The same FOX Sports executive who hired Gus Johnson and tried to turn him into a soccer commentator, and who is arguably the most powerful soccer TV exec in the country given that FOX has the rights to the World Cup for the next 11 years, demonstrated this week how out of touch his network is with the sport of soccer in the United States.
FOX Sports President Eric Shanks, in an interview with Reuters, said the following:
“As I look back, especially for this [soccer] audience, 1983 was zero year for soccer in this country. It was the year of the Cosmos and Pele and Beckenbauer.
“The teenagers (back) then have teenagers of their own now. So we’re really only at the beginning of the second generation soccer in this country.”
The opinions expressed by Shanks smell of an executive who has little knowledge or understanding of the sport in this country. Pelé wasn’t playing for the New York Cosmos in 1983. In fact, the Brazilian soccer star retired from the New York Cosmos six years earlier, in 1977.
The year 1983 was just twelve months before the NASL folded and was certainly not a high point. Even the Cosmos were already on a downfall by that point, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the quarter-finals stage by the Montreal Manic.
Instead of trying to glamorize 1983, a more valid point by Shanks would have been that 1977 was a golden era of soccer in the United States, which was the year that the Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl with Pelé and Beckenbauer in the team.
Additionally, the executive’s theory that the current soccer audience is the second generation of soccer fans in this country is disrespectful to the past. There are plenty of families of soccer fans who have been fans of the sport in this country for a lot longer than 1983.
Plus, what about the USA team that beat England in the 1950 World Cup? What about the rich history of soccer clubs in the United States in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s? What about the long list of teams from overseas that have been playing exhibition games in the United States from the early 1900s through until the 1970s and beyond? There are generations of soccer families who have supported this game in the US long before 1983.
To say that 1983 was year zero for soccer in the United States diminishes the rich history of soccer in this country. The year 1977 was a golden era in the USA but it wasn’t year zero. It was, instead, another significant milestone in US soccer history.