Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Thoughts on American Futbol

Last night my friend Tom & I had a spirited discussion about soccer's chances of mainstream success here in America. Tom had read a previous post here speculating on the meaning of David Beckham's arrival on these shores. He found my rosy prediction about soccer's inevitable acceptance to be way off reality. Summarizing Tom's strong opinion about soccer here: There's no way that, in our generation, soccer will find a huge audience (ie. get regular coverage on SportsCenter or on your local sports talk radio.)

He outlined his strong disagreement thusly:

1. There ain't no way that 30-45 year old guys like us are going to start watching soccer on a regular basis. That's too much of a stretch for sports fans who already have too much on their plate: American Football, Baseball, Basketball, not to mention X Games,

2. The only way soccer will become popular here is if the young kids today grow up watching it, become very familiar with it and find a few soccer heroes to fawn over. Then maybe it gets acceptance 20 years down the line.

I had a hard time defending my dreams of American Soccer acceptance to Tom over the phone. But it did get me thinking today. Perhaps I should do a better job of articulating my appreciation of the game.

Televised soccer has no commercial interruptions.

I really prefer not being bombarded with commercials every inning, pitching change, series or timeout. Watch a soccer game and lose yourself in two luxurious 45 minute halves. (These days, ESPN2 annoys us with the sports crawler. That's another blog post though! For now, I'm thankful that they throw us the occasional soccer bone.) You really get a sense of pace for the game.

Soccer Has Real Passion, not Artificial Exuberance

Been to an NBA, NFL or MLB game in the past few years? For whatever reason, the presentation of the live game has been maxi-size hyped. Do we really need for each batter to have a theme song? Is it necessary to blow our ears & eyes out with a laser light show and "Girls Girls Girls" blaring at an NBA game in October? As a fan, this is insulting to me. There's no such offensive overhyping in Major League Soccer.

I watched the ESPN2 coverage of last Sunday night's Toronto FC/LA Galaxy game. (Yes, the only reason ESPN2 broadcast this game was because of the presence of David Beckham.) I had no idea how insanely passionate the Toronto FC fans were going to be. It was a really impressive display. And none of it was artificially produced: No dancing girls on the sideline, no dimmed house lights & laser shows & no commercials between plays. It was pure sports passion.

In the movie about the NY Cosmos: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the NY Cosmos there was a reporter talking about the short American attention span for sports. We expect the commercial after the punt or a stretch in the 7th inning. She explained how soccer is similar to an opera or a play. You get swept up in one act, you break for intermission, then you come back for Act Two. I genuinely find this refreshing in this day and age. I suspect that I'm not alone in that sentiment.

I have a confession to make. I used to loathe soccer. As a kid, I used to play goalie. Our offense was strong & I would get really bored on the other side of the field waiting for the next stampede. I did enjoy going to SMU to watch the Tornado games. I followed Kyle Rote Jr., Kenny Cooper & Mike Renshaw. Later in life, studying in Europe left me far removed from my beloved Cowboys early '90's resurgence. This sapped any enthusiasm I might have had for Real or Atletico de Madrid. I was happy enough going to watch the Super Bowl at 3:30AM in some Spanish pub.

But in 1994 I worked protocol for the World Cup here in Dallas. I went to all the games at the Cotton Bowl. And I followed closely our American squad's tourney. (We beat Colombia!) Watching the 1998 World Cup was also instrumental in stirring the soccer embers. I will never forget the victory over Mexico. What an upset! Then we got our own soccer team again: the Dallas Burn. We went to all of the inaugural season's home games at the Cotton Bowl. (I was a season ticket holder with my buddies Bryan, Brandon & Tim.) We had a blast at those games.

I do hope someday soon we'll be listening to local sports reporters covering FC Dallas scuttlebutt. We have a playoff contending, division leading team this season. The league has the highest profile soccer star in the world now. (Hopefully the Galaxy make the playoffs so we can see him some!) Most clubs have plans for or already have shiny new soccer-specific stadiums with great site lines. It's a matter of time before we're all enjoying the beautiful game again: this time for keeps.