By Kellen Bulger
“Baseball, basketball, American football, they’ve been around. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could make a difference,” said former international soccer star David Beckham prior to making the historic move from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy 11-years-ago.
Looking back on the move today, did Beckham’s arrival in the states fundamentally change the American sports scene? Not quite.
Numerous international soccer stars have come to the United States in search of starting a “soccer revolution” to little avail. Pele did it, Beckham did it, Kaká did it and just two weeks ago Manchester United star and 2013 Ballon d’Or finalist (international soccer’s most prestigious award) Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he was going to make the move stateside and join the LA Galaxy. Predictably, every major American sports media outlet came out with their own respective opinion pieces lauding the move and exclaiming how it was going to create some great change. Do I buy it? No.
Earlier this year a Gallup poll was released stating, “… among adults aged 18-34, soccer was the favorite sport of 11 percent, tying basketball.” In spite of the results of this poll and this past year showing that game attendance is also up, viewership is still down and the skeptics are just as loud. Why though? Why is soccer not popular in the third most populous country in the world, but far and away the most popular sport for nearly every other country in the world?
The answer is that the dying off, conservative culture in America holds the sport of soccer back from rising to its true potential.
Americans, no matter the sport they’re viewing, want to relate to the larger-than-life characters they see on their screen. Whether it be the annual narrative created out of the Masters champion and the shot of them kissing their wife and kids on the 18th green in Augusta or the video compilation played to the song “One Shining Moment” at the end of March Madness every year, people want to vicariously live through these figures and imagine themselves in the athlete’s shoes. And, how can they do that when they see soccer players literally diving on the ground in fake agony in the hopes of stopping the action of play? Unimaginable to the American viewer who enjoys the tough as nails player and the fast-paced, high scoring game.
Beyond the fact that the typical soccer star doesn’t fit the American athlete, Tim Tebow archetype that many love so dearly, another aspect of soccer is absolutely repulsive to the American viewer: ties.
The NFL has seen only five tied games over the past six years and, after each one, social media and the internet as a whole is a complete and utter shitshow, to put it mildly. Every fan, player and commentator alike walks away exclaiming there needs to be rule changes, (which there have been) and they whine about how much they hate the outcome. We don’t want a winner and loser in America; we need winners and losers. SoccerAmerica did a study back in 2011 that found nearly a third of MLS games, during certain seasons, can be expected to end in a tie. If a third of NBA, NFL or MLB games ended in a tie, you can bet people would be losing interest in those respective sports and leagues in absolute droves.
Zlatan is not the silver-bullet here. Beckham certainly wasn’t and that’s because there is none. America is slowly becoming a more progressive country and with that, I’m sure soccer will begin to make more of a foothold in the American sports scene. However, as long as the powers that be are still in control, you can bet that ESPN won’t be airing Monday night primetime soccer anytime soon.