Soccer and American Television


Every four years, two things happen in the world of soccer.  First, the FIFA World Cup.  It’s probably the single most captivating sporting event in the world, based on how many people stop what they’re doing in order to follow the tournament.  Second, someone in the world of American television will say, “If soccer is the world’s most popular sport, then let’s put it on television every week like baseball and football.”  They’ve tried a few times, but why does it always fail on network television?

I have a guess.  Most of the world’s soccer fans are of European, Central American, or South American heritage.  More specifically, they’re not American.  I’ll guess that Americans spend more time watching sports than playing sports.  I’ll also guess that non-Americans spend more time playing than watching.  If someone is sitting in front of the television on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, beer in his hand, chips on the coffee table, two things are likely:  1. He’s your average, white American.  2. He’s more likely to be counted in the Neilson Ratings than the non-American in the park kicking around a soccer ball.  (forgive the term “non”-American as I’m using it not to label someone.  I’m just trying to say they’re not you’re basic whitey white Caucasian)

Of course Americans love sports, but we love them more while sitting than sweating.  We would rather watch than do.  We are more comfortable holding a remote than a racquet.  Calm down.  Of course I’m not saying all Americans, just most Americans.  I’m especially not talking about Mike in Texas who never seems to stop playing something.  He runs from softball to bowling to volleyball and something called whirlyball.  He only stops when his Spidey sense tells him there’s a bar nearby.

So with all this television watching, why doesn’t soccer get ratings with all these Americans parked in front of the television?  They’re not watching soccer.   Soccer players are different.  They’ve got a passion for their sport like nothing else.  They’re probably in better physical shape than any other athlete, except maybe ice hockey players because they need a level of upperbody strength that’s not needed in soccer.  I love baseball, but I have to admit there’s a lot of standing around and doing nothing in baseball.  I’d love to pick a player, get a stopwatch, and add up the amount of time in a 3-hour game that one player is actually running.  Compare that to a soccer player, and you’ll laugh.  Football is a little better, but there’s still a lot of downtime there too.  Don’t even think about golf.  That’s why soccer players are different:  they just plain DO more, they’re involved more, and they want to get out and run.  They do not sit around and watch, unless their national team is on.

I played soccer for about ten minutes in high school, but that was only because I was kicked off the football team because – well – that’s not important right now.  More important is that I quit soccer because of all that running.  It didn’t help when one of my best friends had about ten teeth kicked out.

Yes, there are many Americans who play, watch, and love soccer.  Just not enough to increase soccer’s television ratings.  The rest of the world’s soccer population, the non-obese non-Americans, they’re lacing up the cleats.

Game on.

(Reblogged from 2010, because you never saw it the first time.)


7 thoughts on “Soccer and American Television

  1. Alternate explanation: soccer is unique in it’s lack of predictable breaks, and thus does not have enough space to program in commercials. Putting it on TV is not nearly as lucrative in ads as baseball with it’s inning changeovers, or the dream sport: NFL which has so much time to put ads in as to be almost tailor-made for TV.

    When you see stadiums regularly packing 60+ thousand fans for a game, like the Sounders do, you can bet it’s not a problem of popularity any more. Soccer’s time in the US has come, but the ad money hasn’t cracked how to make it as profitable yet.

    • I agree that’s soccer’s format might be one reason it’s not on TV as much. Also, Americans came late to playing the sport, which is one reason for all the interest in other countries, where every little town has a team and is passionate about it. We’re the same here about baseball (maybe) and Canada about hockey. More and more kids are playing soccer, so I think it will continue to become more popular.

      I agree that soccer players have to be in great shape, as do rugby players and hockey players. The one thin I detest about soccer, though, is the acting that goes into the game, the grabbing a shin or other leg part while writhing on the ground with an expression of near-death. As one wag put it at some point, soccer is 90 minutes of men acting hurt. Rugby is 80 minutes of men acting as if they weren’t. So true.


      • very much so true. what bothers me about officials is they are too easily fooled by what they are told they saw as opposed to what they saw. in school, there were many times when i knew one student had hit another, but if i didn’t see it, then there was nothing i would do about it – just in case i was wrong. officials don’t seem to work that way. i know the game can be fast, but i would rather they let them “play on” and get it wrong than stop for a penalty that was wrong.

        thanks for reading!

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