We here in the States are occasionally subjected to one pundit or another proclaiming “This is the year soccer’s popularity explodes in America” or “This is the year soccer in the U.S. finally makes it!” Putting aside the problem of defining “making it” these types of stories generally surround a major event (World Cup, Champions League Final, etc.). I’ve never taken these stories seriously and have generally just gone about enjoying the matches. However, recently I started thinking that the 2011-12 Premier League season may indeed be a year for increased popularity in the sport in America. The reason has nothing do with any major soccer event but rather two factors unrelated to soccer whatsoever – default and laziness.
I happen to think the sport’s popularity in America will rise this autumn for one simple reason – there might not be much else to watch.
I firmly believe the current owners’ lockout of the players in the National Football League will extend into the summer and I feel that at least a delay of the start of the American Football season in September is plausible. If and when an NFL season does finally commence, the quality of play is likely to suffer due to a lack of preseason training camp and inconsistent offseason preparation by locked out players. American football players need a couple of summer months of beating each others’ brains out in order to adequately prepare for a new season. Therefore, even if games are eventually played, I think this will be a “lost” season in the NFL. Furthermore, fan backlash towards the sport, once it does ultimately return (in some diluted form), will at least keep some people away.
What is a sports-loving, beer-loving, HDTV-loving culture supposed to do when its most popular sport disappears? Rake the leaves? Read a book? Talk to the wife? I doubt it.
Incidentally, sports fans won’t be able to turn a basketball game on either. It is even more likely that there will be a prolonged work stoppage in the NBA this fall than in the NFL, jeopardizing at least the start of the basketball season. The baseball season will also be finished for all but a handful of teams competing in the playoffs.
So, this dearth of sports viewing options presents at least the possibility that some extra people tune in on a Sunday morning in September to see what all the fuss is about. Perhaps that match they tune into will be a 4-3 barn burner, complete with top quality skill, wild emotional swings and perhaps a fan riot thrown in for good measure. Who knows, this might be just the spark America needs.
This possibility has always been a bit of a dilemma for me. While I would love to see soccer’s popularity increase, I also secretly take great pleasure in being in on a glorious little secret with a very small percentage of my countrymen. Either way, I do think the factors might be in place for some more American eyeballs to at least give soccer a chance this fall. That alone makes me excited to think about the possibilities.