Chapel Hill: Sports

June 27, 2014

Does the USA really love soccer?

Television commentators – promoting their own product – tell us that soccer is the next big thing. Clearly people in Chapel Hill love soccer. But do they love it more than basketball?

Ever since the days of Kyle Rote Jr., the nation’s media has tried to tell us that soccer was the “Next Big Thing.”

It’s big ... Big! they said. Getting bigger all the time.

And it’s inevitable. Millions love it. You’ll love it, too. You will have to love it or be considered as square as Wyoming.

What’s your problem, Low Brow America? Live in a trailer? Addicted to ugh, football?

Of course, you lout, football isn’t “real” football, they said.

Get over yourself, Mr. Hipster. The USA didn’t invent the term “soccer.” The English did. They reduced the term Football Association down to just Association and further slanged it down to soccer, decades ago.

And just because ESPN says it’s getting big numbers for the World Cup, don’t think that means soccer is suddenly the top shelf in sports.

Much has been made of the 9.6 rating for the USA-Portugal match – 18.2 million viewers – which was a new high for a U.S. men’s soccer match.

Last winter, a run-of-the-mill NFL playoff game between Green Bay and San Francisco drew 47.1 million viewers to Fox.

Nielsen said a total of 20 million viewers tuned in to either ESPN or the NFL Network to watch some or all of the 2014 NFL Draft’s first night. Not a game – the Draft!

But don’t get me wrong. I’m actually one of those pinheads that watched all three U.S. matches in World Cup pool play.

I’ve been a sucker for soccer ever since I played it as a high school senior. Later came some pretty fabulous pickup games on Fetzer and Navy Field, where I got to play alongside college All-Americans and even some pros. One guy had been a teammate of Pele.

There’s no doubt in my mind that more and more people play soccer. Look around here; there are soccer fields everywhere for youth leagues.

But will people watch it?

What people really like to see is success.

When they were habitually winning MLB division titles, the Atlanta Braves helped Ted Turner turn WTBS into the world’s first “superstation” on cable.

The Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team” – as long as they won Super Bowls. Now the Cowboys are better known as the team with the world’s biggest jumbo-screen in their stadium.

Locally, fans still turn out in big numbers for Carolina women’s soccer, but Fetzer Field sees its biggest audiences when the Tar Heels are driving toward another national championship. (What’s Anson Dorrance‘s number of NCAA trophies up to now ... 51?)

And local high school soccer draws fine, but the SRO crowds show up for the Chapel Hill-East-Carrboro matches and for N.C. state championship finals.

Americans liked to see the U.S. advance out of World Cup pool play. But they’re not excited that the team did it by virtue of goal-differential after successive ties.

Americans will start watching for real if the USA starts winning for real.

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