Sunday, June 25, 2006
It's World Cup time, which means it is time to argue about why Americans do not like watching soccer, even if we all want our children to play it because they are less likely to break their neck and be paralyzed for life than on the gridiron.
The most entertaining discussion of this topic happens in the foreign press, where pundits who would normally decry the projection of American culture around the world seem miffed that we have not invaded their "football." They should be thankful, because if we did we would insist on changing the rules to make it interesting. If you want our 300 million rich people in your audience demographic, you will change the rules to make your sport interesting. This process alone, requiring as it would the agreement of all sorts of other countries, would drive Americans insane. We'd rather have a few rich men sit down to hammer out the precise contours of the Instant Reply Challenge than to discuss with Brazil the repeal of the offsides rule.
But that still brings us to the primary question, why don't Americans watch soccer on television, pack stadiums, and dance wildly in the street when our team both scores a single goal and wins a match. I think it is because the sport is boring. Steven Warshafsky put it rather well, I think:
Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The “pie” of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports. This isn’t boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.
My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a “zero sum” mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased. This is the American way.
That soccer may be “the most popular sport in the world” speaks volumes—but not about America’s lack of sporting knowledge or sophistication, as soccer aficionados like to argue. Rather, I think it reflects the static, crimped, and defeatest attitudes held by so many of the other peoples on earth.
The day that soccer becomes one of the most popular sports in the United States is the day that American exceptionalism diminishes in our souls.
That's right. Americans and the world should both be glad that we do not watch soccer, and cannot begin to understand it.
As a 55 year old who grew up in the far north Midwest (with absolutely no exposure to soccer) I would have completely agreed with you up until about 16 years ago, e.g., when my twins were born.
At that time I became one of those parents who enrolled their kids in the local soccer program at age 4 because I thought it was a great way for them to get some fresh air and exercise.
I thought that eventually they would choose 'American' sports and that soccer would just be a passing interlude in their sports interest.
However, much to my surprise I have found (after living in both the Los Angeles and Chicago areas) that they absolutely love soccer and have only a minimal interest in basketball, baseball and basketball.
More to the point, they are many, many other kids their same age who have this same perspective. This is completely different than when I first enrolled them 12 years ago.
I agree that the American community at large is currently having a hard time embracing soccer. However, I suspect that something fundamental is also changing amongst the younger generation of Americans.
Disagreeing with Marlin here. I was one of those kids who grew up playing soccer, baseball, and basketball. Of all of these, I liked soccer the best. I loved to play the sport. However, playing a game and watching it are two different things, and I find watching soccer to be even more boring than watching baseball. It doesn't matter how many people like to play the game if no one wants to watch it.
You fail to notice that soccer has become increasingly popular in the US, but yes, there the US is still different from the rest of the world. In fact, soccer explains US Exceptionalism.
You also fail to notice that tons of Americans travelled to Germany and have a great time partying.
I love watching a well-played soccer game. On the otter heiny few things are more painful than watching it played poorly.
I am not even all that huge a sports fan. I always enjoyed watching football and basketball, and have come to like baseball since we got our own team and there's a great minor league team right here in town. But after watching both my sons play for years, I am a huge fan of soccer.
And the low scoring is no big deal - that's part of the tension of the game. Much better than watching American basketball, where teams simply run up and down the court and you almost always know any particular drive down the court is going to result in points being scored.
After about the 60th point, you're just sort of like "Gee... another basket... what a surprise".
For a country that loves watching fast cars go around and around a race track, or men swat a small ball into a hole 400 yards away, I fail to see the "boring arguments" against soccer.
It is poorly devised to mesh with traditionl US commercial media needs -- and for this reason, hasn't secured sufficient high quality TV minutes, and therefore dollars, to grow economically. TV timouts and commercials are built into the big US dollar sports - NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, PGA, etc. They are not as well built into soccer. Without the dollars to support a big US business, we don't compete well overseas for the talent required to make the US the "best." The US sports TV market is already very crowded seasonally. Tough for soccer to break in unless you have enormous swings in fan interest -- driven by demographics-- or some other driver.
Si don't think it's yawn factors. The US sports media business is very competitive.
Two things bug me about soccer.
1. Ties are ok. Ties are a rarity in US sports, and we prefer it that way.
2. defense usually wins. Look at most other US sports, and the offense seems to have a maybe 50-50 chance of scoring. It's these contests within the contest that keep it interesting for me. In soccer (as in hockey, which is essentially icy soccer)the defense isusually dominant, even when you can get shots on goal. Most of the contest seems to be a battle for position rather than scoring attempts.
TCS Daily has an interesting take on this subject - that soccer's popularity in the U.S. is a bellwether of the effects of globalization.
sirius- I'm with you on baseball: a defensive-oriented pitching duel is great stuff. Same with soccer. We just need to get over the idea that lots of scoring means brilliant sport. We're too impatient. We've got attention spans of gnats.
Leave the sports reporting to Charlottesvillain.
Soccer is a great game precisely because of the tension. The players are extremely fit athletes (much better fit than a run-stuffing defensive tackle or obese offensive lineman or, for that matter, your average baseball player). You have to pay close attention because one goal can decide a match. It's pretty compelling stuff.
People say American football has action, but a) it has a ton of TV timeouts and b) most offenses have become formulaic. It's popular to a large degree because it's the easiest sport to bet on. It's not THAT creative. Basketball has great athletes, but the pro game in the U.S. doesn't know whether it wants to stress entertainment or fundamentals first. So far, the fundamentals are losing.
Beckham's free kick was a thing of beauty, as was Maxi Rodriguez's late goal for Argentina against Mexico. The drama is there, as compelling as the BoSox-Yankees ALCS of a few years ago.
When you get a chance, shed your Big 10 football mentality for a little while and watch some top-notch European soccer. You won't be disappointed.
Luck is too large a factor in soccer. Over the course of a season, the best teams survive to make it to the final few, but in any individual game, the better team does not win 90% of the time, as I think proper. A soccer game goes to the better team only about 70% of the time.
This is not enough justice for Americans. You can win on a lucky three-pointer in basketball, but you have to have evenly played to that point for luck to even be a factor.
I will willingly grant that soccer requires skill and athleticism equal to that of other sports, and often more. But a preponderance of 1-0 games means that too many are ultimately decided by a lucky bounce, a ball off the bar, or a poorly-called penalty.
I played soccer for my highschool (mumble) years ago and my sons all played soccer - especially my two Romanians. I enjoy watching a game. But I don't follow it except during World Cup, and then only indifferently.
I do wonder if the acceptance of luck as such a huge factor in the game says something about how other countries perceive success to come in the world, as opposed to how Americans view it.