Luke Graham.

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Luke Graham.

Luke Graham: Can soccer succeed?

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

For the average soccer fan, the World Cup introduced the sport to so many. It was fun — yikes, “fun” and “soccer-watching” in the same sentence.

And overall in the United States, the World Cup has to be viewed as a success for soccer in a country where lots of people don’t watch the sport. Of course, the World Cup continues through July 11, but for me, it ended Saturday with the U.S. loss to Ghana.

That game was well-watched. It seemed every person around wanted to know the score and wanted to know how things were going.

But can the recent success of the World Cup make soccer an American game? Can soccer move into the big sports with football, baseball, basketball and hockey?

In short, I don’t think so. I’m a casual fan. I followed it since the qualification last year, knowing the World Cup was coming.

Like many, I watched all the World Cup games, getting up early and watching on the edge of my seat.

But here are the prime reasons soccer still won’t take off for the casual fan. I could see why it might, but the bottom line is I don’t think it will.

■ None of the best players and best teams play in America. Outside of getting teams together for the World Cup, all these players play for their respective clubs across the world. Most of those teams and leagues are outside of our borders. It’s tough for a casual fan to follow the English Premier League, or teams in Spain, France or Italy. Plus, it’s easier for Americans to follow something when we consistently can watch the best players in the world.

■ Major League Soccer still isn’t quite there. The MLS isn’t a top-level brand of soccer when compared to the rest of the world. Although a good portion of the United States’ players spent time in the MLS, most now play overseas. Until the level of professional soccer, and the money, start to approach the level in Europe, the MLS will just be more of a Triple A professional league.

■ Lack of success on an international level. All Americans were heartbroken on Saturday after losing in the round of 16. While getting that far seems to have been a success, it just isn’t enough. Until America can put together a team that legitimately can challenge for a spot in the semifinals or finals of a World Cup, the sport won’t really take off.

■ There are still too many things many American fans don’t like about the sport. Too many ties, too many yellow cards and too much diving by players. How there can still be just one, main referee on the field is beyond me.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

Soccer is likely to be a bigger US sport in 10-15 years than hockey. There are huge regions of this country in which virtually zero kids play hockey and hockey has almost no following among the fastest growing demographics.

MSL is a second rate league. They have lost many dedicated fans by resorting to gimmicks intended to make the game more popular. Ties are often a fair result and there is nothing wrong with an exciting game that ends in a tie. What is miserable is a boring tie in which neither team played to win. But international soccer largely solved that issue by giving 3 points for a win and just one for a tie.

It is very easy for even a casual fan to follow the best soccer in the world. Champion's League, English and Spanish league soccer is on ESPN, Fox Sports and other standard cable stations. The title deciding Barca and Real Madrid match was on ESPN2 and was one of the most watched soccer games in US history. Earlier this year, a Man U vs Chelsea game got good ratings. Both did much better than the average hockey game.

Barca and other top clubs have taken preseason tours of the US and have had no problems selling out the games vs the local mls clubs. We are among the profitable places for a big club to do a preseason tour.

We have had several highly quality soccer only stadiums built and they have increased attendance at home games. We have a real chance at getting the 2022 World Cup and this time it would be played in first rate soccer facilities.

There is every reason to believe there are more and more casual fans of soccer. That probably will not make the MLS into a top flight league, but it probably will mean more games of other top leagues on cable and more big clubs playing some games here.

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Duke_bets 4 years, 5 months ago

greenwash - It is.

Scott - Most true sports fans don't watch any soccer. It will never compete with any of the 4 major sports. There are probably more golf watching fans than soccer. It's popular in foreign countries because the major sports, other than hockey, stink. Soccer is cool for kids and women. Unfortunately, kids and women sporting events don't draw a lot of attention.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

Over 66,000 fans bought tickets to watch the Seattle Sounders play FC Barcelona last fall. Games in LA featuring top teams from the Mexican league regularly draw in excess of 40,000. USA vs Mexico in the Rose Bowl has drawn something like 80,000.

Seattle Sounders averaged more than 32,000 for their regular season MLS games which is 20% more than what the Seattle Mariners averaged in 2009.

There are only 4 or 5 countries that have leagues which feature the world's best players. The rest of the world watches their best players leave their country to play in the best leagues. If Everton signs Landon Donovan then the TV ratings for Everton's games will go up, Everton will be more likely to have a successful US tour and will probably sell more memorabilia.

But in your mind that is "never competing". I'm just pointing out facts on the ground. It is easy to prove that it has never been easier for a casual fan to watch top level soccer. It used to be quite hard to watch an EPL or La Liga game. Now they are shown live on ESPN.

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Duke_bets 4 years, 5 months ago

Scott - 20% more than the Mariners? Really? Do you realize that the Mariners have 81 home games from April to September. How many home games do the Sounders have? Actually, who cares how many home games the Sounders have? Duke bets it's less than 30 just for the debate. Now take your 20% and do the math. Comparing one of the worst drawing baseball teams throws the state even more askew. Although, when you talk total sales, that crap baseball team still wins. Compare the almighty Sounders to the Cubs or Red Sox. You can even use that one game for game.

I'm just pointing out the facts to.

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jaded 4 years, 5 months ago

@ Duke... If you had EVER attended any kind of international soccer game, you would never question the fact that the fans are "true sports fans". You show your true ignorance of international sports by saying "Most true sports fans don't watch any soccer".

I understand you might think it is boring to watch, I think American baseball is boring to watch, but as with any sport, the more you know about it, the more interesting it becomes. Take some time to learn about what is involved in a soccer game before saying it is just for kids and women. Better yet, try playing...Jaded bets you wouldn't last 10 minutes.

As for attendance numbers, you are right, it still doesn't compare with the big 4 here, but it IS growing, and fast.

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Duke_bets 4 years, 5 months ago

jaded - You lose......what was the bet? Look back to 'greenwash' post.........

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Duke_bets 4 years, 5 months ago

jaded - Did you 'comma' button get stuck or what?

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 5 months ago

Seattle Mariners ranked 17th out of 30 teams in averaged attendance. That is hardly "one of the worst drawing baseball teams". That is quite close to the average MLB team. The Mariners averaged a bit over 26,000 per game last year. The team with the worst attendance was the Indians with just over 16,000 per game.

Seattle Sounders averaged just under 31,000 per home game last year.

I said "average attendance", not total attendance. If you think total attendance is a more valid measure then the Sounders had over 80% of the total attendance of the Seattle Seahawks (that sold out every game).

"Compare the almighty Sounders to the Cubs or Red Sox." - so now what you call an irrelevant sport is to be compared to the biggest teams with huge fan bases? If that is the comparison you want to use then I'd say that you have accepted that soccer has a significant fan base.

And where did we start this discussion? It was that soccer was not taking off for the casual fan and would never be a major US spectator sport. And now we arguing that baseball and football are still bigger than soccer? Well, what about the NHL? Best average attendance was the Blackhawks with little more than 21,000 per home game and worst was Coyotes at just under 12,000. If you count exhibition games then Seattle Sounders in less than half as many games then had more total attendance than several NHL teams.

The main point of Luke Graham's column, that despite some US success at the World Cup that soccer lacks the casual fans to be a major US sport has been shown to be factually wrong. No one says that you need to be a fan, but you are factually wrong to say there are not a large number of US soccer fans.

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Brian Kotowski 4 years, 5 months ago

A sport comprised principally of players running around in the middle of the field, passing the ball back & forth with little chance of anything meaningful happening. Low scoring and tedious. Bottom line: it pales in comparison (especially on television) to the NFL, NBA, and MLB, and will never amount to anything in this country.

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Jeff_Kibler 4 years, 5 months ago

It's just a matter of taste and choice.

I didn't care about hockey until a girlfriend took me to a Denver Grizzlies game. Live hockey is great, not so good on TV.

I think NASCAR is just a left-handed circle jerk. However, I have a lot of friends that just can't get enough of Jimmie Johnson et al. Some of those friends also love soccer. "You just don't understand", they tell me.

They berate me when I want to watch the Master's or the US Open. "Golf ain't no sport!" So we argue about restrictor plates and MLB replay, and just plain have fun.

Isn't that what sports are about? Just plain fun.

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jaded 4 years, 5 months ago

So I like punctuation - what's wrong with that?

I am merely saying - which you do not address - that to say "true sports fans" do not like soccer shows your lack of knowledge about soccer fans.

and I lost? Lost what? You agreed it was for pansies - I challenged you to try the sport. Not just kick around a ball in the back yard - anyone can do that - same way that throwing a football around is not playing the game. Go out and mimic a steamboat high school girls soccer practice and see how you do - I say mimic because I assume they wouldn't let you practice with them - and again - I believe you and most others out there - including myself - wouldn't last 10 minutes. I never played the sport but gained alot of respect for it when I actually attended a World Cup game four years ago.

Now would you like to address the "true sports fan" comment - or just laugh at my hyphens?

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