Photo: Paul Rudderow
I commute an hour each way to work and during my commute I enjoy listening to sports talk radio. I often wonder why soccer never seems to be a topic of discussion on any local sports radio shows. In fact, I actually heard one host say that he’d quit his job immediately and drive a cab for a living if he was ever forced to discuss soccer on his show.
Which got me thinking, why all the animosity over soccer and what message does it sound to our youth players?
Once upon a time (and not that long ago) soccer was a sport that only a small percentage of kids chose as their fall season sport. I had a few friends, boys and girls, that played soccer but a majority of the kids I knew played baseball/softball and football. I look back and think perhaps the lack of participation in the sport in years past could be attributed to a lack of knowledge. American kids have had the opportunity to view TV coverage of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey for decades now. The same cannot be said for soccer.
Twenty years ago. you would be hard pressed to find a kid who could name a famous soccer player other than Pelé. My husband tells stories about watching VHS tapes of World Cup highlights as a kid and how he hungered to see more. He would watch the tapes again and again, inspired by the skills of the world’s best players. There was no “Monday Night Soccer” where kids could watch their favorite teams and players go toe-to-toe each week.
My, how times have changed.
The US has come a long way in it’s acceptance of soccer. For example, Fox has channels entirely devoted to both US and international soccer where viewers can catch games, highlights, and commentary 24 hours a day. ESPN and ABC have combined in an effort to provide fairly comprehensive coverage of MLS and the US national teams as well as the NCAA men’s and women’s soccer championships. The new NBC Sports Network prominently features soccer. The options online—both legal and otherwise—are endless.
But is it enough to keep future generations of America’s youth interested in playing soccer?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that 24 hour national broadcasts of soccer are now available when not so long ago that would have been unimaginable. But what about local coverage?
Three short years ago just before the opening of PPL Park, the Philadelphia Union debuted at Lincoln Financial Field and I was there with all of the fans soaking up the atmosphere of a stadium filled with a magical energy spilling out of every pore of every attendee in anticipation of our beloved, long awaited, and very own professional soccer team. Local news crews were also there televising this monumental event. And they seemed excited.
So where did they go?
The Philadelphia Union is an afterthought in every local sports broadcast, sometimes being mentioned at the end of the segment if another (more “important”) sports story hasn’t bumped them out completely. I’m told that certain pockets in the United States provide more extensive coverage of their local soccer teams, but I’m not encouraged by the coverage I’ve seen so far in my local area.
I come back to the thought that all of this might be attributed to a lack of knowledge on the part of those reporting on sports. It’s makes sense that if someone doesn’t understand something they will choose not to speak about it, especially if speaking is what they do for a living. Some will argue that soccer isn’t as popular as some other mainstream sports but that argument is increasingly becoming empty. Last year the MLS set an all time attendance record, drawing more fans than both the NBA and NHL and a recent poll commissioned by ESPN indicates that professional soccer is the most popular sport for those between the age of 12 and 24. I think it is safe to say that, from a fan’s perspective, soccer is pretty darn popular.
So, how do we get the local media to recognize that? One can only hope that the national coverage will continue to grow in both popularity and ratings and that the smaller, local broadcasters will be forced to join the bandwagon.
For those of us who can remember where the sport was, and how far it’s come, we have an opportunity to be ambassadors for the future and to pass that torch to our children. After all, if the Sons of Ben were able to create a grass roots movement that produced a professional team and top of the line stadium, why can’t we convince local media to air equal representation of our sport?
We now have an entire world at our fingertips with the evolution and continual growth of social media. It’s up to us to not only share our knowledge and love of the game but to have our thirst for soccer quenched by our local media. Create a Union fan page with your kids so they can blog about the season, favorite players, player trades, and game highlights. Once you’ve done that, let their friends and teammates know so they can follow the blog and share their own opinions. Email your local papers to share news about your kid’s soccer club and by all means share news with this site as well. Not only can we increase interest, popularity, and participation in youth soccer by bringing more attention to the local youth clubs, by demanding increased coverage of our local pro team we will inspire more kids to want to play the game in the first place. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.
Also, be sure to support local shows like State of the Union and the 90th Minute as well as TV and radio broadcasts of Union games.
And those sports radio shows you listen to during your commute, call them and talk about local and international soccer. If the call-screeners dump you, call the station manager.
We’ve come a long way since the days of watching VHS tapes of soccer highlights, but in many ways, we still have a long way to go.