Imagine a space that’s eight yards wide and eight feet tall, a rectangle of sizable but not of vast proportions. Put in the middle of that two dimensional area a person who is about six feet tall with a wing span width of about six feet. Even with that obstacle of a human in front of that rectangle frame, there should be plenty of room to regularly kick or head butt a perfectly round sphere which is approximately just a little less than nine inches in diameter past the person and into the soccer goal.
But, since the person usually has excellent quickness and superior reaction time and a sixth sense of knowing where the ball is going, the results are final scores of 0-0, 1-0 and 2-1, and an American viewing public largely not interested.
Soccer, as we Yanks call the British born game of football, may be a huge participation sport in the United States, especially the youth players, but it takes a vast backseat to American football (college and professional), basketball (college and professional), baseball (college and professional) and some others when it comes to the interest required to make soccer a major sport from sea to shining sea plus Alaska and Hawaii.
Every four years, with the World Cup, we are reminded through patriotism that soccer’s excitement is in the eyes of the beholder. ESPN, with its wall to wall coverage on its outlets and on ABC, has thrust the sport on us this year but my guess is that the ratings for the game played by Team USA were relatively enormous, for televised soccer, but that only cursory viewing has been tabulated for the other games. My guess is the ratings for the USA’s loss to Ghana will remain higher than the upcoming World Cup Championship game will be.
USA sports fans take an interest any time we have the chance to whip a team of foreigners. Years ago, when the America’s Cup went from its longtime home of Newport RI to somewhere down under in Australia, ESPN showed it live in the middle of the night Eastern Time. The all-sports network was amazed at its viewing audience which was filled with Americans who were less interested in tacking and more interested in beating those damn Aussies.
While driving Monday to an appointment, I was taking in a short radio discussion on soccer. The question from the host was: What will it take to make soccer as popular in the United States as it is worldwide? The answers were way far off. For instance, one caller said it would take a superstar soccer player to capture the imagination of the Americans. We’ve tried Pelé, and we’ve tried Beckam. Neither captured anything other than bad press when their presence did nothing for increasing interest in the game though there was an amplified curiosity in the two individuals and their private lives.
Soccer is really a good game and more along the line of what Americans like in sports, more so than ice hockey. The idea of speed skating, slapping a little piece of charcoal with sticks to give us 0-0, 1-0 and 2-1 scores, in a haphazard way, is far less appealing the than the developing strategy of soccer. We know that the NFL is the biggest sport for viewing and add-ons in the United States. There’s nothing fast about football (college or professional) but there’s a lot of strategy. Basketball can be a fast sport or it can be at a slow tempo, but there’s lots of developing strategy and we can actually see the ball without a red glow around it while watching it on TV. Baseball (college or professional) is as slow as it gets but it’s a great spectator sport because it’s full of strategy and there’s no clock and plenty of time for bathroom breaks without missing anything other than so-called experts telling you things that are not expertish.
I’m not the constant or rabid soccer fan, but I can watch the game and get excited at good play and frustrated at bad passes and quick shots that are surely to miss, and I understand that keeping offensive pressure on throughout the game is the key to wearing down the opponent and celebrating a come-from-behind tie. However, if I were soccer czar in the United States, I would be doing what it takes to keep our better players in the United States instead of them fleeing to the European leagues where the public appreciates the sport a lot more than we do. It’s where the money is for salaries and endorsements, so when this World Cup is over, most of the stars of Team USA will be playing for Manchester United and other teams across the pond.
As USA Soccer Czar, my moves would be to give the sport more offense and less defense which equates to more scoring. And, more scoring means more interest from Americans who feast on the three primaries. And, maybe enough interest to sell more tickets and bring in better TV rating which equates to more money to the league and more salaries to the players.
While one of the great things about soccer is the length of the game with two 45-minute periods with a continuously running clock which means a game, with a short halftime and even with additional minutes, is over and done in two hours, just the right amount of time for a sleeper score, even if the racing up and down the field and the battles for the ball are somewhat enjoyable, suspenseful and exciting.
But, if soccer wants more money to make the sport more successful in the United States, there must be TV timeouts, say, at the 12-minute, 24-minute and 36 minute marks, breaks that should be limited to 60- or 90-seconds with the game clock stopped. There could be other times which would also be used for substitutions. This is very much the Americanization of the sport but it would allow ESPN and others to have in-game time to sell and, at homes and in the stadiums, time for the fans to use the restrooms and make purchases at the concession stands.
The biggest change I would make, though goes back to that 8-yard wide by 8-feet tall rectangle that fronts the goal which needs more balls going into it during the game if the sport is to be more appealing to the American football, baseball and basketball fans. So, I propose increasing the size to 10-yards wide by 10-feet tall, a more than generous increase in the frame. It would really open the game and attract the casual viewer who thirsts for more scoring from the most popular sport in the world but low on the list in the United States.
While most soccer players and fans would probably oppose the ideas, these changes would increase interest and the fan base, and the alterations would only apply to United States soccer, of course. When it comes time for the World Cup, Team USA would have to play under the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) rules and regulations, but that’s okay, as long as we win.