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.