Five reasons Americans never got into soccer

by Louise Baker

Football, or soccer, as the Americans know it, is the most popular sport in the world. Yet, the United States, one of the largest countries in the world, has never embraced it. The excitement generated by the recent World Cup has left many wondering why. In an attempt to answer that question, we have compiled five of the top reasons that Americans never got into soccer.

5. Availability, Familiarity, and Stigma

Some argue that the game is neither available nor familiar to the Americans, but this is not entirely true. The U.S. integrated soccer programs into their public education system in the 1970s. In fact, soccer is so popular at the youth level that is often the sport of choice for parents, and it even surpasses participation in baseball in those age groups. However, this has given soccer an odd image in the country, one where it is associated more with a childís game like kickball than it is with one suited for adults, such as baseball or American football.

4. America’s Top Athletes

One aspect to this stigma is that there are few larger-than-life reinforcements, which is important to children and even influences parents to a degree. The young baseball player has the MLB, and the young basketball player has the NBA. Perhaps Landon Donovan is the closest the country has ever had to such a figure, but even he does not achieve a level of exposure that would allow him to influence in the manner that a Kobe Bryant or David Wright does.

3. America’s Dads

The popularity of soccer in the U.S. is in many ways a chicken or the egg scenario. Sport is a male-oriented business, and men are very much their father’s sons. The current U.S. power generation grew up with fathers that had little to no exposure to soccer. Will this current generation impart their soccer experiences to their sons? If they do, then we may witness an incremental change in attitude through the generations.

2. Competition and the Almighty Marketing Dollar

TV exposure is the first step if there is any chance that Americans will one day embrace soccer. Many Americans currently have to jump through hoops just to watch it. ESPN is making a difference because it sees soccer as an untapped revenue opportunity. However, the bottom line is this: Americans possess a finite number of dollars to funnel into sports. Soccer has to compete with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and a host of niche sports. Advertisers recognize this just as well as we do.

1. A Sport-Oriented Cultural Divide

Some argue that soccer is too slow for the American viewer, or that there is not enough scoring. We think that this is an oversimplification of what alienates the American sport enthusiast. To Americans, the offside rules in soccer seems intentionally designed to suppress scoring and the pace of the game. The fact that there is clock time hidden to all but the judges infuriates Americans, and they feel it robs them of a quintessential sport moment. Then, there is the flopping. Americans flop in their own sports. However, the way in which the international soccer culture embraces it, is what puzzles them.

The answer to why Americans never got into soccer is a complex one. It also has deep roots. It is certainly something that can change over time, in part due to Internet-powered globalization, but it will be a long and slow process.

Louise Baker is a soccer fan who wishes the sport would be more widely appreciated in North America. She currently writes about online degrees for Zen College Life. Her, most recent post was on becoming a dental assistant.

Categories: Sports

8 replies »

  1. I think the flopping is the biggest reason. People are turning professional basketball off because of the flopping and whining that has permeated the NBA. We (Americans) celebrate tough guys as much, if not more, than skill players. I’m a hockey fan first, and as much as I respect a Pavel Datsyuk dipping and weaving around defenders, I LOVE the big hit. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

    I hope Soccer catches on in the States. I love the game (played in high school), and hate how under appreciated it is here.

    • A distaste for flopping would explain why people don’t like Italian or Portuguese or Argentinian soccer. If you watch the MLS, though, you’ll see less flopping by far than you will in an NBA game (and you’re right about that, btw).

      The other issue – and this is by far the BIGGEST reason you have all the flopping – is bad officiating. If you have the ball and get clipped, you’re now off the ball and are going to lose it. If you stay up there won’t be a whistle. If you go down there might be. In some cultures (like Argentine) diving to fool the ref is “part of the game” and it’s actually encouraged. But most places, including the US, England, Spain, etc., going down a little too easily is the only way you can keep bad refs from putting your team at a disadvantage.

  2. I heard an interesting discussion about diving during the world cup on the radio. The point that was made was pretty straightforward. There is no penalty for diving, so why not try? It doesn’t hurt your team, and may help.

    Hard to argue with that logic.

    • Interesting, but patently wrong. The ref can card a player for simulation. If that player is already carrying a card, then yes, he’s off the pitch and suspended.

  3. Hard to figure, since the average NFL game is on average only 11 minutes of action. That means the rest of the time is players walking back to the huddle or Peyton manning dicking around calling hot routs. I honestly don’t know how I can watch as much football as I do, it really is a boring sport. I also don’t understand the MLB. The fans want home runs, so the MLB gives it to them, yet in general most fans thing baseball games are too long, however a good pitching duel could shave 30-40 minutes off the game and fans think it’s boring. Which would actually mean less ad revenue, so I get it. I don’t get the NBA, I really tried to watch the finals, but that sport is just so freaking boring, and it’s really tough to like any of the players. Soccer in the US is actually one of the most popular sports played by young kids, yet at some point they stop. I think a lot of it has to do with pro league exposure, kids need to have a rooting interest. As much as everyone piles on the NHL, I was in Nashville when they had one ice rink, and they brought the Preds there. By the time I left there was a bunch of youth leagues, and a few more rinks. It’s gotten even bigger since then. This is actually happening a lot in most non traditional hockey markets. They’re really pushing for youth, and in 10 years it may end up being one of the smartest moves ever. I know when I went to the first winter classic they sold extra tickets a month before the game. Each fan could buy up to 4, and if 2, 3, or 4 tickets were bought 1 ticket had to be used for someone under 13. They don’t quite go to the lengths that AAA baseball does for youth, but they do put a lot more energy into it then the others.

  4. Americans aren’t put off by low scores. Baseball has pitchers’ duels all the time, and we admire that. Hockey is often low scoring as well. So I don’t think that is a valid argument.

    What soccer is, is FOREIGN. Americans like American sports. The 4 major sports were all developed here in the Americas. I think that’s the main reason soccer hasn’t caught on – it’s FOREIGN.

  5. Americans are absolutely put off by low scores, the NHL and MLB have researched it to death and have done as much as they could to get scoring up without pissing off the diehards.

    Besides the fact that you blurred the line between country and continent I don’t think your point is valid. Last I checked the golf is pretty freaking popular and wasn’t invented in the Americas.

  6. I don’t know if I agree with Joe. Whilst I’d certainly agree that USers are ‘insular’ we have a similar situation here in NZ with Rugby being dominant and football mostly a youth sport. NZers are amongst the most travelled peoples in the world, there are 5 million of us Kiwis, 1 million don’t live in NZ. Australia has a stronger football culture, I believe due to greater Italian, Greek, Yugoslav immigration there (you only have to look at the names of their players). Is perhaps a great proportion of football players in the US Hispanic?
    Rugby has a history of being played at ‘Public Schools’ in Britain. Of course the ‘public schools’ are actually eletist private schools. Rugby could be seen as the game of ‘Gentlemen’ thus has a perceived prestige (esp. compared to Rugby League a professional sport enjoyed by the lower classes). Now I can understand why the Yanks wouldn’t want to play a British sport so you changed early Rugby into American Football. This took off in colleges, I suspect American Football was perceived to be just as much a Gentlemen’s game.
    So why didn’t immigration from Meditteranian/Balkan countries to the US make for greater interest in football? Australian Balkan immigration happened post WWII, when football was a established sport. Immigration to the US (from anywhere) had been ongoing and consistant since the 1800’s, before football was established. Perhaps the nature of imigration to the U.S was different. People choose to go to the U.S and ‘integrated’. Post WWII immigration was a matter of necessity and those folks (in Australia) looked fondly to their respective ‘mother countries’ and tried to preserve as much of their culture (football) as they could. Italian Americans may have a history in the U.S for over a hundred years, those in Australia have history there back to the 1950s. They have less time to ‘integrate’ so still play the same sports their grandfather did.

    On the ‘not wanted to play a Bristish sport’. I had NEVER heard the phrase ‘British Petroleum’ until the recent misfortune. Be interesting if the California Texas Oil Company has an oil spill off the British Coast. Any bets the Poms will just call the company Chevron, after all the ‘British Petroleum’ opprobrium?