If one looks up the word “soccer” in a dictionary, it gives the following definition: a football game in which two teams consisting of 11 players trying to head or kick a ball into the opponents’ goal. Being the most played sport in the world, its fans are notoriously enthusiastic, even causing riots; however, the United States has yet to catch up to the rest of the world’s passion for soccer, or “football,” as it is called elsewhere.
Soccer’s popularity has risen dramatically amongst the youth in the US with almost all American high schools now having soccer teams, not to mention the various rotary and club leagues available for future soccer stars to hone their skills and talents.
Another reason for soccer’s lukewarm reception in the United States is that it’s a very low-scoring game; it simply does not yield the huge scores of 110-98 that an NBA game may. Two goals–or scores–may not be enough to keep the American publics attention, which is often more geared toward instant gratification. Hockey may also be a lower scoring game, but its brutality often serves up enough excitement for fans.
Soccer has a time clock that continually ticks away regardless of what is happening on the field. Each half may be increased somewhat by what is known as “stoppage time” to allow for play missed because of an injury or a red or yellow card situation; however, stoppage time is kept to a minimum. Conversely, football and basketball stop the clock for timeouts, injuries, and foul situations. Baseball has natural breaks with the changing of innings. Soccer is played in two 45-minute halves with approximately a 15-minute break in between, which unfortunately does not allow time for marketing, those great Super Bowl commercials, and huge half-time extravaganzas.
Further, soccer often allows the score to end in a tie, which is unfathomable by American standards. Most Americans desire games that result with a clear winner and loser. Hence, the need for overtime and extra innings. Americans want closure.
Perhaps soccer’s lack of popularity in America is due to our not having thought of it in the first place, like the all-American top three: American football, basketball and baseball. As a sport, soccer does not have its origins or history here, and, hence, Americans are not the great standouts in it.
Additionally, soccer has more rules than one might think; most of which are not clearly understood by the American public. There is only one referee in soccer and two side refs–most often called “line judges.” Much of soccer’s nuances are wasted on Americans who are use to being able to have physical contact with the ball.
As Americans, we are great at running, hitting, and catching the ball, but to run down field, keeping the ball in play by dribbling it only with the feet seems foreign and is by no means our forte.
Another factor making soccer less attractive to Americans, or in some way less understood, is the whole riot thing. We Americans see rioting as an act reserved for overthrowing government or as a response of extreme defiance in the fact of injustice. We don’t understand it as a response to a sporting event. To many Americans it may even seem staged and not feel real or frightening, but more like something done as a routine response, an expected show put on by the spectators and sports fanatics.
The main reason soccer remains unpopular in the United States is its inability to generate money. The NFL is a billion-dollar industry, and money is more American than apple pie will ever be. Soccer’s lack of revenue will keep it from being popular at the professional level because sponsors and marketing potential are what professional sports are built on in the US. Soccer’s setup does not lend itself to capitalism–having only one ball and not much equipment needed by participants. Americans ask, “Where’s the acquirement, marketshare or revenue?”
Until industries and corporations can make soccer into a moneymaker as it has done with football and other sports, soccer really doesn’t have a chance. Its popularity shall never threaten the NFL or the NBA.
Steve Shepard, a KHSAA-certified official, was interviewed for this story December 6, 2009. Shepard is a former varsity soccer coach for the Madisonville-North Hopkins High School Lady Maroons Soccer team and has played soccer at the high school, college, and semi-pro level.
Q. Mr. Shepard – Can you tell me what your thoughts are about why soccer is not as big here in the United States as it is in other countries?
R. For one, there is no stoppage time in soccer, and it puts a severe hindrance on the marketing ability of soccer with sponsors. However, it is very big with the youth in the United States, and I have avidly worked with many groups over the years as a coach, so I know that it is well accepted with the younger crowd and youth organizations.
Q. Mr. Shepard, what do you think was the turning point for soccer, and what will be the deciding factor that will make or break the sport?
R. I think everyone enjoyed watching the women win the World Cup in 1999, and soccer has grown in leaps and bounds ever since not to mention David Beckham’s playing for LA Galaxy has brought an added amount of attention to the sport. If the media would just pay more attention to the sport and the sponsors would back the sport along with the players, I think Americans would take notice of the sport more. The lack of it not being televised further prevents it from being more readily available to Americans, which, in turn, prevents Americans the opportunity of learning to enjoy the sport.
Q. Do you think that David Beckham will stay in the United States?
R. No, not really. However, I am sure the popularity of soccer is still going to maintain growth. Now everyone is starting to see how overall the sport has grown in popularity with the public and with the media.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Shepard. I appreciate it and am sure my readers shall also appreciate your comments.
Soccer is a well respected sport in every country around the world, and for that reason alone the United States should make every effort to welcome it just as it does for the big three, American football, basketball and baseball. Surely, sporting events, such as soccer, are the least of our worries in this world today, but we now live in a world-community and must open our minds to other perspectives, including that worldwide when one says, “football,” it is usually soccer that is being talked about, not the NFL.
References for this article include: Soccer.com and msn.foxsports.com