Why American Sports Media Hate The World Cup – Forbes

This is an opinion piece. I’m not a sports analyst. I don’t know the attacking four of the US national team. The only thing I know about Brazilian striker Neymar Jr is that FIFA is investigating his underwear.

Therefore, I am not a fan of the beautiful game. And apparently, outside of ESPN ESPN, there are very few fans of soccer in the sports pages and on sports talk radio.

Despite “Olympic-sized ratings” — as the WSJ put it on Friday — when the U.S. national team gets beat by the undefeated Belgium national team on Tuesday, thousands of American television sets will shut off.  With the exception of the dwindling number of Colombian and Brazilians living in the U.S., it is safe to say that ESPN’s viewership will decline.  Sports talk radio cannot wait.

Every morning on WEEI’s top rated Dennis & Callahan show, deep in the heart of sports mad Boston, the two hosts are trying desperately to like the sport, and coming up short.  Their favorite punching big is Alexi Lalas, a former New England Revolution player who saw some World Cup action in 1994.  His game time commentary and analysis is constantly knocked. Other than people running back and forth on the pitch, there is no description of tactics or strategy. What’s going on out there that should make American sports media — head high in baseball and the NBA draft this time of year — begin to admire this game?

Mexico's Fans at Soccer City

Olé nada.  For Americans, soccer is off radar. And the sports media don’t seem interested in talking about it either.  (Photo credit: Celso Flores)

What is with all this flopping around on the ground, they wonder? How can the U.S. advance when they just won one game? They get the points system, but it seems that a World Cup draw should not be. In such an important match, to advance to the next level you’ve got to score more goals than the other guy. Let’s see a penalty shoot out. The U.S. won one game, yet  ESPN is resting their hopes that the U.S. will advance beyond the Group of 16 and into the quarter finals to keep people watching. From ESPN’s point of view, soccer is knocking on the door of the big four American past times: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey.

It’s not even close.

Surely not in major sports cities like Boston and New York, despite the large number of immigrants from soccer loving nations.

It’s a cultural thing. Soccer is not in the air you breath. The players are not on billboards on I-95 or selling sneakers in Sports Illustrated. They’re not making guest appearances on Disney XD. Baseball players are, so are basketball players. There’s too much entrenched competition for soccer to ever become part of American sports culture. American sports media have a calendar packed with drafts, season games, and in five more weeks, NFL players reporting for practice. Not to mention the soap opera lives of sports celebrities like Miami Heat’s Lebron James and New England Patriots jailbird Aaron Hernandez to gossip about on any given day. Soccer does not fit the schedule.

Boston Globe sports writer Dan Shaughnessy wrote on June 22: 

We understand the beauty and simplicity of soccer. We agree that it is the world’s most popular sport. It’s a sport that represents democracy and meritocracy. It’s the perfect game for children. The big kids don’t dominate. Everybody is in motion. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t require much equipment or organization. There’s a great purity about the game. World Cup competition is a global event/celebration. I love it when the Greek natives at my local auto body close shop when Greece plays a World Cup match. Nothing else matters. It is a great source of national pride and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the passion and good feelings.”

Tom Brady takes the snap during Super Bowl XXX...

THIS is football. Every play is a strategy. It may not be a beautiful game, but it’s a smart one and Americans by and large call the NFL their favorite sport league to watch. Soccer ranks below NASCAR auto racing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless you read Shaughnessy’s piece, you’d think he’d be enamored by the World Cup. He’s not even watching it.

I watched Australia get blown out by Chile on June 13 with a Brazilian. We were at an airport restaurant. The TVs were on. I was watching: Chilean striker scores, slides on his knees in the corner of the field where you do corner kicks, grabs his jersey over his heart, gets tackled by three forwards. An explosive six foot something Chilean goalie blocks a shot, immediately throws the ball out to a team mate half the field away. It’s boom-boom movement in those seconds, then it slows almost to a baseball pace.

“What’s happening here?” I say. “They’re really just passing and kicking the ball back and forth. I am sure that there has to be some fast thinking going on. Like how to get into position for a corner kick, or what defender to avoid, or how to split the defense so your striker can run right up the middle and aim for the goal.”

She shrugs. She has no idea either. People are waiting for the perfect dribble, which very few players can do, or the lead up to the perfect goal. This rarely happens in a game. At the restaurant, the TV is just background noise. We’re the only ones watching.

My cousin is a soccer coach. His sons play the game.  He told me the other day he was watching the World Cup, and that it was “the best one I’ve ever seen.”

It is not impossible to find a soccer fan. I have a buddy in Denver, big soccer fan.

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