Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sports Commentary - America's distaste for soccer

Okay, try this one on for size, you Commonwealthians.

Americans and
soccer just don't
get along

Turret Sports Editor

As the "World Series" approaches, I always get a little confused. I mean, not once has a team from Tanzania even made it to the playoffs. Amazing.

Okay, so "World" Series is a misnomer. But it's interesting to think about America's participation -- or rather, non-participation -- in the global sports arena.

Oh sure, we compete in the Olympics. But let's face it: almost all of the competitions held in the Olympics are really niche interest sports, at least in the United States.

Internationally, of course, the most popular sport is soccer. It draws mammoth crowds across the globe, from Baghdad to Manchester, from Rio de Janeiro to Wellington, New Zealand. The only place soccer isn't religiously followed is here at home, where we didn't even bother to broadcast the Greece-Portugal final match in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Why is that? It's certainly not due to any lack of interest in sports on the part of the American people. Advertisers pay sums of money equal to the national deficits of small nations in order to control 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl, the most-watched television event of the year. NCAA games bring thousands of fans and millions of dollars to colleges and their athletics departments.

One of your coworkers probably has a bobble-head doll of his favorite player on a desk near you at this very moment.

As a people, Americans love sports. So why do we seem to hate soccer so much?

In the grand tradition of American columnists, I decided to do some research. I needed to know what the historical precedent was for American aversion to soccer. I wanted to know viewing trends and find hard numbers on soccer's fan base in the United States.

So I went to Google and typed "Why do Americans hate soccer?"

Folks in other countries seem to feel rather strongly about our domestic distaste for the biggest international sport. Forums and message boards are filled with huffy English soccer fans who say Americans are too media-obsessed, too fat, too impatient, and too artless to appreciate soccer.

But sifting through the anti-Yankee propaganda, one can find a few valid points:

1) Soccer tends to be a low-scoring game, much like hockey. Seriously, did any meaningful demographic here really miss the NHL all that much? Americans prefer double-digit scores.

2) In terms of strategy and appeal, soccer is too similar to basketball for both to be successful in the states, according to Michael Mandlebaum, writing for the UK Guardian's Observer.

3) Soccer is not easily divided into short, organized sub-segments of each half as are football and baseball. Therefore, it's hard to break the action up into understandable chunks. And while both soccer and basketball stop for foul shots, basketball's pace is so much faster that it tends to be more simply divisible. We prefer our sporting events peppered with beer commercials and sitcom teasers.

4) With as many domestic rivalries and as much diversity as we already have in our country, I don't think Americans are itching for new competitors. When people from Pittsburgh hate teams from Ohio, and people from Boston hate teams from New York, it's easy to understand why we might be a little reluctant to take on new athletic adversaries.

With our "Big Three" sports so solidly rooted in our hearts and minds, it's doubtful that Americans will become much more enamored of soccer in the near future. We and our friends overseas will just have to agree to disagree.

And no, I don't think we'll be changing the name of the World Series any time soon, either.


UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.