Why We Should Be Bigger Soccer and Hockey Fans, but Aren't

Austin SchoenContributor IJanuary 10, 2012

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of fans watching the 2011 MLS Cup match between the Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on November 20, 2011 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated the Dynamo 1-0.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Upon doing some self-reflecting, I have come to the conclusion that there are many people, myself included, that give hockey and soccer a bad rap. Growing up, neither was particularly apparent in my life, and I am sure that many people are in the same boat.

However, there are many people who do enjoy these sports, and I would like to be one of them. I have several friends who like soccer and hockey, and I want to be able to connect with them to share the enjoyment they have for these sports.

I've tried several times to get interested in these sports, by watching them on television, following them through the media, and playing them in real life. But I have yet to really embrace soccer and hockey. I have been thinking lately about why that is, and I think I have come up with the rationale.

So if you share similar views that I do, here is why and how we can get past it. That way, we can embrace soccer and hockey in a way that many people around the world already do, because I know once we give them a chance and immerse ourselves in these sports, we will find them interesting and may even become fans.

One of the biggest obstacles people come up with as to why they aren't bigger fans of soccer and hockey, is the low scoring and perceived lack of action. In our culture, we have come to view high scoring, offensive games as entertaining as and more fun than strategic, more defensive struggles. This gives soccer, hockey, and most baseball games the perception of being boring to watch.

While it is true that offensive shootouts and high scoring games are quite enjoyable to watch, that doesn't mean the games that don't achieve this aren't fun to watch. From what I have watched in my life, hockey and soccer games do have a lot of back and forth action, whether goals are scored or not.

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins falls to the ice as he scores the 3rd goal in the second period against Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on J
Harry How/Getty Images

It also means that the scores are generally closer, providing for more drama in the case of a last second goal, and creating more strategic, tactical games.

There are generally a fair amount of shots taken during soccer and hockey games, and sometimes the saves are just as exciting as the goals. Games don't have to be 8-3 or 7-1 to be exciting, 2-1 and 3-2 games can be just as good.

The other biggest obstacle between me and these two sports is a problem that many sports fans have: We don't have any hometown professional teams or fan investment in the sport.

The closest I have to a professional team in either sport is the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals and the MISL's Milwaukee Wave; neither of which are in the top professional leagues in their given sport. Both teams do carry some buzz with them, but neither team has anywhere near the fan support or hoopla that a professional team would carry.

I feel that contributes to a lack of interest in soccer and hockey in cities that do not harbor a professional team. Even when cities have these teams, they do not create the interest that they should.

Whether it is mismanagement by administration (Atlanta Thrashers), lack of advertising (MLS), the wrong weather, like playing in Phoenix (Coyotes), or a lack of sport interest in the city (Miami Fusion & Tampa Bay Mutiny). The national media in this country is fixated on football, with baseball and basketball following behind.

That is why conference realignment, the BCS, and bowl games are occurring in the fashion they do, because that is where all the money is going. As a result, other sports such as hockey and soccer, don't get the coverage football does.

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Landon Donovan #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy controls the ball against the Houston Dynamo during the 2011 MLS Cup at The Home Depot Center on November 20, 2011 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Sportscenter brings Barry Melrose, Matthew Barnaby, or Alexi Lalas in a couple of times a week, otherwise the Tim Tebow's, Lebron James', and Alex Rodriguez's of the world are dominating the national airwaves.

FOX, ESPN, ABC, and CBS are airing the NFL, NCAA football and basketball, the NBA, and MLB, while the NHL and MLS/FIFA are occasionally on NBC or ESPN. They are mostly relegated to the former Versus (now NBC Sports), and regional television channels.

This is nothing against the big three sports, as I am a big fan and an avid watcher, but it just shows where the country's priorities are when it comes to watching sports.

There is something that most non-soccer fans know about soccer players, which is that they have a reputation of being floppers. People, myself included, don't like or appreciate the great lengths the acting soccer players will go through to get a foul called on the other team.

What we need to remember; however, is that athletes in football fake injuries to slow the other team's momentum, basketball players try too hard to take charges, and baseball players will exaggerate a hit-by-pitch in the batter's box to get to first base. It just happens in soccer more often, and we don't appreciate it.

Hockey has too many fights for many non-hockey fans. We just want them to play the game, show off their puck-handling and skating skills, and worry about winning, and not about fighting someone.

The physical contact, hard play, and some checking are good for the game, but not to the extent it has been used in recent times. Also, to outsiders possessing less knowledge of these sports, both hockey and soccer carry way too many rules.

Strategy is tough to comprehend from the outside, and the rules are difficult to understand such as, icing, different types of penalty shots or inbounds kicks, or the myriad of penalties that can be called.

However to outsiders of our favorite sports, football, basketball, and baseball games can seem confusing and require explanation to understand game play.

Lastly, we as a country have not been able to sustain the enthusiasm for soccer and hockey that our kids have. Many kids play soccer and hockey through elementary and middle school, and some well into high school. There are both clubs and school teams and the kids seem to enjoy themselves.

However, as kids get older, there aren't those strong links between youth players and opportunities later in life. The kids where I live in Milwaukee have Uihlein Soccer Complex that has outdoor and indoor soccer leagues from elementary school to adult leagues, and the Pettit National Ice Center. But other people aren't as lucky.

Once our kids reach middle school, they are usually guided towards the more mainstream sports, while soccer and hockey are pushed to the background. The community connections to these two sports just aren't as strong.

It is for those reasons that I feel we need to give soccer and hockey a chance in our sports environment.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.