To the average viewer of “scream” shows about American sports such as Around the Horn, Rome is Burning and The Best Damn Sports Show Period, the ongoing revolution in American sports preferences may have flown under the radar. That’s because so many of the sports writers that feature on the shout shows like Jay Marrioti, Tony Kornheiser, Jim Rome and Brian Burwell have gone out of their way to ridicule soccer and to help reduce any coverage of American Soccer or International Football to the back pages of the sports sections of most American newspapers. (the Miami Herald, Washington Post, NY Times and LA Times are notable exceptions)While the vast majority of sports fans don’t watch these shout shows, or read the columns they write that spew with venom towards soccer and most notably towards David Beckham (whom I would add as proper journalists they should have made an attempt to understand before despairing his career, his personal life and his agenda in moving to Major League Soccer) they are ultimately influenced by the shows and the editors of major newspapers who reduce one of the most popular sports in the nation, and the most popular sport in the world to the same status that bowling and billiards enjoy. The mainstream sports media gave little acknowledgement when the combined Spanish/English telecast of the US-Italy World Cup match exceeded that of three games in the NBA finals. This same group ignored the ratings achieved on Spanish Language TV for the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals, a rating two and a half times that of Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. While the NHL’s TV ratings continue to plummet, the league continues to enjoy enormous exposure on sports news shows and usually two full pages in season every day in most major market newspapers. Soccer would be lucky to even get one third of that coverage, and believe it or not most Mexican Football League telecasts beat NHL telecasts in the ratings head to head. But the sports media pleads ignorance.
Ignorance turned to venom however when a certain Englishman hit our shores last month. Those same commentators and sports editors that had made every effort to ignore or even belittle the beautiful game decided to attack the game and the very person that is David Beckham.
What makes David Beckham so special, and so threatening to the average soccer hater in the sports media? Well for one he’s more popular worldwide than any American athlete save perhaps, Tiger Woods. Secondly, Beckham is a figure unlike any other in world sports today: He mixes genuine celebrity with international stardom and a speciality, his set piece taking that are unmatched by anybody alive. Besides, Beckham unlike so many athletes today is a true professional and a genuine person who has overcome amazing adversity and fan hostility to become a one of a kind footballer. How popular is Beckham among the grassroots in the United States? Let me give you some startling case studies.
- Two weeks ago I traveled to Orlando on business. While there, I visited a local sports store, almost out of sheer amusment to see if Michael Vick’s jersey were still being sold. While in the store, three different people came in wanting Beckham LA Galaxy jerseys. The owner told them he had sold out of the only box sent him in ten hours and hadn’t recieved a second shipment yet because of such a backlog of orders. (BTW, the Vick jerseys were gone from the shelves!)
- A friend of mine who lives in Colorado visited Dick’s Sporting Goods. At the store he purchased a white David Beckham LA Galaxy T-shirt. He actually wanted a jersey, but they were sold out. He asked how well they were selling and the person working at the store told him that they had sold eight times more Beckham jerseys than Champ Bailey jerseys since the Beckham jersey was released. BTW, LA visits Colorado next Sunday.
- The other day I went to Sports Authority, again not seeking Beckham apparel, because after all I had never seen a single soccer jersey of any national or international club team on sale in any of the probably 30 plus Sports Authorty stores I have visited all over the country. I went to the store to see for myself how the new Miami Hurricane (American) football jersey looked. I was shocked to see a display with Beckham’s posted and an almost empty rack of shirts and jerseys. I asked the person in the store about the blue Galaxy jersey which I quite honestly want to buy and he told me all three shipments they have gotten of that jersey had sold out in mere hours. He also told me the Beckham merchandise is selling so quickly in stores across the nation, that the warehouses cannot keep up with the demand.
Now given these nuggets of information, in addition to the epic match we saw Saturday night with over 66,000 fans in attendance, do you think this sport, which is clearly bursting at seams on the grassroots level could get some respect from the sports media? I would think it would be good business to corner the market when a sport is receiving such a surge of popularity, but it seems some of the old bulls in American sports seem at the very least contemptuous of the game or the worst threatened by it. From these writers, we hear comparisons to the old NASL, but it bears repeating that in the days of the NASL, the US National Team hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in a generation and no American footballer could hope to land with a respectable club overseas. Today, the US enjoys the sixth longest streak for consecutive World Cup appearances on the globe, and has players of note competing in the very best leagues in the world. It seems David Beckham is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that soccer’s time has come in this country, and regardless of how some may feel about the game itself, its place on the American sports landscape is growing more secure as time goes on.