Every four years the World Cup comes around and a handful of Americans who enjoy soccer get to enjoy the immensity of the intensely awesome few weeks of fantastic matches. I love it. Much like the Olympics, the World Cup is a chance for people around the world to come together and support their country. Not in the sense of ‘hey, make sure you vote!’ but in the strongest sense of pride and image.
It’s no secret that soccer isn’t big in the US. Only a handful of cities have ‘professional’ teams, and without doing any research I bet it’s safe to say attendance at those games doesn’t hold a candle to the weekly football games in the fall. And that’s too bad, because despite it’s simplicity soccer requires an insane amount of athleticism.
First off, the pitch is huge. It’s roughly the same length as a football field (endzones includes), and about 20 yards wider. Secondly, the players are constantly in motion – for 45 minutes at a time. In all other US sports there are constant breaks or downtime. Think about it. In a baseball game, there’s probably about 3 minutes worth of actual action and running over the course of 9 innings. Everyone on the field is doing nothing until someone hits the ball. And even then the play could be over in less than 5 seconds. In football, play stops after every down, and every time possession changes. And plays often only extend around 10 yards on average I bet – then you stop again. The only sport that comes close would be basketball. But again, constant time-outs, foul shots, etc, cause everything to halt. But soccer players are running the whole time. Play rarely ceases for injuries or penalties, and the clock continues to run and then they play additional time after time has expired. Rugby is much the same, but again, it’s another sport that has a hard time catching on here even though it’s probably the most badass sport there is.
But that’s just a reason why soccer should be respected more than it is. The reason it won’t catch on in the US as much as it should is correlated: it won’t ever find a place on TV. Why? Because of commercials.
You may not have noticed but while you’ve been enjoying the hell out of some awesome matches these past two weeks there haven’t been any breaks for commercials until half-time. ESPN has been awesome and has not cut away from the coverage to show commercials. Every other sport you watch on TV has constant commercials – because of all the breaks in play. If you’ve ever attended a football game, they actually have something called a ‘TV-Timeout,’ where play is delayed for longer just so commercials can be shown on TV. It’s the most obnoxious, momentum killing thing in sports. While a no-interruption broadcast of the game may fly for a once-every-four-years event being shown on a subscription only cable network, it will never, ever, fly on regular network television. Which is exactly where it needs to be to get more exposure.
Rugby 7s is starting to gain ground here in the US, mostly because it’s going to be in the summer Olympics in two years. But it’s only aired on NBC. And even though rugby is much like soccer in that play is continuous NBC just had to break away every few minutes for commercials, making viewers actually miss parts of the game. Hell, how many commercials are there during the Olympics? Soccer will never gain footing on TV for the same exact reason. Heaven-forbid we go a whole 45 minutes without showing commercials. Oh blah blah blah I know it’s how networks gain revenue but spare me that drivel. There are plenty of hours not during the game to show your damn commercials – and it’s not like they’re hurting for money anyway. Yes, I know soccer is shown on TV from time to time. But not like baseball, or basketball, or football, and not on regular broadcast networks.
So there you have it. I’d love to be wrong, but something tells me I’m partially right. Sure, it may never gain traction simply because too many redneck idiots think it’s stupid and ‘football’ is way better. Whatever. But in the end, large scale exposure largely depends on broadcasting.