Defining the meaning of teamwork, Germany won the World Cup today with a thrilling victory over Argentina. In the United States, soccer will recede into the background as a third-rate sport, trailing somewhere behind lacrosse and table tennis. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, and I don’t believe it applies any more.
Throughout these last several weeks, I’ve listened to a fair amount of sports talk radio, where, generally speaking, the hosts reluctantly mentioned that the World Cup was happening and only rarely actually risked rating points to discuss it. The quadrennial tourney got enough air time, though, for a number of soccer haters to state their shallow case. One of their favorite lines of reasoning — and I heard this on network, New York and Philadelphia broadcasts — was that the only reason that the viewing ratings have been higher is that “soccer moms” have been tuning in.
As if they don’t count. As if football moms and wives and sports-averse brothers and your home economics teacher never watch the Super Bowl.
The point is precisely that the soccer moms and other occasional fans are tuning in. That’s what floats the ratings on a broad basis.
But the upsurge in soccer interest in the U.S. isn’t just because of soccer moms. It’s dads, too. And the kids who’ve been playing soccer in this country for the last two or three decades. My first two kids were born in the early 80s, and my wife and the mothers of our friends’ kids were all soccer moms, piling the youngster into the minivan to play “bunch ball” at the field behind the YMCA or junior high. Those kids of the 80s and those of the early 90s are young adults now, and they’ve been watching the World Cup because they enjoy it and understand the sport because they played it.
This is total conjecture on my part, but I wager most of the soccer haters are fans of the NFL — in other words, those who have the most to lose if soccer’s popularity grows. With the NFL the undisputed king of American sports, football fans have it good now.
But I suspect they’re a touch nervous about the rise of The Beautiful Game.