Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Time for America to Show Soccer Some Love
AP Photo/George Frey
Ever since the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the nation has been hearing the same whispers:
“Soccer is catching on in America.”
However, the idea never really caught on. People constantly pointed out the growth of youth participants, but once those kids got to high school and football was more available to them, the trend tailed off.
The common response became “Americans will never embrace soccer.”
Silently, though, soccer continued to push forward. There was the spectacular quarterfinals finish in the 2002 World Cup, with wins against Portugal and Mexico, Major League Soccer’s signing of global icon David Beckham, and the U.S.’s Confederations Cup win this past summer over Spain.
It hasn’t been just American soccer that has drawn interest in the country either. Argentine and FC Barcelona sensation Lionel Messi graced the cover of ESPN Magazine in May and ESPN now owns the American broadcasting rights for the English Premier League and shares rights for the Spanish Premier League.
Little by little, soccer has started to make its way into mainstream American sports, and it just recently culminated in last Friday’s World Cup draw aired on ESPN2.
Coverage of the draw lasted three hours, 70 more minutes than the coverage provided for the 2006 draw in Germany. And that was only a teaser for what’s to come in June.
ESPN has sole broadcasting rights for this summer’s World Cup. In previous cups ESPN match commentators called the games from studios in Bristol, Connecticut. However this summer ESPN will send its commentators to the actual games in South Africa as part of a 150 person team.
They will air not only the games themselves, but features and player profiles in order for the audience to get familiar with the competing teams and players.
Don’t think these efforts will fall on deaf ears, either.
That World Cup the U.S. hosted in 1994? It’s still the single most profitable World Cup in FIFA history.
According to a report on ESPN.com from December 5, the latest ticket sales results saw 84,103 out of 674,403 tickets (12%) sold to the United States, the most for any country outside of host nation South Africa.
Even MLS is reaping some of the benefits as nine teams in 2010 will play in their own soccer-specific stadiums.
The U.S. is also bidding to host the World Cup again in either 2018 or 2022 (2022 being the more likely option)
All this begs the question, why do people feel that Americans do not, and will not, embrace soccer?
It will most likely never reach the status here that football or baseball has, but why does it have to? Why can’t it join them as part of a big five (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL are currently the big four of professional sports leagues)?
Americans love sports. ESPN will air anything from football and baseball to bowling and professional bull riding.
Americans also like supporting their country. With a national team that is on the cusp of doing unprecedented things in this country, what’s to stop this nation from supporting this team and sport?
Why are the soccer-haters so profoundly against the sport?
I hope they know, for reasons shown above, they are continually fighting a losing battle.