Soccer, the next major professional sport in the United States?

It is widely regarded that the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League are the four major professional sports leagues in this country. Sure, there is a major professional soccer league, but that league has yet to reach the vast popularity as say the NFL, NBA or MLB. One has to wonder if that will be changing anytime soon.

Being a rather huge fan of professional sports in this country, I have struggled to understand why professional soccer has not taken off in this country. Soccer is a very popular sport among youth in this country; drive by any soccer field on a warm summer night and chances are that you will see several games in progress or teams practicing their skills. The number of kids playing soccer is very comparable to the number of kids playing baseball. You would think that a sport with such a heavy participation rate as soccer would translate into a very popular professional sports league. Last Sunday’s women’s World Cup championship match drew some very high television numbers even above many World Series games. There is no question that soccer has the potential to become a huge sport in this country, especially at the professional level. however, how many years have we been saying that?

Personally, I believe the whole key for professional soccer to really take off in this country is for some major network to sign a big television deal with the professional league. Perhaps a network such as NBC can have a game of the week every Saturday night. That would give the league some much-needed exposure on a major network. The players also need to be marketed similar to the NBA. In order for the league to take off, more high-profile players like David Beckham will have to develop. It is simply not enough to just have a bunch of games on television without any superstar players. It is a well-known fact in team sports that fans tune in to see some superstar player, not necessarily some team. I cannot honestly name one player in professional soccer. The only way that will change is if their players get far more exposure and coverage.

Just maybe the success of the women’s world cup team can be a springboard to having a successful women’s professional league. Who knows? Imagine if the national men’s team ever won the world cup? That would be huge in giving the MLS a much-needed shot in the arm. I know in some of my past blogs that I have been critical of soccer, but this sports fan will tune in if I am entertained. I can definitely see soccer becoming more popular at the professional level in the next 20 years. It is bound to happen. A typical game is only 2 hours max compared to a 3 plus hour baseball game or a 3 hour football game. I believe the next younger generation of people can appreciate that. I strongly believe that major league soccer is an explosion just waiting to happen. In my opinion, it will be a major professional sport in this country in the next 10 years. Soon, the names of superstar professional soccer players will be just as well know to the American sports fans as names like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning or Bryce Harper. In the meantime, I will work on trying to name at least 5 professional soccer players in the MLS.

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Confession of a non-soccer fan

Soccer is arguably the most popular sport in the world. It probably has the most participants of any team sport out there. The World Cup might be the coveted sporting event in the entire world. Many countries basically shut down when they play a World Cup match. Any participant in the Cup dreams of scoring the winning goal for his or her country. The passion for the sport in many countries is simply off the charts. With the women’s FIFA World Cup currently taking place, soccer has certainly been one of the major talkers in the sports world. Unfortunately for this sports fan, I am having a hard time generating the same level of enthusiasm as many folks seem to have during this world-wide tournament. I have to confess that soccer really bores the crap out of me. It simply is not something that I place a high priority in watching. No offense to any soccer fan, but I cannot see myself changing my schedule so I have time to watch a couple of teams from outside of the United States play a qualifying match on cable television.

Last night, I decided to watch a game between the United States and Sweden. It was a much talked about game with plenty of hype so I decided to tune in. Not only did the game have plenty of hype to it, it also featured a game with women’s athletes. Now what red-blooded American male like myself not enjoy a match with a bunch of physical fit young females running around kicking a ball? After about 30 minutes, I got bored with the game and switched to something else. In the 30 minutes that I watched, there were only about  3 good scoring chances for either team. Later on I caught the end of the game. The ending was somewhat dramatic with a few chances for our United States team, but the game finally ended with a 0-0 tie, yes 0-0! Like in no goals for either team!! There lies the problem with soccer; it simply has very little offense and scoring to please this sports fan and apparently many others to fully become engaged with the sport. I prefer to watch a sport where there is plenty of scoring and opportunities for either team to score. I find soccer to be painfully lacking in these areas and that is why I would rather not spend 2 hours of my time watching a game. In my opinion, soccer has to be one of the most boring sports to watch on television. I would much rather play the sport than watch it. It is a very fun sport to play and gives you a great cardio workout, but sitting in my easy chair and watching 2 hours of soccer? No thanks!

Perhaps sometime in the near future, I may change my attitude about the sport of soccer and watch more of it. Maybe I might marry a woman who is totally passionate about soccer and demands to watch soccer as much as possible. Or maybe the United States will have a lot of success in the World Cup and my passion will somehow grow. I recently developed a liking for ice hockey so there might still be some hope for me. In the meantime, give me American football or basketball, but please leave out soccer. I would rather watch paint dry for 2 hours!!

The popularity of soccer (or lack of) in the United States

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.