Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer

Every four years, the world holds an international soccer event called the World Cup. And every four years, there is a full court press to convince us that Americans should love soccer. We don’t. We won’t. There are basically two reason for this: one economic and the other political. . . or more precisely, political correctness.

Americans don’t care about soccer. Indeed, every year Harris does a poll to ask people what their favorite sport is. Soccer doesn’t rate. Here are the top eight from 2010:

• NFL (35%)
• Major League Baseball (16%)
• College Football (12%)
• Autoracing (9%)
• NBA basketball (5%)
• Hockey (4%)
• Men’s golf (4%)
• College basketball (4%)
Soccer hovers between 1% and 4%, where it has been for the last 25 years.

A lot of reasons are given for why Americans don’t like soccer, but I think what it really comes down to is a matter of economics: soccer presents a poor value for our time.

As strange as it may sound, people are economically rational creatures. That means that before we act, we look at the value of each of the alternatives and we pick the one with the highest value for our time. Value is simply the benefit we expect from the activity less the costs of engaging in the activity.

The problem for soccer is that it presents a relatively low value to the viewer. Indeed, while I agree that most goals and a great many near-miss shots on goal can present the same thrill as a running back breaking away from the pack for a touchdown or a baseball speeding toward the fence, the problem is that soccer presents too few of those moments for a two hour event. Indeed, in baseball, any pitch can result in a home run. In football, any play can result in “that moment” of the great hit or the great escape. Soccer simply does not offer anything like that. In an hour and a half soccer match, you’re looking at a couple of minutes of excitement and an hour plus of set up.

Even compared to hockey, soccer still comes up short. In principle, hockey and soccer are nearly identical games. But hockey has three times as many shots on goal per game, and the game is only 2/3 as long. Moreover, the majority of time in a hockey game is played in the danger zone where a strong shot could score. By comparison, most soccer is played in the middle of the field where scoring is essentially impossible.

Thus, even though soccer can achieve the same highs as other sports, it simply does not offer enough of them for the time commitment involved to attract an American audience.

But why are American audiences unique? Because Americans value their time differently. The rest of the world by and large values leisure time more than work time. They are obsessed with holidays, short work days and early retirement, and they are willing to give up economic progress for that free time. American’s aren’t. So when it comes to finding leisure time activities, Americans have fewer leisure hours, and they value each hour more highly. In other words, Europeans are much more willing to blow an afternoon than Americans are. This means that when Americans are looking for ways to spend their leisure time, they are much more selective, i.e. they are more concerned than other people with finding “the biggest bang for the buck.” Soccer just can’t compete with the other activities available to Americans.

Moreover, soccer is hurt in this country by its advocates. For example, too many of the attempts to get Americans to like soccer sound anti-American. We’re told that Americans aren’t smart enough or erudite enough to “get” soccer. . . could you imagine Coke using a similar ad campaign? We’re given vague (and sometimes open) parallels between soccer and socialism, which never sits well with Americans. And we’re told that we should like soccer because the rest of the world does. . . as if Americans have ever liked being told to act like the rest of the world.

Frankly, reading some of the articles on the exit of Team America, you get downright angry. These articles vacillate between insults at the public for not getting with the program and lies about tens of millions of Americans suddenly falling in love with soccer (the same lies they give at the end of each World Cup). They also love to present misleading statistics to give the impression that everyone but you is watching -- “soccer ratings up 68%”. . .twice nothing is still nothing.

Finally, soccer has become the weapon of choice for leftist in the United States. Soccer has been the vehicle that feminists have used to demand that Americans start treating women’s sports on a par with men’s sports. . . actually, that's not quite accurate: feminists have been trying to shut down men's sports for years and they see requiring equal outcomes with women's sports as a way to do that. And soccer is the sport where daffy anti-competition socialist nuts keep demanding that kids games be played without keeping score. . . so nobody feels pressured or gets their feelings hurt. None of this endears the public to soccer. It's like having Hitler endorse your aftershave.

Soccer will have a hard enough time ever breaking onto the American to-do list because of the lack of value in the game. And as long as it is a political tool of the politically correct left who are trying to remake America as a commune, it might as well forget trying.


Tennessee Jed said...

I don't know how much the PC thing really comes in to play, but it is certainly a possibility. More on point is probably your comments on scoring and action. Some people have made the same comments about baseball. Nobody denies that drama can be heightened when the outcome may be decided with one pitch or kick. Look at those last few minutes of the American hockey victory in the 1980 olympics. At the same time though, unless the spectator has a vested in the outcome, there is no question that there isn't enough scoring. On the other hand, a lot of people absolutely love NASCAR while I personally find it even more boring than soccar (if possible.)

There is something really neat about sitting in a ball park on a nice night, but for money, it is hard to be a game like Duke vs. Butler for absolute knuckle whitening drama.

Joel Farnham said...


I am with Jed. I am bored unless it is a football game and I am interested in the outcome.

With it becoming PC, just means that I will avoid it like the plague.

Tam said...

also, while it pretends to be a "populist" sport, it is very much elitist. (Huh, sounds familiar) All the little local teams I've ever encountered have extreme prejudices and political infighting and downright nastiness about who's allowed on what team. Also, I went to a Colorado Rapids game once and it felt an awful lot like a cinco de mayo rally. Not a place a whole lot of Americans feel comfortable, I'm guessing.

JG said...

Did you read the article, I believe it was a NYT editorial, a couple of weeks ago outlining a historical reason as to why soccer has just never taken off here? Basically, the writer said that, by the time soccer immigrated here from the rest of the world, America already had her own sports - baseball, football and basketball, and was plenty happy with them, thank you very much. So soccer was somewhat late to the game (according to the editorial, not really making an appearance until the late 19th/early 20th century with the massive flood of immigration) in making its mark on the culture.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Having a stake in the outcome always helps people enjoy sports more -- that's why gambling is so popular.

As I mention, I really do think the scoring thing is the key reason for soccer's problems. You simply spend too much time waiting for something "tense" to happen in soccer, whereas in other sports you constantly have something going on.

A lot of people say "soccer is boring," and what I'm trying to do is to describe why. Because the soccer people counter that it's not boring and they cite the goals, etc. And I think both are right -- goals are very tense and interesting, but it's the rest of soccer that makes it not worth the time.

And I think this is particularly American because of our attitudes toward leisure.

The PC does matter -- if you read the sports websites, you'll see massive flame wars about with one side blasting anti-Americanism and the other talking about being sick of it.

Tennessee Jed said...

Tam - I don't know if soccar is alone when it comes to children's sports programs in this country. I have been involved in coaching (mostly youth baseball.) Parents screw things up unbelievably. I do realize there is a fine line between youth sports as a learning experience and youth sports as competition. I believe there is room in our society for both, but there must be a clear delineation as to what the purpose is of a particular leage.

That may be an interesting discussion for another time, e.g teaching kids about competing vs. the more touchy feely approach often carried to extremes by progressives. I felt like if I had a competitive little league team, my job was to figure out how to maximize their chance to do so while still playing by the little league rules which dictated that everyone got to play a minimum amount.

AndrewPrice said...


The change in the Harris poll has been a long, steady drift toward football. I think there are many, many reasons why football fits the American psyche, but in the end, I think what matters most is that football is a game where something exciting can happen on every single play. I'm not sure any other sport really has that kind of action.

And I think your attitude about the political correctness is shared by many people. When you make something political, people tends to tune it out or reject it on principle.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: On the excitement scale, I find soccer to be somewhere between watching paint dry and watching grass grow. For me, it's the sports version of a tease. Lots of activity, but nothing's really going to happen. On the other hand, it does give new meaning to the words "use your head." I've tried to like the sport, and I have friends who love it and participate in it, but I just don't get it. All three of my kids played soccer when there was a big push to make it an American sport back in the late 70s and early 80s. And all three of them got out of it as soon as they could.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, There is not a word of English being spoken at DC United games in Washington DC.

While I do think that there are a lot of cliques in sports today (especially with more and more parents living vicariously through their kids), I absolutely agree with you about soccer being an elitist game in the US -- which is kind of strange when you compare it to the rest of the world. In most of the rest of the world, it's like out basketball -- an escape for poor people from poverty to amazing riches.

But in the US, it's been adopted by the crowd that doesn't like the rest of America. And that filters down throughout the sport. Football (formerly baseball) is the sport of the middle class kids, but soccer has become the game pushed by "the educated class." Which is also why it's so constantly beset with idiocies like the idea of not keeping score. That's not a "middle-America" idea, where competition is valued. That's the kind of idea you get out of a journal like "The Atlantic" or papers like the "New York Times" or from college professors, who want to remake American kids into something more European.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I don't doubt what you say about PC flame throwing websites, etc. It's just I hold soccar in such disdain, I've never seen one. U.S. bashing is fashionable around the globe for many reasons which have been discussed at this site. I tend to think liberals have wormed their way into control at sports mass media such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN as well. How many liberal poufs have whined about American jingoism in sports. If anybody ever watched World Cup, we are tame by comparison.

Another great example is the LPGA, the women's professional golf tour. This tour was on the way up, but has been dominated the last couple years by South Koreans. The tour is now on the verge of going under as a result. (I'll grant recession has played a role as well.) Some( progressives, natch) decry this as American racism and jingoism, but I say does anybody think South Koreans gave a rats ass about LPGA until Se Ri Pak came along. She became such a national icon she was driven to a virtual nervous breakdown.

Now, if you can just explain why people love NASCAR!! ;=}

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I didn't see the article, and that certainly explains the slow start it got. But I don't think it explains why soccer hasn't made advances.

One thing Americans are exceedingly good at is taking things that come from other cultures, changing them to suit our tastes, and then adopting them. Pizza is a perfect example of that.

If soccer was as valuable to Americans as football, then I think it would have easily moved to the top of the list. But the game has shortcoming. As proof, I would say look at the change in popularity of the other sports. According to Harris, the NFL has moved up 12% since 1985. And it didn't even rate until the 1960s -- college ball was the big game back then. Baseball was king until football took over somewhere after the forward pass made the game more exciting. Today, baseball is in a long slow slide. Basketball has risen and fallen depending on the popularity of its stars. Auto racing came from nowhere over the last twenty years, and it's on a steady rise.

All these things are in flux depending on the value they offer. So I don't think that there isn't necessarily room at the top for something new, I just don't think soccer offers enough to move up -- certainly not against the current competition.

I'm not saying that soccer wasn't hurt by a late start, but I think the real problem is that the game doesn't offer enough for the time commitment.

Joel Farnham said...


It is the revenoor thing. It got it's start as illegitimatly as could any sport can get started. The runners were out-driving the gubimint Officials at every turn. Then, when they delivered the untaxed likker, they decided to have fun with their souped-up cars and find out who is best. Eventually, people were attracted to these things and NASCAR is the end result.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That is a good topic for discussion. I actually believe that youth sports has become too focused on competition. I don't advocate ideas like not keeping score, that's not what I mean. But I think, for example, that everyone on the team should play.

To me, youth sports (unless you're in some specialized league) should be about learning athletic skill, learning team work, learning the thrill of competition, learning about sportsmanship, and simply being a kid and having fun.

Too many parents today have literally charted out their kid's lives straight to the NFL and they make the whole experience nasty and unpleasant.

In fact, I'm stunned at many of the things I've seen and heard. I know some high school coaches, and I've heard about parents holding their kids back to given them a size advantage, kids are taking growth hormones, they are spending thousands of dollars at camps to learn skills, their parents are interviewing coaches to find the right high school where they can get guarantees that their kid will play, etc.

It's actually kind of sick. No kid's future should be decided because of the desires of the parents and no kid should be put on a life-track starting in the 5th grade.

Ironically, when I was in high school, the most successful football team in the area, the one we could never beat, had a coach who made sure to play everyone. Our coach only played his best players unless he was up by 4 touchdowns.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, "the sports version of a tease" LOL!

I enjoy some of it. For example, I watch the world cup for the most part -- but that's mainly because I like the demonstration of skill from watching somebody like the German team or the Brazilians.

But as for watching it regularly, there is simply no way I would do that. It just doesn't offer enough excitement.

In the 1980s, the pro-soccer people made the claim that the reason Americans don't like soccer is that we don't play it as kids. So they pushed soccer on a whole generation of kids. They even created MLS to give kids the prospect of becoming pros. And. . . no change. Millions of kids play soccer, and they switch to other sports as soon as possible.

JG said...

Oh I totally agree, I find it deadly dull. And those stupid horns don't help the deal, either. Having to listen to those things for 2+ solid hours...I don't get it. Normally I can handle tedium fairly well, but soccer pushes my limits.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I honestly can't explain NASCAR. And I can't get a real explanation either why I should like it????

You're right about the liberals at the sports outlets. If you ever look at the "writing credits" you'll see that almost every one of them got their start by writing a book about black athletes breaking into some sport or other. And they routinely flood their columns with far-left politics, only they claim not to understand that their views are far-left, they think they are just talking about things "everyone believes". In fact, they're usually quite surprised when the blowback comes -- and they get very angry at other people for "injecting politics into sports."

In fact, I could go on an on about the problem with these organizations. They are a bunch of heavily biased northeastern liberals who have nothing but liberal disdain for fly-over country, and they have little interest in teams outside the northeast.

And you're right about how often they reach for the "evil jingoistic American" angle, while ignoring everything rotten overseas. They also love the racism idea, especially when it comes to black quarterbacks and black coaches.

I don't really follow golf, but I understand the LPGA has had a LOT of problems over the past 10-15 years.

CrispyRice said...

Well, you can add me to the list of people who would rather listen to Senators lecture more about financial derivatives than watch soccer.


AndrewPrice said...

Joel, You're right about the history, but I still don't see the attraction. It's cars going around a big circle. I do that everyday -- minus the circle and the number on the side of my car.

I'm not disparaging it, because people really do love it, and that's fine -- to each his own. But I just don't get it.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, The horns are driving me crazy. I know a lot of soccer fans are angry about them too. They are used to hearing chanting and singing and the such. Now all you hear is the angry buzz of an ongoing hornet's nest. It's giving me a headache.

One of the things I like about college sports (as compared to pro) is the crowd noise. At college football games (as you know, being an OU fan), you get chants, singing, fight songs, etc. -- I think that makes the sport so much more entertaining than just simple cheering. I wish the pros would drop the piped in music between plays, bring back team bands and try to get the crowds into the games like they are at the college game.

Joel Farnham said...


NASCAR is the end result of those impromptu races. People went to those impromptu races because the guy that brought them the moonshine this morning is racing this afternoon. It became something to do in the POOR south. Not much else to do except watching butterflys etc. etc.

As the sport became more formalized, it became more ingrained in the collective psyche of the south. One of the reasons why the people would come to these races were the fights that would break-out after the races between the drivers. It still happens, but is quickly hushed up. :)

It was cheap entertainment at it's best. As it became more lucrative than selling 'shine, the runners would go legit.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's a pretty good explanation for it, and it explains why NASCAR is mainly a southern thing -- though I understand that's changing.

I've just never seen a point to it. And in truth, I have the same reaction to horse racing, which is kind of the rich version of NASCAR. See horsey run, see horsey run fast. Ok, now what?

Ponderosa said...

I’ve probably been thinking about soccer too much and could go on ad nauseum about the following points. But instead I will be brief.

1) My biggest hurdle is the diving.

Yes all sports do it - try to influence the ref.

However, the right dive can get a man sent off or score not just the winning goal - but the only goal of a game. In basketball a dive gets you 1 personal foul and (perhaps) 2 points of 100. And even if a player fouls out he can be replaced.

The impact can be enormous and it effects each and every game.

2) Strategically football is far more complicated.
It is chess vs. checkers and that is being generous.
To start - all soccer players are basically the same dimensions and rely on the attributes (foot speed and endurance).

3) I’m amused by the left supporting WC soccer.
WC soccer promotes: competition, winning, patriotism, individualism, etc.

4) On a conceptual level I’d add lacrosse and basketball to hockey & soccer.
Motion games with a net played on a rectangle. Probably stretching things a bit.

There is a tad more contact in hockey.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I agree about the diving. In game with as few shots on goal as soccer, a single dive can literally win the game. I can't think of anything comparable. Maybe a goal-line pass interference call in football, except that you had plenty of time before then to make sure that one bad call can't cost you the game -- something which is much more difficult in soccer.

I agree about the strategy as well. One of the things I hear about a lot from soccer fans is how much strategy there is in soccer. But it's really very basic strategy. Compared to football, it really is checkers compared to chess.

And I think you're right about the left missing the point on soccer. The World Cup really is about competition, nationalism, and individual effort. Although, I think that individual effort has much more effect in other sports. You really can't start on one end of a soccer field and take the ball down yourself and score. you can in every other sport.

Hmm. I do see the connection between basketball and hockey. I hadn't thought about it before because the lack of a goalie in basketball, but the game is very similar isn't it. Interesting!

Joel Farnham said...


Isn't there a foul called goal tending in basketball?

Tennessee Jed said...

Joel - there is a "goal tending" infraction in basketball. Essentially, you are not permitted to deflect a shot on it's way down and is in the imaginary cylinder above the rim. You can block a shot inless it has reached the top of it's arc. The idea was to keep tall defenders from just reaching up their hands and making them into a sort of improvied "lid" over the basket. Like anything else, it becomes a judgement call by a referee, hence a potential bone of contention.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, .... what Jed said! :-)

But basically, Ponderosa is right -- basketball is very similar to hockey except that the "goal" is a lot smaller and you can't have a goalie.

BevfromNYC said...

Hey, soccer may be boring, but those guys sure look great in those little shorts! Okay, I'm shallow...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I'm shocked and offended! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Nascar - how to explain it? I’m not sure I can really. Having family members who used to race (dad, uncles, brother and nephew) not in the big leagues, mind you, but in local races, (however, my dad did qualify a car he owned at Darlington a long, long time ago) there is that connection. Also, I have fond memories of watching races with my dad back in the 70's, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood. They have certainly made things more interesting over the years with the in-car cameras - to actually get the driver’s perspective on a crash is pretty wild. My husband and I record the races now because we don’t have time to watch them in their entirety, but it is interesting to fast forward through them and look for wrecks or fights. We have a dirt track about an hour away from us and it is fun to go and watch on occasion. The smells, the sounds, the dirt . . . what can I say? I hope to one day go to a big time race.

As for other sports, the NFL is our favorite. We’ve been to two live games and it really is a cool experience. With regard to basketball, baseball, golf and soccer, we’d rather watch paint dry. TJ

Pawdog said...

Hey I'm surprised no one mentioned this. There are apparently no stats in soccer. Americans love stats. All of our sports have them.
Baseball, football, Basketball, even nascar. Ive watched a couple of these world cup games. There are no stats to get you through the tedium while you wait for the ball to get close to the box.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, NASCAR has been very innovative in terms of finding ways to increase the number of viewers. And they've been very successful. In fact, it's one of the most watched sports in the country now, and they have races all over the country -- not just the South.

But I have to admit that I just don't get it. I have no connection to it, so maybe that's the problem. But to me, it just isn't interesting. But hey, to each his own right?

My favorite is easily the NFL, followed by college football and then college hockey. Basketball and baseball and soccer don't really interest me.

AndrewPrice said...

Pawdog, That's very true. Americans do love looking at statistics. In fact, there are stats sites all over the place and each sport is trying to create new stats to appeal to people. For example, look at what the NFL has done with creating massive amounts of new stats -- everything from a passer rating to yards after the catch. And people are eating it up!

Patti said...

back in the 70's my dad coached a soccer league that included my brothers...in west texas. we were the laughing stock. i didn't like it then, and no matter how i've tried (maybe i haven't *really* tried) i just can't get on board. i am bored beyond belief. guess i need some hoped for bone-breakage to stay interested.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, Full contact soccer might work in this country. You should patent that idea! :-)

Anonymous said...

>people are economically rational >creatures.

Yes, that's why US football takes over 3hrs to play and offers about 12-14mins of action.
The perfect sport for a nation that suffers of ADD and cant concentrate for more tahn 5 secs at a time.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the US won 3rd place at the 1930 world cup and won a medal in soccer at the 1904 Olympics so please feel free to perpetuate the myth that it arrived here late.

AndrewPrice said...

Dear Anon, If you're going to criticize Americans for having ADD, the least you should do is learn to (1) spell, (2) use words properly, and (3) read the article you are "criticizing."

Also, you probably should learn something about American football before you open your mouth the next time. Of course, I suspect that lack of knowledge has never stopped you before, so I'm probably wasting my good advice.

In any event, if you have any doubt that I'm laughing at you, I am. And if you want to know why, have someone look up the word "irony" for you in the dictionary.

In the meantime, I will wish you goodbye my idiot friend, and let you return to the little fantasy world in which you live where you think people care what you say. Ta ta.

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