Just a couple days into the 2010 World Cup, soccer fans around the world are now enjoying for the biggest sporting event in the world. The United States is probably somewhere in the middle as far as popularity of the sport is concerned. “The beautiful game” is subject to much criticism here, typically for a few of the same claims.
One of the most-heard complaints is that soccer is low-scoring and that there is not enough action. There are, of course, arguments to refute that since you could say the same about baseball and hockey, except baseball is much longer and (in my opinion) much slower. An argument could be made that even American football is a slow-paced game considering all the breaks, play-calling, and television timeouts. So the notion about not liking soccer because it is low-scoring and slow is pretty weak.
Since the other arguments hardly have a foot to stand on, there is one remaining argument that explains some of the distaste for the sport: Americans want to be the best. It is part of the culture and it is embedded in our DNA. Looking at the history of the sport in this country, the U.S. has had a few bright moments but it has yet to prove it is one of the elite countries at soccer.
I have heard more than a few times from fans and haters alike that soccer here is just not as good as it is in Europe, and for that reason they cannot or do not support it. Their thought is that if you are not the best at something, then what is the point? And not being as good at something as Europe leaves an especially bad taste in some people’s mouths. Europe attracts some of the best players in the world with much higher salaries than the players are paid here because of how well established the game is there and how much the game is embedded in the culture. Soccer is life for a lot of them and, until the U.S. can compete salary-wise, Europe will continue to be a very attractive alternative.
Nonetheless, soccer is growing quickly in the United States. Take a look at the Seattle Sounders and their passionate fans, which were recently named the “2010 Best Sports Team of the Year” by SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. They are selling an amazing amount of season tickets and games are bringing enormous crowds, over 36,000 for every home game. That is nearly double the attendance that Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers draw. (Of course, venue capacity should be taken into account.)
Locally, Real Salt Lake is averaging well over 15,000 per game, which is a huge amount for their market. They pull about the same amount as teams in larger markets like New York or Columbus. Overall MLS attendance is already up 11 percent on average from last year.
The league is also following the mold of the other international leagues by implementing developmental academies under each club, allowing for the identification and development of homegrown talent for the MLS. Take, for example, that of the four MLS players that made the US Men’s National Team, one of them is from Real Salt Lake in Robbie Findley. That is quite an accomplishment. Not only that, but 13 of the 23 players on the World Cup roster have previously played in the MLS.
Another measuring stick for the popularity of soccer is the broadcasting of games. Not only is there an MLS “match of the week” on ESPN2, but for the first time in the United States, all of the 2010 World Cup matches will be broadcast on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. You will also be able to watch most games live online at ESPN3.com. That type of exposure will definitely draw more attention to the games and soccer will progress.
The bottom line is that Americans do not like being second best at anything, and in order for soccer to gain real respect and attention both at home and around the world, the U.S. has to have a very successful run on the world’s biggest stage.
Trackback from your site.