10 Reasons Why Soccer May Never Be Truly Big in America

Sean DowlingContributor IIIJune 19, 2011

10 Reasons Why Soccer May Never Be Truly Big in America

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    As an American soccer fan, I'm disappointed that the "world's game" takes a back seat in one of the most sports-crazy nations in the world.

    Why are Americans so passionate about football, basketball, baseball, hockey and golf; and not soccer, too?

    Don't get me wrong, I take the "big four" American sports just as seriously as I do world football, but it's just not the same in the States when it comes to soccer, and I seem to be in the minority.

    During this slideshow, I'm going to lay out the major contributing factors as to why soccer isn't as mainstream, and what could be the catalyst for a change in American sports culture.


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    Let face it: the MLS is just not up to par.

    It's borderline unwatchable. The football is mediocre, with little technical ability, and intricate play. It can be fast paced, physical and entertaining, but that is seldom.

    When you're a true football fan, it's very difficult to watch football of the highest caliber all weekend from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France and then transition to the MLS in an attempt to follow all season.

    The league has attracted big names to the states to play a bit before retiring. Which creates a buzz, ticket sales, and positive publicity for a few weeks, but has become stale now.

    Thierry Henry and David Beckham have all done okay in the MLS, while Freddie Ljunberg struggled with injuries in Seattle and Chicago before returning to Europe to play for Celtic, but none of them really have done much to raise the proverbial bar of league play, or attracted additional talent from Europe.

    But with all that said; the league is improving, and there are promising young stars that are worth a watch. Hopefully with the expansion of new teams, the league can continue to grow and the US can cultivate more homegrown talent through their domestic league.


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    As an American football fan, you've got to be committed and dedicated to supporting your club by watching them play...

    This means waking up early and watching your team in the morning on Saturday and Sunday generally around 5am-noon, depending on what time zone you live in the States with the European time difference.

    You also have the daunting task of bailing from work early, taking time off, or live streaming to your desk computer at work during the work day for critical domestic, and Champions League ties that take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because they always start at 2:45 or 3:45 EST, depending on the time of the year.

    You also have to frequently find news, and track your team on the web,due to the lack of European football coverage in the USA. Thus making things difficult for lazy Americans that simply turn to ESPN to watch Sportscenter or just read the ticker on ESPN 2 or ESPNNEWS.

    So all things considered this isn't too much to ask from a passionate football fan. But to a person just realizing how great European football is, this may seem like a bit much...

Socio-Economics and Oppurtunity

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    Children in the United States just have more options.

    Most young kids start out playing soccer, and use the coordination as the foundation to their athletic careers.

    Then later they leave the game in pursuit of a new challenge by the time they hit the age of 9-10.

    Why is this?

    Choices. Kids in America can play any sport they want, regardless of location or cost to play. Young athletes now have the opportunity to play anything from football, basketball, baseball, hockey, track and field, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, wrestling and soccer at a very young age.

    Most countries around the world don't have this many options for student athletes, or the resources to supply athletes with corresponding instruction and equipment.

Satellite/ Cable TV

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    If you're an American following European football, you must do one of the following two things (or both hopefully): frequently visit a local bar or pub early on weekends so you can watch the games, or purchase additional programming through your cable or satellite provider so you can follow your favorite European club.

    Another option can be watching on the Internet, but that can be tricky and unreliable.

    Basically you have to purchase some sort of sports package in order to see a lot of Europe's best teams on a consistent basis. ESPN and ESPN2 are getting better, but one La Liga game and one game from the Premier League with a little MLS sprinkled in simply won't suffice.

    In addition to that, in America, ESPN no longer carries Champions League games, so getting anyone on the "Worldwide Leader" to discuss the world's game is few and far between. Not to mention the paucity of highlights and lack of coverage from domestic leagues.

    Yet another reason why a new American sports fan may be hesitant, it literally costs money to follow and watch, plus your investing time on the Internet reading about your squad because ESPN's coverage is amateur at best.

History/Success, or Lack Thereof...

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    The United States are improving under coach Bob Bradley but still have a tendency to play down to their competition and believe that their inflated world ranking is reality, currently 22nd. 

    The USMNT are playing poorly on US soil in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. They survived the group stage by the skin of their teeth after losing in Tampa 2-1 to Panama but recovered to beat Guadeloupe in Kansas City 1-0. (Yes you read that correctly, they lost to Panama, and only beat Guadeloupe by 1..)

    Now they face Jamaica on Sunday in DC, which will no doubt be a tougher test.

    The history of the United States in the World Cup isn't great. Our greatest victory was a shock 1-0 over England in 1950 in the group stage. Our most recent triumph was making to the final of the Confederations Cup in 2009, but losing to Brazil in the final 3-2 in South Africa.

    With the American sports fan so desperate for success and a bandwagon to jump on, the deck is stacked against the US Men's national team right now.


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    If Landon Donovan is the face of your domestic league, you may have problems.

    The United States just haven't produced world-class stars. Freddie Adu was dubbed the "next Pele" or better, had a contract and endorsements at the age of 14. He's currently on loan in the second division in Turkey. You couldn't watch him play even if you wanted to.

    Demps, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley are all playing well in Europe, following the foot-steps of Timmy Howard, Brad Friedel, Claudio Reyna, Alexi Lalas and Brian McBride (just to name a few) in terms of playing abroad, and being a vital member to your squad.

    Hopefully this trend will continue and more Americans can sign deals with big clubs and play well developing in Europe.

    This would no doubt pay dividends and translate to success for our National team and popularity of the game, if indeed there was a true international American football superstar. 


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    Two huge names have departed from the United States Mens National Team with in the last few years. Both have gone on to have superb careers so far, and will no doubt only improve in the coming years if they remain healthy. I'm referring to Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic.

    Rossi was born and grew up in New Jersey and plays in Spain, for Villareal. He is currently being linked to a move to Barcelona. He decided to play for his parents' native Italy, and now has 23 caps for the Nerazzurri.

    In an ironic twist of fate, after Rossi declared that he'd play for Italy, he was left off the roster for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, no doubt causing a spiteful laugh in America.

    Another different situation with a similar result was Neven Subotic.

    The phenomenal young defender has created one of the best defensive tandems in world football. His tag team with Mats Hummels helped Borussia Dortmund win Bundesliga in dominating fashion last season.

    Subotic decided to play for his native Serbia, after featuring for the United States in U-17 and U-20 squads while playing at the University of South Florida. He also lived in Bradenton, Fla., the home of the US Men's training facility for the U-17's.

    Subotic supposedly got in a disagreement with a former coach and decided to take his talents to Mainz in Germany in 2007. Making his first appearance for Serbia in 2009.

    These great players had the opportunity to be heroes in the States if they would have stayed. These two could have had a massive impact on our national team success and popularity of the game for many years to come.


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    World football can be a tough sell for a lot of reasons to Americans, but one of the most basic is proximity.

    It's difficult to expect fans to pick up and be passionate about teams or countries and cities that they never visited.

    American sports fans haven't fully discovered the level of play or how dynamic the game is because they haven't fully given it a chance.

    But if Europeans can watch the NFL, NBA and MLB; there's no reason why American sports fans shouldn't reciprocate and watch "the world's game" too.

Highlight Obsessed

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    Americans are generally concerned with only a few things when it comes to competition: who won, who scored, and how'd it look?

    ESPN has created the highlight obsessed American sports fan that only wants to see the dunk, the home run or the touchdown catch or run. Or just the box score in the paper or on the web the following day because the game was on too late.

    World football is often also referred to as the "beautiful game" for a reason. There is so much more that goes into play before the ball is in the back of the net.

    American's mostly complain that soccer is "boring" or there isn't "enough scoring". This is an  ignorant belief by people not familiar with the European game.

    Though people are entitled to their opinion, the fact remains that the typical American fan that thinks "soccer is boring" can only name three teams in the world: The NY Red Bulls, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Too Much Competition Against Other Major Sports Leagues

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    How can the NFL Draft get more coverage than the UEFA Champions League Final a month after it happens during a lockout?

    The NFL has usurped baseball as our national pastime, and every other sport is just trying to keep up in America.

    The NBA Finals were spectacular this season. The Stanley Cup Finals went to a Game 7, baseball is approaching the All-Star Game, golf is having its second major...

    There is little room for anything else on the docket of the American sports fan, it's that simple.

Entertainment and Sports Programming Network

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    The solution is the problem.

    If ESPN decided to increase their limited coverage of La Liga and the EPL in America, the game's popularity here would soar.

    Since they only show one or two games a week from Europe at 7:30 in the morning, it's not catching on. If they decided to purchase the rights to the Champions League again for America, that could also be the catalyst to more coverage and shows on their half dozen networks.

    They did a good job with the World Cup and the Euros but it remains to be seen how anxious they are about European soccer in America, especially after Setanta Sports failed miserably two years ago. Euro 2012 next summer may go along way in deciding as they will have the coverage again.

    ESPN is watched more by men 18-35 than any other channel, if soccer was shown and discussed on SportsCenter, with highlight shows and analysis, no doubt it would flourish.

    The foundation in any sports league is a solid TV contract.

    David Stern took the NBA from tape-delayed Finals games to four prime time regular season games a week. The NFL is in the trouble they are now primarily due to the $9 billion in revenue that needs to be split up, that was generated through TV network deals.

    The NHL was on the ESPN family of networks three nights a week in the 90's; after their lockout they were relegated to Versus, which no one can find; and the popularity of the league has suffered despite its highest viewership for the finals in a decade.

    Hopefully, ESPN can find a way to jam the "world's game" down the throat of the ignorant American sports fan, because without that; sadly I feel there's no other way soccer will ever become truly big in America.