While watching a World Cup match the other day, a thought came to my mind. Why isn’t professional soccer more popular in this country? It ranks well down the totem pole in popularity among professional sports. We love our football, baseball, basketball and hockey, but pro soccer is hardly a blimp on the radar for sports fans across this nation. About the only time soccer garners any interest is when the World Cup is taking place. When was the last time that ESPN lead sports center with highlights of a pro soccer game?
Youth participation in soccer has really spiked in the last 30 years. You would figure that this would eventually help the pro game at some point. Logically, the increased interested at the youth level should produce a snowball effect for interest at a higher level. But professional soccer has never taken off in this country. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the glory days of Pele, soccer has never been a highly talked about sport. It is like a religion in other countries. So why not here? I have 5 reasons why the sport is struggling to break into the lime light.
1. Tradition- Football, basketball, baseball and even hockey have a long-standing tradition among sports fans. Soccer is kind of like that neglected new kid who is trying to fit in at school with a bunch of long time friends. Is there enough room at the professional sports level for another major sport? One of the other sports will have to get bumped off. Which one will it be? I have a hard time believing that any of the major sports are in danger of getting bumped down for soccer.
2. Lack of success by our national teams- Let’s face it, if the United States wins the World Cup (a fat chance that happens!!) Every one will jump on the soccer bandwagon. The fact is, our national teams have not had a lot of success during the World Cup. A successful World Cup run would generate a whole bunch of new fans and soccer would really become popular. If the United States dominated the World Cup like they do in other sports, soccer would really take off at all levels in this country.
3. Big name personalities- Sports in this country are driven by big names. People tune into the NBA, not necessarily because they like basketball, but because they want to see LeBron perform his magic. As a sports fan, I cannot name 5 players who play in the professional league. When Pele and David Beckham play, the non-soccer fans tend to watch. We need more big name players to play in the pro soccer league.
4. TV exposure- I know soccer is periodically televised on various channels but it would be nice to have a big soccer night that ESPN could hype up and draw fans from other sports. I see the MLS recently signed a new contract with ESPN and Fox so maybe they could expand the coverage a bit.
5. Lack of scoring- Ask any soccer hater why they hate soccer and chances are the scoring issue comes up. I am not a soccer hater, but I find myself not watching for the same reason. It is not necessarily the lack of goals in a game, but the few scoring chances. In a 90 minute game, how many legitimate scoring chances are there? It is always more exciting to watch a sport with more scoring chances and opportunities.
I can see where soccer will eventually get more popular and near the same level as the other major sports. I personally think it is a great sport that unfortunately gets a bad rap. It is a great sport to play for any youngster. It provides a lot of great exercise, more so than baseball, it is much safer than football and you don’t have to spend a lot on equipment to play. People of all incomes can play. Perhaps in the near future, soccer will join the major sports in popularity. Why the sport is so far off now is a big mystery to this sports fan.