by John Furgele
Soccer will never become the mainstream American sport than it is across the globe, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. On Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 3:30 PM EST, MLS will stage conclude its 13th season with the MLS Cup Final that pits the Columbus Crew against the New York Red Bulls. The Crew had the best record in the 14 team league, while the Red Bulls backed into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
I certainly don’t expect Americans to start watching soccer regularly, but I get the feeling that Americans like one-off events. The Super Bowl is the ultimate one-off event, one game for a title. The BCS Championship Game is another one-offer as is the NCAA National Championship Basketball Game. Even Game 7s, which in essence are one-offers usually bring in viewers.
Based on the one-off premise, I would think Americans would want to tune in to watch one soccer game, one game for the United States soccer championship. Is that too much to ask? After all, the 2006 World Cup Final between Italy and France (Italy won) drew a 14.3 rating and that game was broadcast on a Sunday afternoon at the end of July. The Super Bowl gets great ratings because people like my lovely wife and her sisters, who watch nary a football game all year, watch this game. NFL games usually get 12 ratings, 20 plus for playoffs, upper 20s for the championship games, but 40s for the Super Bowl. The only way that happens is you get the non-fan to watch one time. So can’t 250,000 to 500,000 non soccer fans tune in to watch this one special game?
Do Americans dislike soccer that much that they won’t tune in for one game, or even the second half of one game? Soccer has a lot going for it. First, a game that kicks off at 4 PM will be over by 6 PM, requiring just a two hour committment. Two, there are no commercials during play. That makes it hard to get beverages, food or use the bathroom, but the DVR was created for many reasons. Three, the game has a continous flow to it. There aren’t delays so the replay official can ruin a call or prolong a game. There aren’t timeouts that cause the last five minutes of a basketball game to take 45 minutes. Soccer games move by fairly quickly, and in today’s text message society, you would think that this would play to the short attention spans that most Americans have. And, four, even though there aren’t a ton of goals scored, if you watch a game, there are plenty of chances to score goals, but unlike some of our sports, it is just plain hard to score in soccer. A 1-0 soccer game is scoffed at, but a 1-0 baseball game is a pitching gem and a 7-6 football is a great defensive struggle. Why is there a double standard for soccer?
There you have it. I will not ask you to like soccer, appreciate it, or by all means, I would never try to convert you to becoming a soccer fan. But, I will ask the sports fan to give the MLS Cup a look because….it’s for a championship.