It’s a complex issue
2006/06/21 at 10:31 am
It’s a complex issue.
I like some American sports (baseball, notably), but I love international soccer as well, so I kind of straddle both sides of this debate.
On the one hand, I don’t have much sympathy for the common critiques of soccer from many American sports fans. Soccer is a very satisfying sport precisely because of the difficulty in scoring goals: a goal in soccer is far more significant than any score in any US sport, and it’s understanding the rest of the game that makes it exciting and interesting. I think it really is due to a lack of understanding of the game by many Americans that leads to comments and observations like that.
Second, I think that soccer is tribal in a way that very few American sports really are. It’s true that many sports teams in the US have some extremely hardcore fans, but by and large the average sports fan in the US is not nearly as tribally, as viscerally linked to their main sports team as the typical soccer fan outside the US might be. Americans tend to view sports as entertainment, whereas soccer fans outside the US view soccer much more seriously, much more viscerally and emotionally. It’s not the kind of game you take the family to for a pleasant afternoon’s enjoyment, it’s a serious, visceral, emotional thing, and there are relatively few American sprts fans who relate to their own sports (again outside of the hardcore) in a way that is really similar to the typical non-US soccer fan. A manifestation of this is how non-winning sides in European leagues still draw significant crowds: they do so because the fans are tied to the team almost by blood ties, rather than the “entertainment”-oriented fan who is
interested in seeing the team when they play well (which explains lower attendance rates for subpar performing teams in North America in sports where there are many games played — ie,other than NFL where there is a very limited schedule).
Third, there is the international aspect to soccer. International soccer is huge. The European teams play not only the World Cup every four years, but then also play the European Cup every four years on a two year off schedule, so there is always an international competition going on. Same for the Latin American teams. It’s, again, a tremendous source of national pride and a visceral, national, emotional tie that people have to the team. It’s much more than entertainment … it’s about national pride. It’s about Argentina giving it back to England in the 1986 World Cup a few years after the Falklands War; it’s about England giving it back to Germany in 1966, only 20 years after the end of WWII. These things are not just sporting entertainment, they’re a playing field for national, emotional, visceral connections, and in that way are thoroughly dissimilar to anything in US sports.
So, at the end of the day, while I enjoy both, I think that the reason why so many Americans do not understand and relate to (and like) soccer is because they do not have a visceral/emotional tie to the team the way fans of soccer outside the US do. Soccer becomes much more “entertaining” when it is felt viscerally (as it is for me when I root for the team in England that generations of my family has rooted for, for example) … and that’s mostly inaccessible to most Americans and, in a way, a very unfamiliar way of relating to sport for most Americans as well.