World Cup Soccer 2006: Will Anyone Be Watching on TV?

The FIFA World Cup will played in Germany this summer, aren’t you excited? FIFA stands for Federation Internationale de Football Association (I had to look that up) and it is like the Major League Baseball of soccer, or as the rest of the world calls it, football. Of course, in the USA, when someone says FIFA or World Cup we don’t think of football because we call it soccer. And while that’s a totally obviously point, it says a lot about the point I’m about to try and make.

If you were to make a list ranking this country’s national sports leagues (and I have), Major League Soccer (MLS) would probably end up around 5 or 6 (but maybe as far down as 8). New York has a brand new team named after an energy drink (the New York Red Bulls); a move straight out of the playbook of some single-A Des Moines minor league baseball team. I’d like to offer the MLS people some advice on how they could improve their standing, exposure and level of respect in this country (but let me make something clear: I don’t know anything about soccer). Here goes:

-Giveaways, Promotions and Mascots

If teams like the New York Red Bulls are willing to name their team after a drink that young collegiate girls like to mix with vodka, then they should also be willing to do a few other things that might be seen as corny. People love giveaways; you can get a few thousand more people to the gate if you mention the word travel mug. And how about a dollar beer night? It won’t take much to turn your local, boring MLS stadium into rollicking Manchester United-like, hooligan filled atmosphere. And as far as mascots go, the fluffy and more outrageous, the better.

-Cheerleaders and Dancing Girls

Cheerleaders would probably be a better choice (dancing girls don’t usually translate well on grass or during sports with hardly any moments of stoppage- actually, dancing girls are really only suited for the NBA). But cheerleaders would work nicely on the sidelines of MLS matches; the scantily-er clad, the better. Go with the two piece uniforms as well; spandex unitards are so out right now.

-Change the Rules

Allow more contact; make it more like football or, at the very least, rugby. Now, purists are going to hate this suggestion, but I think it’s the only way. Get rid of the yellow and the red cards (or any other colored card that some stupid emo group can name their band after) and let the blokes fight it out proper. This will guarantee, and I mean absolutely guarantee, more national exposure and greater ticket sales. Maybe it won’t be soccer anymore; maybe it will be some hybrid Americanized version of soccer, but that’s okay (frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already).

There’s a chapter in Chuck Klosterman’s book of essays about soccer in which he calls it an “outcast sport”. And there’s a lot of truth to that. Soccer is immensely popular for young children because it’s become the sport of choice for non-athletes in a country obsessed with competition (in any form). Parents can watch their kids run up and down the field and cheer; all they’ve have to do is touch the ball a few times and everybody’s happy. There is no embarrassment factor like that which accompanies striking out in little league or getting knocked on your ass in Pop Warner football. Soccer separates all the athletes from the outcasts; and when those outcasts get to high school they’re old enough to tell their parents that sports just ain’t their bag.

This is why soccer will never be on the same level as baseball and football; no matter what changes you make. And this is why I won’t be watching the World Cup.

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