Commentary

High Ratings For World Cup -- But Long Term- Prospects For U.S. Soccer On TV? No Goal

Soccer, with its long heritage in Europe, Latin America, and other parts of the world, always seemed like a sports poised for a break-out in the U.S.

Once again we are teased: In 1999, it was the U.S. women's team that won the World Cup, as well as big TV ratings. Now we have a U.S. men's team again getting to the quarter finals and showing some competitive kick in its loss to Ghana, with the biggest TV ratings ever for a soccer event: 19 million viewers.

But odds are U.S. soccer won't take the ball and run with it, even after almost two decades of ramped-up efforts in high schools, colleges, and kids' leagues.

Early rounds of the World Cup were plagued by low scores like 0-0, 1-0, 0-1. We all know American audiences love lots of scoring. The NHL knows this issue as well, with problems compounded by a fast-moving, sometimes hard-to-track small black puck.

Of course, another big European sport -- cycling -- has always had the same problem: very little "scoring," longtime lulls in the action.  Yet for true aficionados, there are intricacies in any sport to appreciate, as in somewhat-slower-moving sports like golf.

While serious attempts have been made in the U.S. to boost soccer's awareness -- though the Major League Soccer league, and the high-profile signing of David Beckham by the Los Angeles Galaxy some years ago -- it's been slow going. Except for a handful of markets, most teams operate in the red.

Network executives salivate over trying to grow another sport's TV business, all in the hope of pulling in those male-specific high-paying TV marketers and league sponsors.

There's been a professional lacrosse league, ultimate fight groups, and a number of alternative professional football leagues: spring leagues, indoor leagues, NFL-minor leagues. 

Periodic X-games events have elbowed their way into TV viewers' consciousness, as well as ultimate fighting events. Interestingly, many of these growing sports have a much-younger pedigree and cater to a younger male audience.  But I doubt they'll ever rival the big three: the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball.

Developing high-rated TV sports programming is much harder than developing a good new scripted TV series. You need action that is compelling, lots of scoring, engaging athletic personalities -- and lastly, rabid, longtime local fans.

Soccer fans have all that in markets around the world -- but not in the U.S.

8 comments about "High Ratings For World Cup -- But Long Term- Prospects For U.S. Soccer On TV? No Goal ".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, June 29, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.

    I was reminded of how deadly dull soccer matches are after watching the Yankees' thrillling late game comeback against the Dodgers on Sunday night. A 4-goal comeback in the closing minutes of a soccer game? Never gonna happen.

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 29, 2010 at 11:22 a.m.

    Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser -
    George S. Patton (at least that's what he said in the movie).

    Rabid local fans are the only ones who root for their teams, win or lose. Do you think the rest of America cares about the Chicago Cubs? When your team loses on the big stage every 4 years, you don't have a chance at home.

    One question about the column: Since when did the NBA become one of "the big three?" Just because the finals just ended and it was a good series, they still don't rank up with NFL, or even NASCAR.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 29, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    And time. Or 2 and 3 games at once. A real boon for advertisers. What teams do you watch during soccer ad pods? Except for extreme fighting and such elements, sports are good. However, even for sports, there is a saturation point unless and that's a whole other topic. (The guy who for whom sports was more important than anything else, his name is Schtuppy. He still introduces himself as Schtuppy. ;)

  4. Howard Burkat, June 29, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    I've tried to like soccer. I really have. I want to like it. I feel I should like it. I've lived in countries where everyone likes it. But geeze...nothing ever HAPPENS. So I am in the ratings...but I really don't care and will almost certainly never watch again.

  5. Mark Tenenbaum from Rent-A-Center, Inc., June 29, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

    I am no soccer expert and admit that I jumped on the bandwagon like so many others, but I don't believe the U.S. made it to the quarter-finals as you state. Had we beaten Ghana that would've put us in the quarter-finals. Sorry, Mr. Friedman, but a red card for you.

  6. Chris Fritz, June 30, 2010 at 12:16 a.m.

    Mr Friedman,

    You should stick to a subject matter that you understand. Soccer has been gaining in popularity in the United States over the last 15 years or so. The fact that there are profitable teams in Major League Soccer is proof. Ratings for the World Cup have been growing and once again are breaking records. Youth and adult participation is also growing. Soccer is not going to knock off the big three anytime soon but it is showing steady growth I. This country.

  7. Chris Fritz, June 30, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.

    I grew up playing and watching baseball, football, and basketball. These sports are filled with commercials, timeouts, replays, and a lot of standing around. Very little actual action takes place during a game. Soccer is 90 minutes of non stop action. I discovered this wonderful sport as an adult. None of the other sports hold a candle to the excitement of attending a high level soccer game.

  8. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, June 30, 2010 at 2:26 a.m.

    Yes, I saw that as well: the author needs to edit the article to say the US did not quite make it to the Quarter Finals. I am glad to hear that 19 million viewers saw that last game (I was on the beach instead).

    Seriously, it looked good to soccer fans around the world that the US made it so far. Russia and China had not even qualified. France was sent home a round earlier. England was more ignominiously defeated at the same time and Germany, in defeating England, went wild in celebration...meaning that making it so far and having one team advance to the Quarter Finals really means something.

    If Germany had defeated the US 4:1 the German public would also have gone wild - and that would, ironically, make Americans feel their team had done rather well.

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