Soccer: Not such a dirty word after all…

June 26, 2009 | Drew Forrester

I found Rex Snider’s blog on soccer today to be interesting.  

He doesn’t have all of his facts straight, mind you, but in general, he IS sniffing around the hot spot of soccer in America.  

Not enough people understand it.  And it wasn’t “born” here.  Therefore, as Rex says, “nobody cares”.

For starters, the term “nobody cares” is grossly unfair.  I admit, I use it quite often these days when referencing the Orioles. “Nobody cares about them anymore,” I bellow.  That’s not true, of course.  A lot of people still care about the baseball team in town – including me, a lot – but there’s no denying that fewer and fewer people care this year than cared, say, two years ago. The attendance in the ballpark reflects that statement.

To say “nobody cares” about soccer in the United States is wrong. 

To say the sponsors don’t care – or aren’t there – is COMPLETELY wrong.

Quick, in the last 10 years, McDonald’s has spent $110 million on a sport in our country, $65 million on another sport in our country, and $55 million on yet another sport in our country.  Wanna take a guess?  $55 million on the NBA, $65 million on the NFL and $110 million on — ??????? — you guessed it, soccer.

Sony spends $10 million a year on Major League Soccer.  They spend $0 on baseball.  

MasterCard spent $14 million on the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.  What do you think they’ll spend here in 2018 if the U.S. gets the game’s grandest month?  $50 million?  Probably.

So to say the sport has no sponsors is silly.  And inaccurate.  Volkswagen gave DC United $15 million for three years to wear the “VW” logo on their jersey and plant a big logo at midfield (RFK Stadium).  They didn’t pay in cars.  They paid in cash.

Confession:  I don’t really like soccer that much anymore.  

Confession #2:  I haven’t been to a “live” soccer game – indoor or outdoor – since 2007.  In this decade, frankly, I’ve probably been to a dozen soccer games.  

And that’s after spending 17 years of my life, from 1981 through 1998, traveling across the country and into various parts of the world involved in the game on a 24×7 basis, practically.

I’m not writing this to “take up” for soccer. 

It can take up for itself in this country.

I would have lost 100 chinese lunches if anyone would have bet me the MLS would be in business and thriving in 2009 when the league started in 1995.  I literally LAUGHED when they announced plans for the league and I can remember like it was yesterday watching the debut game in March of 1995 between DC United and San Jose.  I was in a hotel room in Cleveland with the Baltimore Spirit — a dozen soccer players crammed in there watching the first game of this infant league.  And I said, “No f***ing chance this league survives.”

Shows what I know.

The MLS figured out how to make soccer work.  It’s easy, really.  The team has to own and operate their own playing facility. No more rent, no more split concession and parking revenues, no more fights over advertising signage rights on the property. You OWN your home and it works for you in real life — the same goes for soccer.  The teams making the most money in MLS are the ones who play in homes they built and own.  Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles…all making gobs of money in the soccer business.  I never thought it could happen.

That said, Rex is right when he talks about the overall disinterest in the U.S. National Team.

Hell, I didn’t even watch the U.S.-Spain game on Wednesday until about the 60th minute.  And, honestly, that was sort of by accident. 

But people with disinterest doesn’t mean “nobody cares”.

I could say “nobody cares” about MMA, for example.  If I walked into Towson Town Mall tonight and asked 50 people “who is Chuck Liddell?” – 3 of them might know and the other 47 would keep on walking with a shrug of their shoulders.

But I know there are pockets of people who DO care about MMA. 

People in Birmingham, Alabama don’t care about the NHL.  

Folks in Charlotte, NC don’t care much about major league baseball.

Baltimore doesn’t really care a whole lot about the NBA anymore.

Get the connection?

Without a team in the league, and no rooting interest, fan awareness diminishes greatly.

What are the TV ratings for the AFC Championship Game in Sante Fe, New Mexico?  Or Boise?  Or Little Rock?

With no real outdoor soccer league until 1995, there wasn’t a reason for anyone in the United States to be captivated by soccer.

Who are you going to follow in Baltimore, for example?  No team=no interest.

Sure, the World Cup comes around every four years and then our interest is peaked.  But once every four years?  That’s a lot of “forgetting time” built in. 

You need to have a rooting interest in someone/something local in order for the games and the sport to matter.

In England, if you grow up in Sheffield, you either root for United or Wednesday.  For life.  

If you grow up in Liverpool, you either wear Everton colors, or Liverpool colors.  For life.

In Baltimore, these days, you wear purple during football season.

It wasn’t like that in 1988 though, was it?

Who did you root for in the NFL in 1988?  I remember who Drew rooted for back then.  No one.  We didn’t have a team and I didn’t give a damn.

Do you care what the Rockies and Giants do on a Thursday night in San Francisco?  I sure as hell don’t.  I might check the boxscore the next day just to see what the pitchers did — but I’m not staying up to watch it, that’s for sure.

I don’t follow Major League Soccer.  I couldn’t name 5 players in the league.  But ask a DC United fan to name 20 players in the league and they’ll name 50.  

I watch the national team stuff because I always enjoy following the biggest event in soccer…the World Cup.  When that comes and goes next summer in South Africa, my interest will peak for a month and then disappear by early August.  

Unless, of course, the U.S. stays alive long enough to be “the story” — like they were on Wednesday when they beat Spain.

When the American team wins, all the sudden, it’s a big deal.  The haters come out to say “the sport still sucks, there’s no scoring and it’s boring…”  The soccer community says, “you don’t understand the game.”

It becomes a stand-off of sorts.

Might I remind all of you who claim “there’s not enough scoring in soccer” that last year’s AFC playoff game in Tennessee between the Ravens and Titans featured two scores (touchdowns) in 60 minutes.  Sprinkle in three field goals and there you have it — a thrilling 13-10 final.  

Funny thing, though — it WAS thrilling.  

People in this country don’t need to see SCORING…that’s a fallacy that’s been way overblown by the haters.

People in the U.S. want to see ACTION.  

A shot and a save in soccer – 10 of those a game, say – is just as dramatic as a goal.  Granted, 0-0 soccer games are boring.  I don’t disagree there — at all.  But I also think 1-0 baseball games are boring…and purists will tell you that’s the best kind of baseball game God ever made. 

I always get a kick out of how virtually every sport in the country has stolen stuff from soccer and pawned it off as their own. 

In 1981 at the Civic Center, we were introducing the Blast in a dark arena with strobe lights going off, smoke billowing out of a spaceship and the players were being announced to the crowd in dramatic fashion.  They’d run out and hand roses to the female fans before the game.

The local media scoffed at such shenanigans.  I remember The Sun’s Mike Littwin tearing us a new one on a Sunday morning, having been to a game the night before and laughing throughout the evening at how “bush league” we were.  “If the game can’t stand on its own feet, the sport won’t survive long.  If they need to use smoke, music and a blabbering PA announcer to get the fans interested, it’s not major league.”  That’s what he wrote.

10 years later at Chicago Stadium, the lights would go down before the game, the theme from “Midnight Express” would blare over the PA system, a spotlight would hit the bench and the announcer would scream at the top of his lungs — “A six foot, six inch guard, from the University of North Carolina, #23, Miiiiichaelllllllllll Joooorrrrrrrrrdannnnnnnnnnn”.  They sure as hell weren’t doing that in 1978 in the NBA.  But they were doing it in 1991 and 1995 and 2001 and 2009 when Kobe gets introduced in L.A. right after the movie finishes playing on the big screen before the game.  

We were doing that stuff in soccer in the ’80’s and getting crushed for being too theatrical.

Been to a Caps game in DC lately?  Holy cow, when they score ONE goal in the game they act like they just won the Stanley Cup.  Music, horns, movie clips, more music, spotlights…it’s like a carnival in there.

Today, at OPACY, when Nick Markakis comes to the plate, he’s accompanied by what?  His own personal “walk-up” music. And if he hits a home run, there’s more music and flashing lights.  Of course, there’s always the, “let’s hear some NOISE!!” pleadings that flash on the scoreboard when the team trails by two going into the bottom of the 8th inning.

Who’s been to M&T Bank Stadium?  All of us.  Why do you get in the stadium at 12:45?  Answer:  “To see the player introductions.”  Gotta see Ray dance, right?  Paul Kitson used to dance coming out of the spaceship at the Civic Center and Ken Rosenthal laughed at it.  John Buren used to jokingly refer to it as “Dodge Ball”.  

Every professional sport in America has a soccer promotional transplant-organ in their body.

Thieves.  ha ha

Soccer has done more for sports in this country than anyone realizes.

They’ve given all of these other teams and leagues a shining example of how to make boatloads of money.  Own your own stadium, for one.  Every nickel the fans spend on the team should come to the team.  Buy a beer:  team gets the profit.  Buy a hat: team gets the profit.  Park your car for $10:  team gets the profit. 

Pre-game introductions…get the players close to the fans…get them out in the community…engage the fans with games and other silly stuff during the breaks and intermissions.  It all came from soccer.

Back then, it was bush league to do that stuff.

Now that everyone else is doing it, there’s nothing left to pick on anymore.

So the stock punch-to-the-gut is “nobody cares”.

That’s not true.

A lot of people care about soccer in this country.

They need more people to care, for sure.

I wish I cared more, frankly.

But, I don’t.

That said, the game’s in great hands and moving along nicely, without YOU and I, it seems.