Are Tears a Sign That Soccer/Football Has “Made It” in the US?
They’ve been saying it for years. Someday, with all the kids playing soccer in the US, the sport will surpass all the other major sports. But year after year that didn’t happen. In fact there’s been a definite disconnect between the youth soccer player and the young adult soccer watcher who sometime in the years between 16-25 lose touch with the game and become ambivalent. No, they didn’t hate the game like many mainstream sports guys in the U.S. who always seem to find the need to tell us how dumb the sport is and how it’s just not American. There was just nothing there to keep them attached and interested. When they were young soccer was their life. As they grew older, perhaps entered college and were influenced by peers who watch their local TV sports, ESPN SportsCenter and read local newspaper sports sections, all who rarely cover the sport, those former soccer players became disinterested.
While American football, baseball, basketball and even hockey were all covered in local newspaper, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN, soccer was nowhere to be seen. These were the same young people that Major League Soccer see as the lifeblood of a growing soccer audience. The “target market” as it’s called. The 18-35 year old, who are principally male and really get the game. They’ve played it, they’ve lived it and if you allow them the chance to be passionate about it again, they will be.
While Fox Soccer Channel, Goal TV and ESPN are finding that there is an increasingly large audience that does care about the game, the dinosaurs of local TV and newspapers have often missed the boat following the same tired old line they have used for years – until World Cup 2010 that is.
World Cup 2010 is changing many things. Yes, Twitter, Facebook and blogs have all been influential in this. But this time more than any other factor is ESPN. The TV sports network giant has sunk an enormous amount of money into this World Cup, and when ESPN talks, people listen.
But will this cause a movement that will allow soccer to overtake other sports in the US? Hell no, and quite frankly I really don’t care if it does. The growth of soccer/football will continue and those that invest in it will find there are profits in covering the sport as it does grow. The U.S. has more soccer blogs than any other nation in the world. Why? Partly because we are a very connected nation, but as I have said for years, the US mainstream sports media didn’t give it to us, so we went out and created the content ourselves.
So what is a clear cut sign that soccer has made it here in the US? I don’t think it’s the number of TVs tuned into ESPN, ABC and Univision during the World Cup. I don’t think it’s how many tickets are sold at MLS games, even though all those things are important. I don’t even think it’s the number of national sponsorships ESPN and ABC is selling on these broadcasts. Nope! It’s something way more core, more emotional than that. It’s not about numbers and it’s not about dollars. It’s about passion.
I’ve been involved with the game in different fashions for almost 35 years now and I’ve seen something during this World Cup I’ve never seen before. It’s called passion. Bar after bar in the U.S. are filled with people watching the games. Friends are having watch parties at home with multiple TVs inviting neighbors, friends and coworkers who are all joining in watching. In Minneapolis a local theater is showing the U.S. games and selling out. At local establishments like Brit’s, The Local, Kegan’s, Keiran’s, the Liffey, Nomad, Sweetwater and even non-soccer bars like the Bull Dog in North East Minneapolis, supporters are filling these establishments to gather and watch with other like-minded US soccer supporters.
After the second US goal against Slovenia that allowed the team new life in the tournament, the cameras went to a young US supporter at the game in South Africa who unabashedly crying. That’s something you’ve rarely seen in the from U.S. soccer supporters. You may see it in England, Brazil, Nigeria or Turkey, but in the U.S.? But there he was, totally overcome with emotion and you know what? I could relate to him and I don’t think I was alone.
Today the US defeated Algeria to win group C finishing ahead of world soccer power England. When Landon Donovan scored the winning goal minutes into stoppage time, the bar where I was watching erupted. I mean it went really crazy. I’ve heard similar reports from around the nation. But there was something more. An emotional outpouring that in all my time involved with soccer I’ve never seen. Not live at a US soccer match right smack in the middle of Sam’s Army or at a watch party in a soccer bar. There were tears. Lots and lots of tears. From men – from women – from everyone. When I looked around everyone was jumping up and down, hugging and executing high fives. I’ve seen all that before. But this time there were tears. U.S. Soccer supporters overcome with the moment.
Here in the U.S. we are at a point where many supporters have been following our national team from 8-20 years and some even longer. Supporters who know the game, know the team and more importantly know the history of the game in the U.S. and understand what it’s taken to get to this point and time. We’re still a long ways from the pedigree that some nations have developed with over one hundred years of play. But as a soccer nation we are growing up and we’re not going away. We are becoming a nation of supporters who are passionate for the world’s game. And that’s good enough for me.