there; the problem is, no one else is! Nothing's changed about that for the last 30 years, why do people think it will change now?
All I'll say is that we've had this debate for years and years and years, going back to the 1980s and even earlier. The soccer crowd has been insisting for as long as anyone can remember that soccer is going to break through, yet it's still in the same rut it has always been in with mainstream sports commentators and the general public. It's not as if the sport of soccer hasn't tried! They staged a very successful World Cup in the USA in 1994, and had some pretty decent US teams playing in the World Cup finals the last five tournaments in a row. The women's team won the women's World Cup title in recent memory. And MLS has been in business now for 10 years. Yet this sport is still not any more popular than it was back in the 1970s when Pele was playing for the New York Cosmos. In fact, it's NASCAR that has been the break-out sport of the last decade, not soccer. And well before that, it was basketball! If soccer isn't popular by now after all this effort, then I'm sorry, it will never be popular.
Now I hear rumors about David Beckham coming to America to play in MLS in a last-ditch attempt to make this sport a hit in the United States. Dream on. They should just give up.
This sport is never going to be more than what it is in the United States, a cult sport popular with die-hards and various ethnic groups. Sure, this sport has a decent following in places like Washington D.C., New York and New England. LA is considered a soccer hotbed and the TV ratings for World Cup Soccer there have been terrific. This sport has a chance of making it in soccer-mom-rich Blue State America. It's in-between that is the big problem.
In Red State America you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who follows soccer at all. Maybe this sport has some fans in places like Kansas City and St. Louis, and maybe a couple of the rocky mountain states, but no one else cares. Instead, it's baseball and football that are big out there, and they pack the stands for basketball, auto racing, hockey and all these other sports. Tune in to sports talk radio or read these sportswriters, all of whom obsess about how much they love baseball and football all the time, and the problems are multiplied. Soccer not only doesn't have enough fans; it has real enemies in the mainstream US media who trash the sport and rant and rave about how boring and low-scoring the game is. They've been trashing these players who've been taking these dives in these World Cup games. It's pretty vitriolic, the reaction.
I don't think soccer is going to get anywhere in the USA until they figure out a way to make it more exciting for the American public to watch, or at least more exciting for these commentators. It's not as if this sport has no chance at all. After all, auto racing still gets the same condescending treatment from these baseball-loving sportswriters who claim to hate that sport, too; yet look where it is today. But then again, that sport had the advantage of lots of American drivers racing around on lots of American race courses. Soccer, though, is still seen as a sport for Europeans.
Sadly, that's probably the main reason why a country like the USA is just never going to develop much of a passion for soccer, the sport just isn't American enough for them. It just isn't part of the culture in the USA. But then again, the Brits never liked baseball either.
Posted by John Cairns at 2:52 PM