Thoughts on the World Cup and America

June 11, 2006

Every four years I remember how much I love watching soccer. I am totally pumped to see the Mexicans kick the Iranians ass. I don't think I've ever had as much interest in Mexico before (although the Mexico ride at Epcot, with its "make a well for you" greeting" always tugged at my heart). I'm also rooting for Ahmadinejad to say something crazy about the holocaust so the GERMANS have to throw him in jail.

I actually watch the occasional MLS game, and get into stretches where I watch five or six games on the Spanish channels at night (see, US Spanish language TV has more to offer than buxom exotics). I've always wondered why soccer has never become a big draw in the US. Enough people play the game for it to make sense (this is horse racing's big problem; no one knows what its like to be a horse, because since Mr. Ed and Boxer got sent to the glue factory, no one's watching). I think it can be big. Like almost every other sport, Soccer really benefits from HDTV. All sports in HDTV are incredibly compelling and larger than life (compare this to watching Leno in High Def where he's magically less funny and scarier—actually don't watch Leno in High Def or anything else. Letterman forever). Watching soccer on TV is now a really enjoyable experience.

But the one thing that will really draw Americans to the game are stars. I watched Freddy Adu's first game, and saw how packed the crowd was. Americans care about celebrities and nothing else. We even have celebrity dog hunters now and celebrity death matches. Aren't battles to the death compelling enough? Whatever has become of the sport of dueling?

A US team really needs to go out and pay the money for 2 or three of the world's top players. Ronaldo would post HUGE stats in the US. No one could stop him. He'd make opposing goalies look as worthless as GM stock. The league can absorb the costs for a few years before the ancillaries of popularity–the ratings, TV deals, and endorsements–catch up to the larger crowds and sure to be massive merchandise. Everyone would want a Ronaldo jersey. The key thing is to bring in stars in their prime, and not 40 year-old, one legged Peles.

The key is for soccer to think like the Yankees. Never mind if the team loses money, the media money of winning and interest more than makes up for losses at the gate.

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