The Soccer Save – US Style
I feel the need to post about soccer — excuse me, fútbol.
The soccer-craze has hit the U.S., finally, after decades and decades of “them” telling “us” that soccer would, one day, be the hottest sport in America and compete for our attention like basketball and football do. My middle school coach said, “You need to play this sport now as, by the time you’re an adult, everyone in America will be playing it everywhere.”
Well, that never happened. It still hasn’t happened.
Although it’s nice for the fair-weather, barely-understand-the-rules bystander USA soccer fan to watch the World Cup (well, all except the perplexing, “why did it end in a tie” game with Portugal 10 days ago), the true fans in America are hard to find. No, they’re not hiding or watching at some secret soccer-ony dive bar where “true soccer fans” are allowed to appreciate the majesty and history of their game.
Nope. There are barely any — a nearly immeasurable few. Sure, the TV ratings are up — even though 50 percent of the watchers of U.S. networks watch in a different language — but, as famed basketball player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so aptly pointed out in is timely piece in TIME two days ago, “The problem with those statistics is that it’s like using the [TV] ratings of bobsledding during the Winter Olympics to declare a new renaissance for bobsledding in America.”
It just doesn’t matter. MLS even now on ESPN barely has an audience of 190,000 TV watchers — that’s not even a rating of 1. A rating of 1 means 1 million TVs. For example, a hockey game usually get a 4 or 5 rating. An average NBA mid-season gets a 7-10, going as high as 24 during playoffs and, of course, the granddaddy of them all – the SuperBowl — got a 111.5 (yes, 111 million people in the USA watched it).
For those of you who think soccer is growing in popularity over time, well, you’re wrong. In 2008, there were over 280,000 people watching an MLS game on U.S. television. So, like it or not, statistically, U.S. soccer is being watched by some 90,000 less people than it was six years ago.
Oh, want more? Well, women’s golf has a TV rating that averages around 1.2-1.4 (1.2 million people watch it). Soccer doesn’t even beat bowling. Not even close; bowling is more popular to watch than soccer: 871,000 households and 1.1 million viewers watched the average televised bowling match last year.
Oh, but, it’s going to change — the 2014 World Cup has shown the U.S. how fun the game is to watch! We made it to the Final 16 (Sweet 16 for those NCAA basketball fans out there who enjoy a rating of 21 to 24 — 24,000,000 people watching).
Well, in 2010, we also made it to the Sweet 16 where we lost to — come on big-time fans, do you remember??? It was Ghana 2-1. Yet, soccer is no more popular a spectator sport than it was in 1994 2008 or 2010.
It’s just not going to happen. Unless…
Here are my five things that can make soccer popular in the USA. Now, there is logic in it being a hugely popular sort, by the way — just drive to ANY (and I mean ANY) park in America on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll see hundreds of kids playing it all over the place — dozens of organized games, in every park in America, every Saturday. In fact, guess what? The AYSO American Youth Soccer Organization says that there are 50,000 teams, with over 630,000 participants every year. That’s a few million people each generation – yet, only 2-3 percent of them are willing to watch soccer on TV. Here’s why (and how to fix it):
***A Note for the hardcore fan: You will simply not agree with these and not support them. But everyone else will. And, if you ever want your sport to grow in popularity here in the USA, you need to do this***
1. Make the field (oops, I mean pitch) smaller; make it fit on a football field: The dang field is too big and it makes for, to be blunt, a slow-as-molasses game. There’s a lot of nothing going on a long time. Then, finally, some fun and excitement! Then nothing again. Make the field shorter and narrower and those same 22 guys will see more action — and we Americans love action.
2. Make the goal larger: We need more scoring. 2-1, 2-3, 1-0 – these scores are just plain boring. Sorry, but to Americans, we want numbers. Even the slowest game on earth — baseball — has scores like 8-6, 9-2, 7-11, etc. Increase the width of the goal 2 feet (sorry, 60.96 centimeters).
3. No ties: No one likes to see games end in a tie. Even European die-hard “we will kill the ref” fans don’t want a game to end in a tie. Stop this tie nonsense. Speaking of which, how is it logical to win one game and lose one and tie one and still advance? Just makes no sense to the casual fan — and you NEED the casual fan to become a big fan one day — you need Pitch Parties.
4. Breaks: We need a beer-grabbing, bathroom break. Even though we complain about commercials when we watch TV, they are convenient breaks to go use the loo and to grab a beer and appetizers. Please take a few 1-minute breaks each half — that’s all.
5. Use announcers that aren’t condescending: Every soccer announcer who calls games calls them as if every watcher totally understands the game, each position, the role of each player, the rules, the penalties, the reason the clock counts up, the reason the game never ends at 90-minutes, etc., etc., etc. Be consultative in your approach for a decade or so until the super-casual fan becomes a fan. Think about it — the NFL has even had to add all sorts of colored lines to the TV broadcast to explain things and it’s been a hugely popular sport here for over 40 years. Give us some lines, some graphics and guy calling the game that’s not trying to show us how much he knows about the game but, instead, is explaining what’s going on in real-time.
I am serious. Do this and soccer will be huge in the USA in less than a decade. Yes, I know it means that our game here would be different than the international game. But, heck, international basketball has its own rules, weird free-throw alley lanes, 3-point line and more — yet, their players still come over here and dominate in the NBA when they want to.
And, the trade-off is that U.S. soccer would be watched by millions (of people), thus, generating millions (of dollars) and even more fans than ever before!