It's World Cup time come again, and the excitement is palpable as all the papers recycle all those same old stories. This will be the year Americans love soccer; really, shouldn't the game where you use your feet get to be called "football;" all those soccer playing kids now grown to adulthood will sit riveted to their televisions watching adults play their childhood game (an argument never made for hopscotch); etc.; etc.; etc. This year the big evidence is that Nike spent as much as $100 million producing an admittedly really cool commercial about the World Cup and that ABC/ESPN paid $100 million for the rights to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 in the US in English. (Tellingly, Univision paid $325 million to broadcast the same games in the US in Spanish.) These are apparently big numbers for soccer, although they are ridiculously small for the US.
And that's the point. The rest of the football loving world should be doing everything it can to keep us convinced that soccer is a boring, pointless sport played solely because it's better than the alternative, which is sitting huddled in misery in some foreign country (oops, redundant). In fact, I suspect that this is what actually is going on when some bloody foreigner tries to explain the joy of a 1-0 game, in which not a single goal was scored but which was won by that odd tie-breaker kick-off thing that looks like nothing so much as a pre-game warm-up drill. I'm reminded of a criticism of Quiditch that pointed out that having the game end when the snitch is caught is like having a basketball game end when there's a knockout in a boxing match being held next door. Soccer suffers from exactly this problem: you could end it at any random moment (the score being much the same throughout) and then run that warm-up drill that has almost nothing to do with the actual game, in which, we're told repeatedly, the point is the beautiful passing and athletic jumping and falling down and pretending to be hurt.... Sorry, got lost there for a moment. Where was I?
And that's the point. If America really got excited about football, we'd just take over. I'm not saying we'd always win the World Cup. I'm saying that the World Cup would be run to suit us. For instance, today, the US is playing England at 2:30 pm Eastern time, which is 7:30 pm in England. If ABC/ESPN could actually get decent ratings, they would have paid a billion dollars for the World Cup, which is about what NBC paid for the last Olympics. (The NFL is guaranteed about $4.4 billion per year in tv revenue through 2014, even if they don't play a game in 2011 when the CBA is up.) For a billion dollars, FIFA would do what it's told, and the game wouldn't start until ABC wanted it to. As demonstrated by the on-going NBA finals, that's 9:00 Eastern time, or 2:00 am English time. So, if the rest of you all ever want to see a World Cup game in prime time again, without three times as many commercials, without cheerleaders (I assume foreigners don't have cheerleaders), pray that the US doesn't suddenly learned to love soccer.
Of course, it's always good to pray for something that's bound to happen anyway.
P.S. Apparently, they don't do that tie-breaking thing at the World Cup. Who knew?