The World Cup arrives in a few weeks time and yet again, many folks are dubbing it the chance for soccer to increase its audience in the United States. While contrary to popular belief the US has soccer fans, the game has even gone so far as to leverage an aging but still able David Beckham to increase notoriety here in the States. While reaction to the Beckham experiment is mostly positive, every time a World Cup creeps up the mainstream sports media comes up with the same lines, “This is soccer’s chance” “The World’s game”, and so on. The sad part is while many American soccer fans will enjoy the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a World Cup game may not be the best way to introduce a casual or first time fan to the world of soccer.
World Cup football, err soccer, often relies on one moment or one flash of brilliance from a single player to decide the game. Many of the games will end in draws and some will end scoreless, here in the country of the three run home run that just does not equal riveting entertainment. Sure the worlds best will be on display, for a few weeks names like Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo, Blanco, and yes even Donovan and Altidore will be mentioned daily on news blips and blurbs, and maybe even catch a highlight on Sportcenter. But just like certain Olympic sports once the tournament is over, it will be back to business as usual for soccer and the MLS here in the US.
With any luck a few million people will stick with the sport, for at least a little while. The problem is, the names on display at the World Cup will not exactly be the players the average American will get to see in a Major League Soccer match, which will only lead to viewer frustration. That frustration will inevitably lead to apathy once the NFL gears up on Sundays. So while soccer is a great game and has an incredible fan following around the world, it will take nothing short of an American victory at the World Cup to bring the sport to the forefront of a US sports fan’s mind. And as any soccer fan can tell you, that is a long shot at best.
So while savvy marketing and some great games will get the 2010 World Cup watched by millions of Americans, televising the big clubs of the world here in the US is still the best way to get the sport noticed. Teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Chelsea, etc. need to be showcased on a regular basis. While time differences make the games a foregone conclusion, if soccer the business wants to be taken seriously in the US it needs to show it’s best players on a regular basis. Not that there is anything wrong with MLS, just that it is not La Liga and certainly not the English Premier League. Until something great happens, names like Messi and Rooney will go by way of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, every four years the majority of Americans will notice them but only a few die-hards will fall in love with them.