700 Million viewers across the globe watched the Spain-Netherlands World Cup Final match on Sunday. Does this finally prove that “soccer” (or what the rest of the world calls football) is becoming a legitimate sport in the United States? As many Americans watched the 2010 World Cup final as watched the NBA Finals, Olympic Hockey or the BCS Championship – yet most Americans are hundreds of years behind the rest of the global sports world due to our reluctance to legitimize this sport. The MLS has been around for 16 years in the United States and while it has expanded, it goes largely unappreciated by even the most ardent sports fans. Hundreds of countries across the globe have embraced “football” so passionately that it has broken up marriages, started violent riots, become a source of public concern (stampedes or fans) and even been a source of political intrigue. In the U.S. – millions of children play in junior and pee-wee soccer leagues but most of those focus on not keeping score or discouraging competition so that all the kids feel validated. Um… it’s a sport. Sports are about WINNING!
Despite the best efforts of Pele, Beckham, Landon Donovan or Alexi Lalas, the game of “soccer” has not stuck in the hearts and minds of American fans. Indoor and Outdoor Leagues have failed miserably in America from the 1960 right on through the 21st Century, but we have made progress. In 1994 the U.S. hosted the World Cup but it lost the ratings war to the O.J. Simpson chase and arrest. In 1998 the Women’s National Team was lauded more for their wardrobe malfunctions than their winning prowess. Generally when we send a team to the World Cup, Americans are scoffed and it is a surprise when they make it out of the first round of play. Perhaps that is finally about to change? The 1980 Winter Olympics witnessed the “Miracle on Ice” when a ragtag bunch of amateur hockey players banded together, defeated the Soviet “professional” team and brought home a Gold Medal. Marketing professionals would have you believe that changed the game of hockey, the course of a nation and revived the career of Karl Malden (who portrayed the role of Herb Brooks in the 1981 “Miracle on Ice”) and later of Kurt Russell in 2004′s revision entitled “Miracle.” The same marketing professionals were dubbing the 2010 US/Canada Olympic hockey rivalry to be the second coming or “Miracle on Ice” but my point here is to draw a parallel. Soccer/Futbal/Football has never had good marketing – because it has never needed it!!! Do Columbians and Germans and Spaniards and British fans need to experience a marketing blitz to know that this game is compelling? Do those same fans need to be told to watch the World Cup every four years with an on-screen primer of the rules as shorthand for the myopic viewer? No.
Much as the decline of the popularity of Major League Baseball in the post-modern world of video game sports fans, those of the short-attention span will simply never “get” it! Soccer/Futbal/Football is a game of developing strategy, of anticipation, of player excellent defense, of playing a true team sport with integrity, effort and hard work. You won’t see a lot of “soccer stars” mugging for ESPN highlights or vying to be the poster boy for the next video game cover. “Bend it Like Beckham” and international acclaim still didn’t bring any glory to the MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy. The best they could do was to “borrow” Beckham the Great toward the end of his playing career when he had nothing better to do. Pele did the same in the 1970s to little success. Even Wayne Gretzky was unable to change the appetite for NHL hockey in the LA Basin back in the 1980s – but that hardly stopped the NHL from expanding into Arizona, Florida, Texas and Carolina! The MLS does have a pulse in the United States, but it is extremely weak. Compare the following for the entire MLS with that of Manchester United. Not good? Soccer in America needs marketing or the hummingbird-mentality fans will never find it – let alone learn the game. The sport doesn’t engender huge mega-stars like LeBron James or Brett Favre and there will never be Monday Night Football (referring to “soccer”) but at least 700 million people can tell the U.S. fans what they are missing – a simply great sport with a rich tradition.
Well at least the MLS has decided to bring “Man U” in to play the MLS All-Stars, so somebody has the right idea!!! 700 million people can’t be wrong!
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org