Skip to comments.Why America hates football (soccer)
Posted on 08/03/2004 3:12:33 PM PDT by swilhelm73
While people from Oslo to Athens and from London to Vladivostok were avidly following the European football championship in June, Americans ignored it. In the United States, the only way to see the Greece-Portugal final, or any other match in the tournament, was to make a special, costly arrangement with a satellite broadcasting company or to find a pub that was showing one of the games. Any such pub would invariably be located in an obscure corner of a large city and filled with people speaking languages other than English. Euro 2004 was the latest episode in the long history of American indifference to the world's favourite sport, which continues despite strenuous efforts to put the game on the same footing as America's three major team games: baseball, American football and basketball. Why have these efforts failed?
One reason has to do with the existing popularity of the big three. Even in as large and wealthy a country as the United States, where the national appetite for playing, and even more so for watching, games is enormous, the cultural, economic and psychological space available for sport is limited and that space is already taken. Baseball, American football and basketball have long since put down deep roots, claimed particular seasons of the year as their own (although they now overlap) and gained the allegiance of the sports-following public.
A fourth team sport, ice hockey, is widely played across the northern tier of the country and has a professional league with teams located across the border in Canada and throughout the United States, even in cities whose climates are so benign that ice has never formed in them: indeed, the franchise in Tampa, Florida, won this year's championship. The presence of four major team sports - more than in any other country - has made the barrier to entry in the competition for the affections and the dollars of American sports fans extraordinarily high, so high that even the world's most popular game has not been able to surmount it.
One in particular of those three sports - basketball - poses a singular obstacle to the national acceptance of football. The two are too similar for them both to succeed. Each belongs to the family of games whose object is to put a ball (or similar object) in a goal.
Because the two games are similar, they have the same kind of appeal. Both are easy to follow; you can immediately understand the point of each one. The rules and strategies of cricket, baseball, rugby and American football, by contrast, are less straightforward. The action of a basketball game and of a football match are easier to follow than that of other team sports as well because the ball is larger than in cricket and baseball and is never hidden in a tangle of bodies or a scrum, as it is in American football and rugby.
Football and basketball are also easier to play than the other team games. They do not require elaborate equipment and satisfactory informal games can be staged without the full complement of players. And both football and basketball players can perfect their skills practising entirely alone.
Spectators see the same thing in the two games: episodes of spontaneous coordination, with players devising and implementing schemes for scoring. They see, that is, acts of creation. If architecture is, as is sometimes said, music set in concrete, then football and basketball may be said to be creativity embodied in team sports.
The two games are both played partly in the air. Basketball players spring off the floor to launch shots at the basket and soar to capture missed shots as they bounce off the rim, even as football players leap upward to intercept a kicked ball with their heads to control it, tap it to a team-mate, or redirect it into their opponents' goal. Football and basketball are therefore the team sports that most vividly evoke a common human fantasy: to leave the ground and fly through the air.
This is why, perhaps, football and basketball are the team sports with the widest global appeal. It is no surprise that each of the two has established a beachhead in the last great expanse of unoccupied sports territory, the People's Republic of China. Their marked similarities, however, also mean that the two sports duplicate each other. They provide the same satisfactions. For spectators they are, in a sense, alternatives. North Americans don't need football because they already get what it has to offer from basketball.
There is, too, the problem of the frequency with which football matches end in a draw. Americans want conclusive results from their games. Baseball and basketball have rules forbidding draws: the two teams must play until one of them wins. Draws were more common in American football until two decades ago when, responding to the national irritation with them, the managers of the sport changed the rules. Now collegiate games cannot end in draws and professional contests very rarely do.
Most American sports fans would regard the method used for deciding international championship matches that end in a draw even after extra time - the penalty shoot-out - as absurdly arbitrary and no more fitting a way to determine a winner than flipping a coin.
There is a remedy for what is, in American eyes, football's gravest defect. The game's rules could be changed to make scoring much easier, which would mean that even if the match were drawn at the end of 90 minutes, one or the other team would almost certainly score in extra time.
Altering the rules to encourage scoring is an old and well established practice in American sport. In the course of the 20th century, baseball, American football and basketball each did so several times. The changes helped to sustain, and indeed to expand, the popularity of all three, since, as one astute student of baseball put it, 'offense [scoring] is making things happen. Defense is keeping things from happening. People would much rather watch things happen.'
To do the same thing for football might well require dramatic modifications in the way the game is now played - the abolition of the offside rule, for example, or awarding points that count in the final score for corner kicks, which, as in prize fights that do not end in knockouts, would give an advantage to the side that makes the most determined efforts to score.
Why has this not happened in the US? One possible reason is that such changes would make the American version of football substantially different from the game played everywhere else, and here Americans are reluctant to be out of step with the rest of the world. If that is the case, then the failure of the world's most popular sport to gain full acceptance in the world's most sports-obsessed country suggests that there are, after all, limits to American unilateralism.
· Michael Mandelbaum is one of America's leading authorities on US foreign policy and international relations and the author of The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century (Public Affairs)
Reduce the number of players and allow them to sub so they have the energy to really go all out and you may be on to something...but that's more or less already a sport called ice hockey...
Soccer is a foreign invention. Americans don't play cricket, do we?
I would also point out that soccer is not popular in the U.S. for the same reason that baseball is losing its popularity: It simply has a reputation for being a Third World sport.
I'm gonna watch these guys kick a ball up and down the field for more than an hour and end up with a score of 1-0?
I don't think so.
Whether you're on the edge of your seat waiting on a 3-2 with two outs pitch, or anticipating a fourth and inches with 45 seconds left - the moment gets to be savored.
Soccer is just ants running back and forth.
This is a dumb article.
The reason soccer hasn't taken off in the US is because it is not a TV sport. For several reasons its not a TV sports. For one.. Soccer is best viewed in attendance, not sitting on your couch watching it.
Number two, there is less advertising opportunity in soccer. You can only run TV ads at half-time. .
Also, the quality of soccer has alot to do with it. You can't see much world class soccer in the US, anything less than world class soccer is horrible on TV.
Soccer is too subtle for most American sport's fans, hockey has the same problem. People get irritated by movement without scoring, they don't understand flow and positional mechanics. Add to that the fact that the TV networks hate sports without regular and predictable stoppages of play for commercials and you've got a sport that will never crack the top three.
That being said I don't understand why so many people on both sides of this discussion have to be such insulting doofuses. So you do/ don't like a sport, who gives a damn, neither position makes you special or interesting.
400 players on the field at once.
50 balls in play at the same time.
Ditches and barbed wire across the field.
Then I'll watch it!
Now you sound like Michael Moore.
What is more subtle than the difference between an 0-2 count and 2-0 count?
We don't like soccer? News to me. It can't be because it's lacking in violence -- we don't watch Aussie Rules Football either (well, I do, but not many others).
I think the biggest reason is because we don't dominate. Like Patton said, America loves a winner. And we don't like being in a sport where we know we aren't the best and don't even have the ability to win world titles. However, we are getting better, from total nobodys to the quarter finals in the World Cup rather quickly.
Wait until we start winning, then see the crowds. And we WILL start winning. Nothing stops Americans once we get our hearts set on something.
This article was pretty boring too.
Perhaps the physcially distinguishing characteristic of human beings---opposable thumbs, digital dexterity---and you play a game where that is the one thing you DON'T use? Makes no sense to me. Of course, look at the acheivements of the US (where the loved sports pastimes are football, baseball, basketball) and then look at the societies that play soccer----they generally can't figure out basic hygeine and civil utilities. What does that tell you?
Hence the critical mass of American cycling fans, that Lance has inspired... </sarc>
How about giving one player on each team a baseball bat for use on opposing players' shins? That'd loosen things up!
This is like the "paperless office" or the end of "brick and mortar retail".
Well hey, riding a bike, unlike soccer, is fun. But why on earth would I want to watch someone else do it?
I'm not insulting anybody just telling the truth. In soccer, much like in hockey, there's a lot of movement with the sole purpose of trying to teach the opponent to do one thing in reaction to you so that later in the game you can do something he doesn't expect catch him out of position and get a scoring opportunity. And historically American sports audiences don't like that kind of subtlety, they don't enjoy sports where tilting your shoulders one way is all about setting the other player up for an embarassment in 20 minutes.
Just about everything in soccer and hockey is more subtle than the difference between an 0-2 and a 2-0. In the world of flow oriented sports there is nothing about baseball that's even remotely subtle.
I am open to anything to make it more exciting! Livestock grazing? Fireworks? Live electrical wires? Waxing the grass? Snipers in the stands?
Wow, the game's over . . . No, we must first play seven minutes of "injury time" after the clock has run down to 00:00!
I guess I am a little different. I have played soccer all my life. I played football in junior high because they didn't have soccer. Once in highschool I played soccer again.
I love the team effort in soccer. I could watch it everyday if it was on. I don't have cable or satellite though.
The other sports are way over rated. Just because they have big time ad money doesn't make them fun to watch. If I do watch them it is when there are finals.
And why does the winner of the superbowl or world series become a "world" champion? That is just absurd to me. They don't play anyone outside of America.
By the way I was born and raised in this great country of America. It is the Greatest country on God's green earth.
You have heard of a "pick" in basketball, yes?
Soccer is not shunned because it's beyond the American sportsfan to fathom, but because it's boring as hell for a spectator.
We Merkins crave two things... anticipation and scoring (we settle for fisticuffs in hockey).
Soccer provides N.O.T.A.
Yeah actually stopping the clock like the NFL would help a lot. People not know how long is left in the game is no good, even in baseball they know how many outs are left.
Hockey does have one thing that I think would make soccer very exciting. When a player commits a foul, he should be sent to a penalty box for five minutes. It sounds ridiculous, but this kind of thing would add a bit of uncertainty to the game and require additional strategy on the part of both teams when the game is played under "penalty time."
In that sense, soccer is almost as bad as boxing. What's the point of watching a boxing match if you have no idea what the "score" is at the end of each round?
This is not entirely true. The issue for many Americans is that we prefer a good play actually produce a valuable result. The best pass in history is essentially worthless if it doesn't lead to a score. The vast majority of the good plays in "football" are expected to stand on their own.
Just watch a basketball game to understand this thinking. When a player makes an incredible pass or move to the basket, the fans are extremely disappointed, if not actually angry. In "football" the fans will cheer wildly for a play that ultimately has no impact on the score.
I played Little League soccer and football as a young kid. I quickly decided I preferred football. I enjoyed wearing the gear; like a knight going into battle. I enjoyed the more clearly defined roles of each player; a bigger but slower kid, like me, had a better chance to shine in the game (defensive end). Even bigger and slower kids than me had a place on the field on the offensive and defensive lines. Basically, from a kid's perspective, I found it a lot more inclusive and exciting than soccer.
How about setting the ball to explode randomly when kicked?
The pick has no similarities. In hockey and soccer you do thing like come across the line and look to your right for somebody to pass to not to actually pass to somebody but to program your opponent into thinking you'll be regularly looking pass when you hit that part of the playing surface.
I didn't say it's beyond the American sportsfan's ability to fathom. I said it's more subtle than they want to watch. The American sports fan can understand the play action pass and when to do it (often times it seems the American sportsfan knows when to play action better than the NFL coaches do), they can understand soccer and hockey... but first you have to want to. The American sportsfan just doesn't want to, which is fine, not insulting anybody, just telling it how it is.
There's more anticipation in soccer and hockey than in any other sport. You never know when a flukey bounce will result in a goal, there literally is never one single minute of play when it's not possible for one team to score, they are total anticipation.
The only people who like to watch soccer in the USA are players.
That might bring in all the Tonya Harding fans.
I saw a comedian a few years ago, I think it was Denis Leary, and he said the reason Americans don't like soccer is because Americans don't like to watch a sport with a bunch of 150 lb. guys running around for 90 minutes and the final score would probably be 1 - 0. And that would be a HIGH scoring game.
Soccer would be more popular if Major League Soccer in the U.S. had more world superstars playing in them. I remember when I grew up in New Jersey in the late 1970s, Giants Stadium would consistently have 60,000+ fans watching because the New York Cosmos (remember that team??) had world-famous superstars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia.
BTW, at least I understand the rules for soccer. Watching a cricket match is truly confusing!!
I'd say the biggest problem with boxing today is Don King, what's the point of watching a boxing match if both players will be paid the same ammount regardless of the outcome and you know Don King decided the outcome two months ago ;)
"Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking."
And speaking of ladies, Paglia's Gridiron Feminism essay is a worthwhile read.
Q. Why do so many people play soccer?
A. So they don't have to watch it on TV.
Not that there's a lot of it on TV here.
As I said on the other thread, I like the English League soccer but not much else.
I'm hopelessly addicted.
I would agree if the box time were limited to yellow card fouls. Maybe set up different rules for fouls, identifying which would result in penalty time. That would be interesting.
Players are tossed for red cards anyway (and for 2 yellows in the same game). Putting a player in the box for every foul would really stop the flow of the game.
watch the flames come :-)
Possibly because there is not a single country on the planet that fields a professional football team that can play with the US. And the only possibility in baseball is Cuba, but assuming their dominance against American college kids would equate to even being able to play with the best baseball team in the US is a stretch. Beating the Baltimore Orioles in a few games during a season where they lost 100 games isn't that impressive. Additionally, these would be professional championships, and the Cuban National Team is not a professional team, technically.
The one sport where an argument could be made that the team we claim is "World Champion" isn't would be basketball, but it should be noted that the other teams we play in competition like the Olympics are anchored by NBA players who would not be eligible were there to be a World Championship where the rest of the world was asked to send their best professional team instead of an "All-star" team.
I consider the addiction to scoring part of the lack of fondness for subtlety. American fans like seeing points on the board, when an American fans walks into the room and asks who's winning they don't want to hear about which team is controlling the ball more often in the offensive zone and causing the other side to run around in their own end in a panic, they want to hear a score.
You can really see it in baseball fans. Some baseball fans pray for 1-0 pitchers duels, they love the intensity of any at bat being able to win the game. Most baseball fans think 1-0 games are boring. The former have what it takes to watch soccer and hockey (they probably also dig Sergio Leone movies), the later are your more typical American fan.
Team sports require practice with the team as a group to achieve best results. Surely the author doesn't suggest a football team can achieve greatness on offense or defense with each player practicing by themselves? The same with basketball, maybe the author believes all 5 players can just run individual drills and magically become a good team?
What you've said here is true about hockey, but I don't get that same impression about soccer. The problem with soccer is that a "flukey bounce" rarely results in a goal -- simply because the playing area is so large. In hockey, a flukey bounce will often result in a goal simply because 1) the game moves much faster, and 2) the playing surface is actually "smaller" than its measurements would dictate -- because players move much faster on skates than any athlete would move on feet.
Hockey is different than most other sports in that it is primarily a "transition" game, not a "possession" game. Football is purely a possession game, and basketball is nearly so. Soccer is more of a transition game than these two, but for the most part goals are scored as the result of methodical ball movement instead of rapid transition from defense to offense.
There's no doubt in my mind that hockey's the best sport around. In fact, I'm going out right now to play hockey on inline skates for a couple of hours. LOL.
didn't say it's beyond the American sportsfan's ability to fathom. I said it's more subtle than they want to watch.
More subtle than setting up a tailing changeup after coming hard inside?
More subtle than the applied leverage at the line of scrimmage that allows the RB to look like a star?
My point is, there are subtleties in all sports. So it is rather an empty argument to say that soccer is on some sort of higher aesthetic level.