As Premier League football fans languish in the desert of meaningful matches and as we’ve now reached a sort of middle point between the end of the World Cup and the beginning of the Premier League season, I can’t help but to wonder if soccer grew, stayed about the same, or took a small step backward in the US this summer.
As Europe’s finest clubs cash in and tour the States as we live and breathe and as the next so called ‘major’ summer friendly tournament kicks off, ends or whatever it is ‘major’ summer friendly tournaments do, this football supporter seems to notice a tad bit of exhaling from the tidal wave that was the World Cup and more specifically the USMNT’s successful ride for three weeks this summer.
Vanished are the new soccer fans that emerged to chat from around the water cooler at the office, gone are the packed pubs full of rabid celebrations and extinct is the feeling of soccer in the air one got when simply walking out the door when the World Cup was in full force.
As quickly and as casually as the additional troops mounted to represent Uncle Sam’s Army as the boys battled in South Africa, it was equally as quick that the reinforcements left the soccer battlefields and retreated to other interests.
But in my attempts to gauge if the World Cup had any lasting effects on the popularity of the sport in this country and with help from the readers of this article, I must first look at a few obvious points I’m currently observing and quite possibly hold off on passing any judgement on my fellow compatriots until the Premier League and other European leagues resume later next month.
(For the record, I believe the lasting effects concerning growth, either positive or negative, resulting from the World Cup won’t truly be felt or known for at least a few more weeks or months, and although the casual soccer newbies have dropped off like lemmings off a cliff, it’s still possible a new generation of soccer hard-cores were conceived during the World Cup. It will be these new soccer fans, lead by their friends and others who support club teams across the world that will prove whether or not a substantial growth occurred).
Point #1. The power of the World Cup
The World Cup always brings the most casual soccer fans out of the wood work especially in this country as the sheer bigness of the event itself is usually enough to hold the attention of even the most lackluster soccer fans. The point here is that the let down of momentum the World Cup concedes after it’s capitulation is only a natural result to an event that rages on non stop for a full month. Simply stated, when there isn’t much soccer going on, people don’t watch much.
Point #2. Who is the casual fan interested in watching?
As much as I enjoy watching Premier League teams take on MLS sides who have everything to prove, how much are soccer fans attending, watching or even enjoying these pre season friendlies? Is the reception the international club friendlies receive an adequate litmus test for the popularity of soccer in the US? I think it could be, but what happens when English and European giants leave the states for home? The hardcore support will always be there, but will interest and attendances wane from the casual observer who was so hot for the USMNT and so eager to catch a glance at a Premier League club?
As I view recent matches on Veetle and the dreadfully-still-in-standard-definition FSC, I seem to notice as many empty seats as I do full. Granted, recent matches were played in NFL stadiums boasting huge capacities, but major US cities such as New York left plenty of seats empty. Had the USMNT played any sort of meaningful match post World Cup, the stadiums would have easily been bursting at the seems with excitement and anticipation. Which leads me to my third point,…
Point #3. Country over sport.
Americans like their country first and their sports second. More specifically, I believe the USMNT has some incredibly devoted and brilliant fans. Yet I also believe that a pretty decent chunk of the pub goers, the downtown fan-fest attendees and the World Cup party hosts were fans of the flag on the shirt first, people who genuinely like soccer sure, yet not devoted fans of the sport we all love and hold so dear and thus viewed the sport itself as secondary.
Once the USMNT was eliminated, so too were the casual fans of the US team dismissed from the World Cup. They were never cheering for soccer in the first place, they were cheering for their country, and when their country exited, so did they.
And realistically, there’s nothing wrong with that sentiment when viewed from multiple angles, except in regards to the growth of soccer in the US as a long stay and mainstream sport. People have the right to move freely in this country and cheer on sports the way they see fit, yet that ideal doesn’t translate into supporters of the game, if anything, it detracts from it.
There is in fact a give and take to how incredibly supportive and patriotic Americans were for their country this summer. It was something to be proud of yet something I found myself oddly questioning it’s very authenticity when viewed as a soccer insider.
As a final example, I’ll point to the thousands of frustrated soccer fans in the US who have DirecTV as a satellite provider and who have waited patiently for the better part of a year or more for the provider to pick up FSC’s HD feed.
As last season’s domestic campaign blew away with the wind and the summer months pushed on, not a word has been uttered by the satellite giant as to when, if ever, soccer fans will be awarded for their patience and what’s rightfully owed to them.
In comparison, any number of NFL, NCAA, NBA, MLB or any other sport under the sun available to consumers in this country are readily available in HD on a myriad of channels. And although HD broadcasts of the beautiful game have come along by leaps and bounds in this country, the two stations that provide the majority of Premier League games, FSC and FSC+ (and more football than anyone), each week remain almost unwatchable in standard definition.
One has to ask themselves, how serious does DirecTV take this sport in our country? Would they have changed their policy on picking up the HD feed had they been bombarded by the mainstream masses? As the smallish soccer community tried their hardest to persuade, DirecTV set up auto reply email responses thanking subscribers for their interest and automated phone lines with pre recorded messages to waft away the anxious. Can one imagine an NFL network in standard definition or such a prolonged wait for HD broadcasts?
As I’m only one man who can only observe so much, ultimately, I’ll count on the soccer community we’ve formed here to pitch in and tell me how the sport is now viewed in your workplace, area, community, city and state after such an eventful World Cup and summer in general.
Did soccer in fact grow at all this summer or does it remain our beautiful little secret, our niche sport that gives us our sense of purpose, or our singular ability to relate to the rest of the world?