There is a line from the Paul Simon song “Gumboots” that goes-
“You don’t feel you could love me but I feel you could” that expresses the optimism of a suitor hoping to change the heart of the object of his affections.
Major League Soccer fans in North America seem to have the same optimistic attitude toward the rest of their sporting brethren.
“If the local media coverage was just that little bit better then the game would really take off here” should probably be engraved on the side of every soccer specific stadium in the League, and soccer writer Duane Rollins makes similar points here with regard to the Canadian media specifically, but we know that the issue is equally contentious south of the border.
The problem with this argument though is that it puts the horse in front of the cart; soccer doesn’t lack popularity because of lack of coverage, the lack of coverage is because soccer (domestically at least) just isn’t that popular.
Case in point was the effort to promote the NFL in the UK in the 1980’s. The hype was enormous, the Chicago Bears seemed to be everywhere and pundits were confidently predicting that the game would establish itself as equal to, or even bigger than, soccer in the coming years.
Scroll forward to the present day and the NFL is reduced to one game a season in London that fans of the game love but the rest of the population pays no attention to whatsoever, not unlike the current situation for MLS.
TV coverage alone can’t make a nation fall in love with something (Piers Morgan is a good example of this).
For anybody living in Canada the main argument against this view however is the World Junior Hockey Championships which TSN (effectively the Canadian version of ESPN) hyped to such an extent that it has now become a national obsession at the start of every year.
The logic therefore seems to go that if a sports network can do that for Junior Hockey then why can’t it do it for soccer? Which completely forgets the fact that World Junior Hockey tournament is, you know, “hockey” which is Canada’s national sport/religion.
The public love it because it is an exciting and vaguely nationalistic version of their favourite sport, not because it was on TV a lot.
Every soccer fan wants better coverage of the game, but that better coverage will come as the game grows domestically and broadcasters (and advertisers) realise that there is a market for the game out there and, besides, if we spend all our time blaming the “media” we just end up sounding like the sporting equivalent of Sarah Palin, and nobody wants that do they?
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