Soccer bandwagon becoming out of style

Soccer has become somewhat of a bandwagon sport in the US, only remaining popular when something big happens
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, January 11, 2012

USA soccer fans

I’ll never forget it. On an early summer day, just about to clock-out for 30 minutes at my retail job, I step into the breakroom to find my fellow employees -- managers, supervisors, full-timers, part-timers and custodial workers alike -- glued to the television set as the United States Women’s National Team faced off against Japan in the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final.

Seeing the entire department store engrossed with women’s soccer thrilled every bone in my body. It showed me, more than on any other occasion, that soccer had this unique ability to attract the common person or the casual sports fan. That it could become “American” one day too.

But it hasn’t been like that since. In fact, a couple months down the road in that same breakroom, people berated the sport of soccer and made it the punchline of a joke.

Soccer is, for the casual American sports fan or average person, a bandwagon sport. When the US national teams are successful or a world-famous midfielder with an insanely dirty cross comes to America, soccer becomes water-cooler talk, or front page news temporarily. But when the United States draws with Argentina -- something which should be considered a monumental sporting feat against a world-class Argentina team containing a legends playing in his prime in Leo Messi -- it sadly makes very little impact and hardly a peep is mentioned nationwide.

I’ve commented before on how soccer’s success in America depends upon the success of the national team, and I still hold that opinion. Soccer, in America, only becomes popular when there’s an worldwide event like the FIFA World Cup going on.

It’s very similar to how Americans treat Olympic sports. Swimming and diving rarely make top news headlines, nor can they usually be found in the far back of daily sports sections. But during the Olympics, when Michael Phelps is on the cusp of breaking his own world records, it becomes ‘the’ topic of discussion.

The same can be said for soccer. Take a look back at Abby Wambach and the fantasy summer she had. Wambach, along with Hope Solo and the rest of the Women’s National Team, became the nation’s water-cooler talk and the darlings of the media for a time. Their unbelievable WWC run became sheer American household pop-culture buzz … while it lasted.

There have been several times in the past, for me, when people have gone insanely bananas over a soccer happening in The States. I‘m, conversely, not as euphoric as most, simply because I’m surrounded by the game the other 50 weeks of the year that they ignore it.

On Monday, FIFA launched a page to determine the Puskas Award, for the best worldwide goal of the year. One of the nominations was Wayne Rooney’s lucky shin-kick against Manchester City. While this was surely an amazing goal, I’ve seen similar, if not better, efforts over the years that make that goal less than the featured clip that highlight shows like SportsCenter made it out to be (and it had several weeks as the top highlight there). For weeks people asked me if I had seen it. And while I had, I already was onto the next amazing stunner that captured my soccer-crazed heart (read: whatever Messi did in his next match).

Soccer is a bandwagon sport in America right now. Only when people hear about or see an amazing USA National Team tourney run or uber-goal do they raise their hands and celebrate like American soccer aficionados do nearly every day. Sure those aforementioned scenarios attract some new people to the game, which is fantastic for the growth of the sport. However, it does little to keep the casual fans around long-term.

Soccer, as it stands in America, is trendy for a short while before it fades back into the foreign or arcane sports wilderness. To succeed and reach the top tier of American sports, it’ll have to find a way past the bandwagon barrier and inspire daily water-cooler talk.

It slowly is becoming that way. More and more fans are being turned onto the sport and remaining firmly seated on the bandwagon. Rather than hopping on and leaving, some fans are staying on and becoming hooked to soccer.

So you can say the soccer bandwagon is slowly but surely going out of style. Soon, the wheels and axels will break off and soccer will be able to stand on its own two feet in the USA. How soon that may be is anyone’s guess.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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