Tuesday, February 07, 2012

SuperBowl: I'm Glad the USA doesn't Love Soccer

So the Superbowl happened yesterday, with all the fanfare, hype, and overpriced advertising space. And Madonna something something and OMIGOSH A MIDDLE FINGER and something something of ALL TIME EVER! SERIOUSLY! Thirty seconds after the game has ended is perspective enough to make all-time statements, don't you know. And I'm glad. Glad it's over... but glad mostly that the good old USA gives such a great deal of damn about The Superbowl, and thereby leaves the FIFA World Cup for the rest of the world to enjoy. And I hope it stays that way! To all my American readers, real or imagined: enjoy your American football. And back up off REAL football (what you call Soccer). Please leave it to the rest of the world, and if you ever feel like taking up pro soccer as a new sports thing, kindly re-watch Michael Jackson's 1993 Superbowl halftime show, and forget whatever you were just thinking.

American Football is a pretty good game, all-told. It's an interesting exercise in cooperation of different role-players, a fantastic combination of power, brute strength, and finesse, and only hockey, and perhaps rugby, excels it in its ability to combine a sustained exhibition of human athletic potential with the real danger of deadly violence. Its regimented player roles and its tradition of marching band music echoes American military culture, its glamor positions (quarterback, running back) allow for fantasies of glory and spectacle, while its hierarchical nature reminds America's underclass that somebody's gotta block for the quarterback, and somebody's gotta polish fingernails for minimum wage in order for America's billionaires to become as rich as they have. It's the quintessential American sport.

But here's what Football isn't: egalitarian. And I'm not just talking about the way the Quarterbacks and Running Backs get all the glory, I'm talking about the way you NEED to be middle-class or better to become good at it. You know why? 

'cause somebody's gotta pay for all those pads, before you even get started. And replace them every time you grow.
The only worse sport is ice hockey, where you need to buy all those pads, PLUS skates, PLUS rent ice time at a rink somewhere (unless you live in Minnesota or Saskatchewan, and lakes still actually freeze over where you are).

You can play flag football, two hand touch, or street hockey, yes, but if you want to go anywhere at all in an organized way, somebody's going to have to bite down and swallow that equipment outlay. Because of this American Football will always shut out people below a certain income threshold. Because of this (and climate), Ice Hockey also will never be popular outside of wealthy, northern hemisphere countries.

USA even already has a more egalitarian major sport: basketball, which only requires a ball, and maybe a hoop (which is pretty cheap, and can be found in every playground) and the NBA is the most Youtube-friendly, starry-eyed-dreams-of-big-paychecks sport in the USA, perhaps the world...
Youtube Friendly.

So stay away from soccer, would you, America?

American Kids: dream of this:

not this.

The rest of the world deserves soccer to be theirs. Deserves to have the USA and its hyper-saturated sports media stay out of it. To enjoy it without you. To shake their heads when you talk about "real football" as if the oval ball version is it. To nod patiently when you talk about how you're trying to "get" soccer.

Why does the world deserve soccer to be theirs, to enjoy it without inviting the USA to the party? 

The first reason: The brilliance of soccer/REAL football [soccer from now on; we Canadians call it that, too], and the reason it will always be the world's most popular sport: all you need to play soccer is four objects to be your goalposts, and one thing that's generally round, and small and light enough to move it around with your feet. And that's it. A ball of duct tape or tied together rags will do if you can't afford a FIFA regulation football. And with those things, the poorest kid in the slum of the poorest country can dream of being a world football star. Because ANYBODY can get started in soccer with a minimal outlay, countries that are nowhere near the OECD and the "first world" can be legitimate threats to do some damage in international soccer competitions in a way that they NEVER will in American football or hockey. In turn, these poor kids who made good set their home countries aflame with passion for the sport, and their team, and inspire more kids to bat around a ball in a nearby playground. 
Why horn in on that, you big rich meanies?

The second reason: I just don't think a country that has passionate followings for every college sport, NFL, NBA, MLB, Nascar, and NHL, deserves to take a run at soccer as well. Every few years, the sports websites write a few "Here comes soccer" articles, and US Women's soccer is a serious contender in every international tournament, but if the US wins the FIFA World Cup, with so much else on the sports calendar, the reaction of many Americans' will be "Sweet! Is Nascar on?" If South Korea won the FIFA world cup, you'd hear about it from anyone who witnessed it, for twenty, maybe forty years after. Ask a Brit the last year that England won the World Cup of Soccer. Most of them will know. Ask any over 45 what they think about the England/Argentina game in '86, and learn some new curse words. Ask a Korean where they were for the Korea-Italy game in 2002. Ask people from France where they were in 1998, or a Dutchman old enough to remember the 70s what it's like to have lost the final three times now.

Sorry to remind you of this, my English readers.

Because yeah, there are countries where other sports mean more to the people than soccer means to them -- India and Pakistan have cricket, New Zealand and Australia, and probably South Africa, have  rugby (I haven't asked any Indians, Pakistani, Kiwis, Aussies or South Africans, but it seems that way from here - please correct me if I'm wrong, and there's another sport you care about more - or if soccer's it there, too), Japan and Cuba and a bunch of other Central American countries probably care more about baseball, sure... but if you look at the number of soccer-mad nations, I think it's fair to say that in the aggregate, soccer means more, to more nations, than any other sport in the world.

And that's why I'm glad it's not also the top sport in the USA.

We've seen that if you throw enough money into sports programs, it's possible to become dominant: 

If we compare China's medal totals in the olympics: once China decided to go for a little national prestige by investing in its Olympic team, it went from "Did not participate" to first overall in the 2008 summer games. 
Meanwhile, once the Russian government had other things to care about than engaging in pissing contests with the USA, they went from first overall in Lillehammer (last time in a long string of first or second overall finishes, summer AND winter games) to 11th in Vancouver.

If USA became soccer mad, and invested as much in promoting and developing soccer talent as it does in developing talent in other areas, between its huge population base (talent pool) and the amount it invests in sports, the USA would get itself somewhere in the top ten, maybe top five, year after year.

But I'm glad it doesn't. I'm glad top US athletes try to become wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, shooting guards and power forwards, and to a lesser degree, pitchers outfielders and shortstops, rather than having all America's world-class athletes wreaking havoc in the world's midfields, backfields and goal lines. 

What would it take for Soccer to take over the North American sports horizon? 

Well, this is why I think we can rest safe: for the USA sports media to be electrified by soccer, they'd have to see the world's best players, playing awesome games, live on prime-time US TV, but thanks to the mostly European time zones of games involving the world's most competitive teams, and most thrilling players, that's just not going to happen for now. As it is, US soccer fans have to stay up late, or wake up early, or miss work, to catch the world's best soccer: these are things a dedicated fan happily does, but a marginal fan won't. This means there's a pretty low chance that world-class soccer will start catching channel-flippers at times when they're ready and primed to have a cool sports experience. This is why soccer is popular in North America right up to the college level, and then drops off, as North American soccer stars funnel towards the north american sports that have more lucrative professional leagues... or get recruited overseas, where they have a harder time inspiring other kids from their hometown to get into soccer: momentum fails to build.

source - this is what happens to North American soccer stars:

If the world's best soccer players started coming to the USA, and playing for US teams, it might catch on: superstar power works in the North American sports market. Look how Wayne Gretzky's move to LA changed things for the popularity of the NHL in the '90s. But right now, the calibre of the US teams, and the kind of economics they deal with, make signing a Messi or Ronaldo, in his prime, to a US Soccer club, an fiscal impossibility. It didn't work with Pele in the 70s, a washed-up David Beckham hasn't, and won't, do it, and if a player like Messi DID take a huge paycheck to sign with a US team, he'd be excoriated even more than Alex Rodruigez was when he took the money and signed for the non-contending Texas Rangers.

Secondly: too many 0-0 or 1-1 draws. The two most popular sports in the USA right now are sports where scores like 21-32, or 93-101 are considered completely normal games. Even the NHL has changed its rules to try and increase scoring, and give fans an outcome for every game, and more 4-3 games instead of 2-1 games, even if it's a shootout win or loss. The rest of the world would cry foul to the high heavens if FIFA suggested changing soccer's rules in order to win over American philistines who don't see the beauty in a 0-0 draw, who don't appreciate a 1-0 win with no shots on goal allowed as a thrilling and utter rout.

Thirdly: the flopping. And honestly, this is why soccer will probably never beat ice hockey on my list of "Sports I enjoy watching."

 Look at NFL football and NHL Hockey. North American sports fans, for the most part, respect players who take a solid hip check and keep moving, who shake off a tackle, who play hurt, and who don't pull dramatic waterworks in order to try and get a referee's whistle.

As long as the above funny commercial hits anywhere close to the mark, I'd say the brutal, glorious chaos of rugby has a better chance of becoming a major US sport than soccer. (And for that matter... if there were a battle royale between ten players of each team sport, I'd put my money on Team Rugby to come out on top, after a challenge from a group of hockey players who looked great at first, but got winded after they realized there were no line changes.)

However... the television broadcast rights for World Cup finals keeps spiraling, as the potential audiences reach heady highs -- the next World Cup Finals might reach 40 billion viewers or more (that's by some people watching more than one game), and advertising revenues for the FIFA world cup will likely surpass the ten billion dollars mark in the not-too-far-future. With all that money on the table, and many of the world's richest advertisers and the world's most lucrative sports market still being American based, my guard remains up, despite all the reasons I've listed not to worry... and it always will.


Anonymous said...

You don't buy football equipment, it is provided by your team or highschool.
Football is more dangerous than hockey or rugby, watch a game man, guys get seriously injured every single game...and they only play 16 games for a reason!

Poor people can't play any organized sport without assistance. Sure they can play unorganized sports, like street football, in which case all you need is a football. That's it, a football. So I don't get your poor people can play futbol but not football.

Other countries play futbol because of tradition(stemming from various sources....colonialism, futbol is an older sport and was introduced first, etc....), America plays football because they invented the game.

Argentina and Spain both have world class basketball teams along with futbol teams, but England only has a good futbol team, So do the English deserve to win the WC more?

Both sports are fantastic. Can't we just leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, this rant reminds me of the k-pop fanboys who are hoping that k-pop never becomes popular outside of Korea, lest the rest of the world "ruin" it...

Anonymous said...

You're too funny.

Most American kids learn soccer before they enter grade school....From the spring to the fall, the kids are in the parks (or streets) playing....lol

Hockey is popular too in certain areas. Street or floor hockey being played on skates or whatever is popular too btw. :)

Roboseyo said...

1. thanks for the info about football pads. Also, gross... and fact is, whether it's me or a corporate sponsor or my school, somebody's still gotta foot the bill for the pop warner pads, and an affluent country's more likely to find someone willing to do so.

2. If hockey players had to line up facing each other every 14 seconds of play, we'd see a few injuries per game and they'd only be able to play one game a week, just like football. Have you seen how fast players can go on skates? If football players had razor blades strapped to the bottoms of their feet, and were all holding six foot long sticks which they could use to hit each other if they chose to, and quarterbacks had a tool that let them fling the football at 100mph, and the football were made of hard rubber instead of inflated leather, I'd believe football is inherently more dangerous than hockey.

I'm still not convinced that football is even more dangerous than rugby... which is played wearing a headband, rather than pads from calves to crown.

re: Argentina and Spain...
here's the thing: the fewer sports a country's got going, or at least cares passionately about, the more it means to find success in that sport. Just like the less often I can afford to buy orange juice, the better it tastes when I drink some. US sports fans basically have a fridge loaded with everything from grape juice to passionfruit-mango, and happen not to go for orange juice, while the rest of the world is passionate about it.

I am satisfied with that arrangement. That is all.

And let's not forget: a country can have teams in a lot of sports it doesn't care much about. Imagine Canada had a world class rugby team. Imagine one year, the Canadian men's hockey team lost the Ice Hockey World Championship to New Zealand's newly formed Ice Hockey team, while Canada's rugby team beat New Zealand for the rugby world cup. Both countries would be pissed at losing the trophy that means something to them.

But America's sports scene is still so flooded that, rather than having a week-long party at winning the FIFA world cup, many US sports fans would go "Sweet. Is Nascar/College Basketball/Football on?" you can't disagree with that.

The Late Picks said...

The Americans I have met that like "soccer" tend to be some of my favourites but I don't discriminate based on sports.

I don't mind the US getting more into soccer (but only if they like it for it is*) because it helps break down the European thinking in FIFA (FIFA is very much worldly but in a Europe is best and the rest of the world are colonies way... **** off if you want to change it).

I doubt America would dominate even if they really took to football. They might be the best but only just.

There is a great article from the New York Times about the Ajax (A Dutch Club) youth system and what it takes to go through the ranks there.

Most of the American readers seemed to feel like it was abusive and it wouldn't fly in the US.

* Entering into a relationship thinking you can change them is always a bad idea.

chiam said...

You don't need equipment to play hockey. Good ol road hockey is fun fun fun.

Roboseyo said...

Now come on, @chiam. Read what I wrote:

"You can play flag football, two hand touch, or street hockey, yes, but if you want to go anywhere at all in an organized way, somebody's going to have to bite down and swallow that equipment outlay."

MadlocoB said...

Sorry, Robo, but your analysis is a bit flawed. Have you looked at the NFL team roasters (or any college football team roaster)? You'll find a ton, of not the majority of players coming from underprivileged backgrounds. As someone said before, if the kid's got talent and size, equipment will not be an issue, whether the kid's from Watts or Westchester county.

chiam said...

I read that, but I thought I would reiterate it. Equipment is pretty cheap if you buy it used. A number of leagues do hand me down systems because you need new equip every year, so there is a kind of circle of use.

Roboseyo said...

I'm not just talking about poor kids in a rich country, @Madlocob, who WILL find a booster willing to spot them equipment (which is why there are football and hockey players with underprivileged backgrounds), because even if I'M not loaded, someone in my community is... I'm also talking about poor kids in a poor country, where City Hall, the rich guy in town, or the school board would rather replace 15-year-old school books, build a school building, pave a road, or dig a fresh water well, than blow it on football pads.

3gyupsal said...

Here are some other differences between the National Football League and soccer.

1. Most football players go to college. Many don't graduate but most have a better education than 90% of the premiere league.

2. The premiere league is basically Manchester united. It has the same problem as Major League Baseball. It's not egalitarian from that point of view, rich teams do well. The National Football League has salary caps which keeps it interesting. Instead of having one team dominate every year.

3. Someone already pointed this out, but high schools provide the pads. Also if your school is small enough you usually don't have to "try out," for football, you can just join the team.

4. It's also worth pointing out that during the last world cup, the U.S. soccer team played some pretty exciting games, and people weren't really that indifferent to it. Soccer has also been pretty popular in the U.S. for many years, and even though it doesn't have a big fan base, more and more young players will create a larger talent pool so that someday the U.S. will actually be competitive at the world cup.

I'm not advocating football over soccer, but I do like the N.F.L. as a professional sports league.

John from Daejeon said...

Spot on, Roboseyo. The United States of American doesn't need to also contribute to all those kidnappings of soccer players and their family members, extreme soccer hooliganism, soccer stadium riots that leave scores dead, or the family violence associated with the aftermath of drinking and gambling when one's team ends up losing and the father/husband/boyfriend needs to release their soccer-related anger afterwards.

But that's just me, as I am pretty much anti-professional sports. I mean, can you just imagine all the good that could be done in this world of ours if we spent "just half" of what is spent on sports (including gambling and booze) on things that really matter, like educating everyone in the world for free until they hold a decent job that they like, feeding those who are starving, building shelters for those who are homeless, spending quality time with "our" families, actually sending people out into "outer space" to explore this Universe of ours, creating alternative/green sources of power, etc.?

Well, I need to run right now. It seems that the President of the U.S. actually did something pretty outstanding today that he should have done a long time ago (involving some great kids, a marshmallow gun, and science) instead of celebrating with overpaid jocks in the White House Rose Garden, and I'd like to forward it on to some of my students as they need all the inspiration they can get, especially since they aren't "celebrated" for the good that they will contribute to the world as doctors, scientists, teachers, electricians, farmers, plumbers, and, generally, just good, positive, productive members of mankind that just don't have the wherewithal to run around in circles kicking a ball as the god/gods gave them a few extra brain cells worth using (thankfully) for the betterment of all of us.


John from Daejeon said...

Roboseyo, since you site doesn't allow links, I like to point this out a little clearer for your readers who want to see something truly couragous that involves something quite a bit more substantial than just a rather meaningless game: "Obama lauds formerly homeless teen at science fair. Samantha Garvey, 18, presented her project at the White House and had a presidential chat."


Jake in Korea said...

I for one from an American standpoint, am glad that America hasn't and probably never will jump on to the soccer-mania bandwagon.

American football is like Rugby in that unless the players are huge, the game just isn't exciting. The beauty of soccer is that even people in dirt poor countries, with minimal nutrition can play it because while it requires a bit of speed and agility, it does not require the kind of physical mass and strength (one part DNA, one part nutrition, one part exercise and possibly one part designer drugs) that modern day Rugby or American football does. Players in the not so distant past weren't nearly as huge as they are today. Soccer really levels the field in that respect.

While most American children play plenty of soccer when they are young, for some reason the vast majority lose interest in it before they graduate from high school. It may very well be because the links between soccer teams and cities in America are very weak, while those with basketball, baseball and football are very strong. Big cities in the USA already have their own long established baseball, basketball, football and sometimes even hockey teams. It may also be that Americans already have their national identity and history tied up in these games, and thus aren't looking for another sport to use as a tool to project their national or hometown pride.

In countries that have no real history in organized sports leagues, taking up soccer makes perfect sense for it's simplicity, minimal size/strength requirements and its universally understood rules.

To be honest, if most of the players in any given sport are not American, then most Americans could really care less about that sport. Hence the popularity of Nascar over Formula One, American Football over Soccer or Rugby, and Baseball over Cricket. If the players ain't American, and no one on the team is from my hometown, why should I invest the time in trying to decide which team I'm going to support? It'd be a whole lot easier to just watch Nascar while crushing empty cans of beer against my forehead. Yeeehaaww!

Roboseyo said...


links are totally allowed... but moderation is on right now, because I've been having pest problems.

Craig said...

I think football (soccer) is big enough to accommodate America getting its act together. It's the only real 'world' game and they are unlikely to dominate the sport no matter how much money is thrown at the problem.

Maybe the fact that America isn't a big force in world football is one of the reasons why it hasnt caught on over there. Most of the sports that they do play are pretty much domestic only.

You get the odd kid playing ice hockey in Europe but it's generally because they were crap at football (soccer). Only university students who aren't fit enough to play rugby get involved in American Football and basketball is something for a rainy day when the groundsman won't let you on the football (soccer pitch).

As for Nascar, isn't that the one where they go round and round a big oval track? That's not going to catch on elsewhere.

I think Americans deserve a chance to participate more in a sport that the rest of the world plays.

Anonymous said...

Wrong Robo...
There were more Americans at the 2010 World Cup in S. Africa...

At the England / USA game there were 8,000 American fans(tickets sold) compared to England's 6,000

Stop the stereo type that Americans don't "Love" soccer.

Roboseyo said...

so... would you say that Americans are more passionate about international soccer than they are about NFL football, NBA Basketball, or even NBA baseball? Because a lot of US attendees might only tell us that US has a lot of people with money to travel.

Sports revenue comparison (from Wikipedia): NFL - $11 billion; MLB: $7 billion NBA: $3.8BLN NHL$2.9BLN; MLS: $028BLN -- less than a tenth of the NHL, which is still recovering from the lockout, and is fighting for relevance in many of its US markets. Average MLS attendance is double the WNBA, but revenue's WAY behind the other major sports.

TV ratings for World Cup soccer have improved every 4 years, but they're still not coming anywhere near the ratings for NBA, MLB, or NFL championships, and the MLS is still pretty irrelevant, talentwise, compared to the EPL, or La Liga, which attract the world's top players the way the New York Yankees do.

Meanwhile, as a few other commenters have pointed out: Americans like to follow successful Americans. Tennis was much more popular, and better covered in the US sports media, when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe were winning. Now that a Swede, a Spaniard, and a Serbian have been swapping championships, it doesn't get the buzz it once did. Who follows the Tour de France in America now that Armstrong's out? Lots of other countries do the same -- how many Koreans gave a damn about figure skating before the age of Yuna Kim -- but the point stands. If USA has a legitimate shot at winning a world cup, if American athletes catch the buzz guys like Messi and Rooney and Ronaldo do, it's a different ballgame.

But or now, I'm glad that's not the case.

Craig: yeah, you're probably right, that world soccer could survive a stronger US team... but I'm glad the soccer world cup doesn't get blown up by the US media's hype machine the way the superbowl does, for now, and as we've seen with Basketball, where US dominance is no longer assured the way it was in 1992, it IS harder to stay ahead of the world these days, even for the big rich ones.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple points to make.

Firstly: MLB is the second biggest sport in the USA, there's a pretty big dropoff between that and the NBA. The NBA was getting close last decade, but there's been a dropoff in popularity since. Not sure of the reason, some people say it's the showboating, some say it's the undisciplined players, some say it's because it's hard for more than two sports to be popular at once.

Second: Your dangerous-ness of the sport topic. First, the argument that IF hockey players lined up to ram into each other isn't applicable, because that is not how hockey is played. Yes, hockey is ultra fast, but that doesn't mean much when you aren't constantly charging at someone. Also one loses their balance much easier on ice when checked (compared to having feet planted). According to this study http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5002567816 football players are more likely (barely, but still more) to be injured than hockey players. I have more links I was looking at to prove this, but the post would get a bit long with all the URLs.
Additionally, football players are far more likely to get injured (about twice the rate per game) than rugby players. http://www.esquire.com/cm/esquire/data/Dangers-of-the-Game-Report-Esquire.pdf page three there compared to http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/8471469.stm
I have heard it argued in places that it is actually because of all the padding the players have. They feel like they are less likely to be injured, so they charge full out, instead of being more cautious with their bodies as rugby players are.

Thirdly: Americans don't necessarily ONLY like high scoring sports. Yes, we do have football and basketball which are. Incidentally, the high scores from football come from rules that favor offenses put in place by the NFL commissioner back in the 70s, when games were often 0-7 or 0-3. This was because of the fear that ratings would drop, not necessarily because they were dropping. Also, MLB is our second most popular sport, and was the biggest for a long time. Yes, MLB game scores are typically higher than soccer, but not by much. There also aren't ties, and you're right that people from the US generally do not appreciate the beauty of a tie. I for one definitely need to have a winner.

Fourth: The egalitarian comment. Now, I'm not going to blithely repeat what others have said without putting this addition in first. I get that your point was that it can't be played easily worldwide. However, from the structure of your post, it sounded as if you were only talking about the USA for a bit there - mostly because of the comments before about american military culture, hierarchy of the wealthy, etc. That is why you have a lot of people posting about how pads are loaned out. But their point still remains for the US. Anyone from the US can play, and it's not like we're trying to force it down other people's throats...well, except maybe Canada and England.

For the record, I don't particularly care about soccer becoming popular in the USA, so you've got a point there. And this is even from someone who loved playing on soccer teams from first to 12th grade. But to tear the sport down in the inflammatory way you did irked me. But along with you, I hope that soccer doesn't catch on here. I really don't want a challenger to our reigning sport.

Love for your posts most of the time. Sincerely,
a lurker.