Soccer's Visceral Growth
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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
First, there are the facts. The first three games the U.S. team played in South Africa drew television ratings at an average of a huge 66% higher than during the last World Cup, four years ago.The U.S. win over Algeria, which was significant in that it threw the Americans out of the first round where they often wallow and fade, pulled in 6.1 millions viewers. That's more than a respectable number. It's impressive, especially when you consider the game started at ten in the morning and viewers watching at their offices, on their computers, and in sports bars aren't counted.
Then, not so measurable, yet undeniable, has been the visceral power of enthusiasm here, stateside, as the World Cup has unfolded. I remember when it used to be that you'd hear roars from within apartments in Little Italy in New York, the Italian flags draped out windows from high above, and that was your signal that Italy must be playing a World Cup game. Or you'd pass an outdoor café in Los Angeles and when drawn to the cheering, you'd find a group of Latinos—Guatemalans, Mexicans, Colombianos---engaged in World Cup frenzy.
This time around, the Cup popularity has been noticeably wider. Buzz among the home-grown. There is the typical grousing through the blog underground, that the Cup is to American soccer just as the Olympics are to track & field….as soon as the big event closes doors, we close our eyes to the sport until four years later when the next Cup, the next Games' Ceremonies trumpet open.
Feels very different to me this time. On planes, in coffee bars, in line at the market, at the newsstand, I have observed genuine immersion in the games…and not just generic appreciation of the global glorification of what is referred to as “the beautiful game”….but actual passion in recounting of plays, outrage at missed calls, ability to name more players than Ronaldo and Kaka.
It's naive to think that now soccer will spark the collective American pulse as does the NFL, but growth is often not just gradual but comes in jumps to new plateaus…and it seems to me this World Cup has catapulted the game millions of suburban American kids play but then turn their backs on as adult sports fans onto a new and higher platform within the American consciousness.
I think we're even past lamenting the low scoring. For the first time, I'm not yawning in describing the game as a monotonous, left-to-right, right-to-left, endless non-scoring motion, but rather fully appreciating the continuous dance, the balletic body moves, the precision footwork.
Now the tie games are a bit much, especially when a tie becomes an pre-game actual goal and achievement. After all, a team is awarded a point for a tie. It's something to shoot for. And the wild-eyed celebrations don't make much sense when they're indistinguishable one from the other. The first of the game, I understand. The break of a tie, I understand. But when the goal means nothing to the outcome and still the scorer falls to the ground in utter ecstasy, teammates jumping in convulsions of jubilee, that I don't get.
I'm curious if you also turned from a person with none-to-slight interest into someone who caught a bit of World Cup fever this time around. Tell me about it, will you? Go to KCRW.com/TheScore.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.