Over the course of the World Cup the United States has found itself going through a wide range of emotions that includes actually caring about soccer. Now that the US has made a memorable exit, will the nation continue to pay attention to the world’s beautiful game? Will we give it a red card or has it scored a mighty equalizer in our hearts? The question of soccer’s popularity has been written about for decades in imaginative, coherent, and interesting ways, but we’ll also look at Ann Coulter’s perspective.
Some quick numbers for perspective on the US’s world cup ratings: the US-Portugal match was the highest with 18.2 million viewers(largely because it was on a Sunday evening), ESPN has reported a 44% jump in viewers over the 2010 world cup, and overall is averaging four million views over the 56 broadcasts of world cup matches. The super bowl this year had 108.7 million, the NBA championship averaged 17.7 million per game, the World Series averaged 14.9 million per game, and the Stanley cup averaged 5.8 million per game.
A direct comparison doesn’t really work because we can look at things like the 32 million views of Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash in the Olympics and realize that is a special event that takes place every four years and doesn’t translate into track becoming six times as popular as hockey in the US. Major League Soccer in the US has had slowly shrinking TV ratings since 1996 with small spikes after world cups with the trend returning to normal within a year. World Cup ratings haven’t translated into MLS ratings in the past, and there isn’t anything really to indicate this cycle will be different.
Quite a bit has been made of a recent ESPN poll which has MLS tying MLB in popularity among 12-17 year olds. These results are being interpreted as further proof that the oncoming tide of soccer popularity is irresistible. The first problem with that is that poll didn’t measure viewership it measured what you’re a fan of and it turned out that many of the 12-17 year olds had never watched soccer, they just liked the FIFA video game. This isn’t the first time people have looked at youth popularity and extrapolated guaranteed adult growth down the road.
Chuck Klosterman has an excellent essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs about why the popularity of kids playing soccer(we even have the term soccer mom) has never translated into adulthood. His theory is that kids feel pressured to pick a sport and that soccer is the safest to play for kids who don’t like sports. It doesn’t have the individual pressure moments that come with baseball and basketball. He states that it is the outcasts who choose to play soccer and that, “Outcasts may grow up to be novelists and filmmakers and computer tycoons, but they will never be the athletic ruling class.”
I want to be clear, I’d love to see soccer become more popular in this country. I’d love many sports to become more popular in this country: curling, handball, rugby, water polo, jai-alai, and others. There are amazing sports in the world and to limit ourselves to the big four in this country is culturally anemic. I just see a lot of people stating that soccer has hit a tipping point with this world cup and I’m not necessarily convinced. At a bare minimum the popularity of the World Cup is increasing and I would never imply of the people watching the world cup that, “100% R unatheletic [sic] journalists,” or that a possible increase in soccer popularity is, “a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”
Both of those quotes are from columnist and professional agitator Ann Coulter. Her column on June 25th was published between the US’s Portugal and Germany matches. It can only be called journalism in the most generous definition of the word and although I’d normally consider her columns to be well outside my overton window, I can’t resist the overlap of sports and politics so pardon my as I put on rubber gloves to handle the material involved in the rest of this article. Many of the arguments she puts forward are pretty common arguments against soccer, so it is worth a rebuttal. I will not link to her article directly because I’m not interested in her getting more Google hits, I will be block quoting pieces of her article, but if you search ‘Ann Coulter soccer’ you can find the whole thing.
I’ve held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone. But enough is enough. Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.
She doesn’t say whether she thinks soccer is too long or too short. Judging by the rest of the article hammering the fact she thinks soccer is boring, I’m assuming she means soccer is too long. If that’s the case, the average NFL game is three hours, six minutes, and 58 seconds. The US’s matches against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany barely brushed two thirds of that.
(1) Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.
This is particularly hilarious considering the US-Belgium match in which US keeper Tim Howard broke a record for saves that had stood in the World Cup for over 50 years. The wikipedia page for the US was briefly altered so that Tim Howard was listed as the Secretary of Defense. There were also the multiple storylines about how the US would have a better chance if our injured star Jozy Altidore played. Individual achievement played as big a factor on Tuesday as it does any given Sunday.
(2) Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys.
If you want to argue soccer is boring, alright there is no accounting for taste, but to claim soccer takes no athletic talent is just bizarre. The average soccer player runs between 7.5-9 miles per game. Compare that to 2.72 miles for basketball, 1.25 miles for wide receivers in football, or half a mile for baseball.
(3) No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he’d still be alive, although bored. Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties.
Suicide jokes go great in sports pieces, but she digresses. In football the 1985 Chicago Bears are considered one of(if not the) greatest team of all time. They are known for their defense. Arena football also has higher scores than the NFL. In fact there has never been a shutout in the history of the Arena Football League, yet somehow the NFL is still more popular despite being lower scoring. Bowling also has higher numbers than any NFL or Arena game ever has, but Ann Coulter’s grip on number’s connection with reality is proven in her next point,
(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game.
Plenty of people dismiss Ann Coulter because of her purposefully inflammatory language. I don’t see any reason to do that when she can be dismissed on a purely factual basis. Last year the NHL had .38 fights per game. In fact 70.24% of NHL games had exactly zero fights in them. It’s easy to make an argument when you simply inflate the real numbers by over 1,000%
(5) You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!
We are not the only species with opposable thumbs, but is the argument here really that soccer has rules therefor it shouldn’t be counted as a sport? Yes, sports have restrictions that seem arbitrary and unique to the scenario of that sport and they don’t make any statements regarding the evolutionary fitness of humans.
(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating. I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.
This is a fair argument for you personally not enjoying something. I’m certain we’ve all had the experience of a dozen people telling us we absolutely have to check something out and it gets to the point we’re already annoyed at whatever the thing was before we ever experience it. It is not a fair argument for why that same thing is an indication of a country’s moral decay. We also have an entire NFL network to tell us 24/7 how exciting football is, and ESPN keeps NFL Today running even through the off season.
(7) It’s foreign. In fact, that’s the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not “catching on” at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.
Many people try to hide their xenophobia, it’s refreshing to see it openly on display like this in the same way touching a jalapeno and then touching your eye is refreshing. She doesn’t provide any source for her claim about it not being popular among African Americans, and that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. I’ve also searched extensively for a racial breakdown of fans of MLS and all I can find is that The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports gives MLS an A+ for racial diversity among players and league office employees. Warning PDF.
(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.
Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man’s thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That’s easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?
The only link made between soccer and the metric system is that it’s European. I’m only including the second part of this quote because I found this tangent so odd. It fits the xenophobia from the previous paragraph quite nicely but it has absolutely nothing to do with soccer. She was thrilled with her own delusions about the sport of Hockey a couple paragraphs ago despite it also originating in Europe.
(9) Soccer is not “catching on.” Headlines this week proclaimed “Record U.S. ratings for World Cup,” and we had to hear — again — about the “growing popularity of soccer in the United States.”
If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
I started this piece by providing several arguments for why soccer might not be catching on, did you notice how none of my points involved 60s immigration laws? My family can trace it’s heritage back to the mayflower on one side and the civil war on the other. I had multiple great-grandfathers born here and I watch soccer. I will also take a soccer fetish over a stirring up controversy for the sole purpose of keeping yourself relevant fetish any day.
As certain as I am that Ann Coulter is divisive to serve her own needs, I am equally so that the national spirit and togetherness brought on by the US team in the World Cup was a great thing to experience. We knew we didn’t have much of a shot. The coach said so himself and even I rated us as least likely to get out of our group. We went for it though. We competed. We believed. Even if MLS doesn’t spike in popularity, I’m perfectly comfortable with a country that unites for one month every four years behind a squad of underdogs. We may have to relearn what an offsides call is each time, but does that sound so bad?