Americans are used to dominating the sports landscape. We smash the Olympics, FIBA Basketball World Cups and even name our winning teams “world champions” even though they only compete nationally. The issue at hand is that the same dominance has escaped us when it comes to soccer. Outside of middle-aged mothers who drive minivans, futbol has had a tough time reaching the masses in the US, well that is until recently with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Some would argue that the US doesn’t really care about soccer and that the ratings and excitement mentioned over the World Cup is an overflowing cup of novelty. It’s a honeymoon for sports that Americans don’t care about, like the Olympics. Yes, we all love watching Michael Phelps dominate during the games, but hell if anyone can tell you his whereabouts any time in the 4 years between them. You know what people love during the Olympics? Gymnastics. Nobody cares about gymnastics except preteens and their mothers trying to vicariously live through their children’s lives. Americans care about those sports only in a national pride sense. You support your country in all endeavors, even archery and water polo get love during the Olympics, but after that no ones keeping up with the latest in many Olympic events.
The recent uproar about the World Cup may be a child of the same national pride vs. actually caring about the sport dynamic, but here’s a few reasons I think it’s not. Soccer does what the NFL and NBA do so well: market their stars. This is my major critique of hockey and baseball, they fail to let the fan-base see the personalities of their best players. Yes we know O-dog and Crosby, I can also name many baseball players, but you barely get the inside scoop into the drama that goes on that a casual fan wouldn’t be privy to. Just with this World Cup, you hear and see Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo; they refer to the German national teams as “the machine”. They are in commercials; they have “it” factor, all the things you need to get people interested in the product.
Piggy backing of that, and much more importantly, the young kids know these stars, they buy their jerseys, and are beginning to develop the same admiration for them that they have with NBA and NFL players. The younger generation has its eye on the soccer landscape. That’s not a fad or a temporary fix; that’s called billions and billions served. McDonald’s makes you fall in love with the happy meal as a child, and holds your heart until it kills you, or you become smart enough not to eat the stuff constantly. While soccer won’t clog your arteries, it is pulling in these kids who will remain loyal well into adulthood. That is a sign of things to come.
Now there are deterrents. For one we don’t fully understand the culture in club soccer with player loaning, promotion and demotion, and the ambiguity of extra time, but these things can be learned. The bigger issue is that the best players compete in the European leagues like LA Liga and the Premier League. This means that it’s tough to see those well marketed players on a consistent basis. Premier League randomly comes on NBC and I’m sure you can find games online, but as of now the process of watching isn’t cut and dry.
Americans have the MLS, which while improving is not on par with the European leagues. I’m sure ESPN and all the other networks invested will do their best to market the MLS and make it a staple in our sports interests, but if the talent isn’t on-par with that which we would come to expect on the highest level of competition, then I think it will have trouble catching on a level of that of the big four sports leagues. Though as more kids growing up began to take the sport more seriously, and we get a homegrown American superstar you better believe it that soccer with stake it’s claim to fame in American hearts. I enjoy the game, so I’m rooting for it, but only time will tell.