There are 49 days left before the World Cup gets underway, so that gives me 48 days(and some odd hours) to tell you the truth about soccer. I’m not a soccer elitist that insists the game be called “football”. I’m a soccer realist. Soccer may never overtake the NFL, but it’s already catching up to the NBA and MLB. A surging NHL is also seeing a growth in viewership, while MLS continues to add teams, seemingly every year. There are changes happening in the landscape of sports enthusiasm, and it’s partially due to the growth of youth athletics. More kids have the opportunity to play soccer and hockey now than baseball and basketball. That statement isn’t valid everywhere, of course, but it is surprising how true it really is.
I had the opportunity to play soccer at a young age(like many kids have in the last few generations), but soccer has been around in America since at least 1914. It was obviously played in America before 1914, but 100 years is a nice round number to use as our start to the Soccer timeline. 1914 saw the introduction of the 8-hour workday and $5 minimum wage, Babe Ruth taking the field for the first time for the Boston Red Sox, Wrigley Field hosting their first baseball game, and the foundation of the US Soccer Federation. You could say soccer has had its chance to become a major sport. It even had a 6 year head start on the NFL, but the sport sputtered and choked along the way, without much change in public perception. Soccer became viewed as a kind of on-and-off trend or fad. It wasn’t until 1994 that soccer got a real foothold and has been climbing(albeit slowly) ever since, but you may still have a hard time understanding why anyone would watch the sport.
Soccer can be frenetic from the first whistle, much like a hockey match, but it can also slow to a systematic crawl, like a pitching duel in baseball. It’s appeal lies in the intangibles:
- Witnessing an individual moment of brilliance can feel just like watching a running back break off a long run or seeing a contested three-pointer hit nothing but net, at the buzzer.
- An early lead for the underdog, can feel like a goal line stand, but that anxiety can last the entire match.
- Players move around the field fluidly like a basketball team on the court, and can cover miles of ground at a sprint, similar to Olympic runners.
All these quantifiable, intangible factors contribute to what is known as “the beautiful game”, and if you give it half a chance, you might find you enjoy it.
ESPN is betting big that you will give soccer a chance. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” paid over $100 million for the broadcast rights of the 2010 and 2014 World Cup. They aren’t just putting it all on red and letting it ride. ESPN has seen appreciable growth in viewership for each World Cup since 2002, and they are selling ads at a much faster rate for this World Cup, than the 2010 iteration. The demand is ripe for a company like ESPN to invest in the World Cup, if only because Americans love to watch big events. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on Earth, and ESPN has bought in. What are you waiting for? Grab a pint and lets catch a match!