Why the 2014 World Cup Broke in America
Excuse me while I take a break from tech...
Like tens of millions of my countrymen, last week I found myself watching soccer. I never thought I'd make time in my day for soccer, but conditions made following Team USA especially easy in the 2014 World Cup.
Americans Like High Level Sports
Let's just get this one out of the way right off. If a game can deliver feats of superhuman skill, it'll have an audience in America.
Timing is Everything
For the first time since 1994, the World Cup was hosted in the Western hemisphere. This means that American audiences can watch the games live, and as it turned out at very oportune times. USA v Portugal took place at noon, lunch time on the East coast, USA v Belgium happened on the late afternoon. Many workers could take a long lunch break or leave early to watch the game.
This isn't an American phenomenon, nor is it unique to soccer. The Vancouver Winter Olympics were a surprise hit for a similar reason. Sports are meant to be experienced in real time. Regardless of whatever foothold soccer's gained in America now, expect a dip in ratings for the next couple Eastern Hemisphere games.
Having a not-terrible team
The further a team goes into the competition, the more enthusiasm. A decent team that can last more than a couple games will build a following.
Rocky IV, nuff said.
Is soccer here to stay? Of course. Soccer's been played in the United States for a century. It's not going away, and I'm sure there are plenty of businessmen salivating to bring the Beautiful Game to the world's wealthiest country (at least at time of writing).
To really get soccer going here though, a few things need to happen:
I'm going to agree with Keith Olberman here, American Soccer should have an American character. Stop trying to make American teams pale imitiations of the British. The Brazilians don't do that. The Argentinans don't do that. Every country should offer their own unique spin on the sport.
Attract Homegrown Talent
Americans can play soccer as well as anyone else on the planet. Why do our teams suck? Easy. A talented athlete growing up in the United States will go with sports that promise them big dollars and big glory. Football, baseball, and basketball effectively turned college level atheletics into a pro-bono scouting program.
Many talented athletes get noticed for proficiency in a number of sports. Winning Superbowl quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted as a second baseman by the Baltimore Orioles. The sport will make it when guys like Wilson shun football money and baseball money and put their lots in with soccer.
Attract Prime Foreign Talent
Maybe the theoretical American-styled soccer will be enticing to superstars. Maybe our pristine arenas will land a few. Maybe the lack of batshit crazy crowds and the constant threat of riot conditions will lure some more.
Safest bet is that top players will come for the money and level of competition.