I was thinking about what to base my first post upon when I stumbled upon the gem of a link that Jason put up yesterday. If you’ve not had a chance to take a look at it, here it is. Essentially the author questions the point of television coverage of the recent World Cup, taking care to compare it to the coverage – or lack thereof – of the FIBA Basketball World Championships, which was held in Turkey during August.
No, I didn’t really know about it either.
Without wishing to copy the author’s post wholesale and dissect it, I’m going to respond to the key points that were made. And by ‘address’ I mean ‘disagree with wholeheartedly’. First, the author said that there were seven ‘facts’ to consider.
1. Basketball is a far bigger adult sport in the U.S. than soccer.
First, define “bigger adult sport”. If you compare the number of people watching MLS vs those watching NBA at the arenas, then NBA probably gets more. But then – the NBA has been around for almost 65 years. MLS is not even old enough to drive – it is currently in its 15th season. As for television viewership, soccer is getting there. The first 4 games of this year’s NBA finals (between two of the leagues most storied teams) averaged 15.5 million viewers, whereas the USA-England game garnered more than 17 million viewers across ABC and Univision.
The statement becomes even less true when you look at the number of people who play each of the two sports. In actual fact, there are more registered soccer players in the United States than any other country in the world bar one – Germany (source: FIFA’s “Big Count” 2007). The number of adult players is recorded as over 4 million. There were suggestions that the number is approaching 20 million, but for my purposes I used the official “adult player” figures from FIFA. The U.S. also has more children playing soccer than any other country in the world. Figures for the number of basketball players (in organized leagues) were pretty much impossible to get a hold of but I would bet one of my kidneys that it is less than 4 million.
2. The U.S. Soccer team barely made it out of their group and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
A verifiable fact, true, (except that the U.S. won the group) but I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, and for some (myself included) this constitutes a failure on the part of the USMNT because the semis were an attainable goal.
3. The U.S. Basketball team won the World Championship gold medal for the first time since 1994.
Again, this is not relevant because surely coverage of a sporting event should not be dependent upon who will win it. If you know who will win it there would be no coverage at all, because it would hold no interest. In fact, given that the U.S. Basketball team consists of 12 of the best N.B.A. players, and was already the Olympic gold medalist, you’d have to question why anybody would want to watch a tournament which would appear to be a cakewalk. Mind you, I accept that for patriotic reason, this in itself could be an excuse.
4. The other soccer teams had players the vast majority of U.S. citizens have never heard of.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the other basketball teams had players that the vast majority of U.S. citizens have never heard of. I’d even go further and say that, for example, the vast majority of Brazilian citizens have not heard of any of the players for their respective basketball team, which is definitely not something that you could say of the Brazilian soccer team.
5. Many of the players on the other basketball teams were known to us as they play in the NBA.
Yes, I’ll concede this point. 41 players play in the NBA, out of 288 overall. That said, I fail to see why that familiarity with players counts as a reason to watch a tournament. Part of the fun the World Cup is that there are players you’ve never heard of before. Who had heard of Toto Schillaci before 1990? (or even since!)
6. Both were world championships that only come around every four years.
One is the world’s most popular game, one…isn’t. I don’t expect everybody to love soccer, but I do expect people to understand that just because you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that other people aren’t allowed to. Couple this with the suggestion that the FIBA World Championship isn’t even the pre-eminent event for international basketball (the Olympics probably is), and this particular assertion even has even less value.
7. Both took place in Europe, so issues relating to time differentials are mostly insignificant.
I’m not an expert on world geography, but last time I looked at an atlas, South Africa is in…Africa. In the south, if that helps.
Basically, it boils down to this; television companies make money from selling advertising in their programming. Advertisers are looking for the biggest possible exposure for their ads. That means that the most popular events are the ones that will give the TV companies the big bucks. It’s a fairly straightforward formula.
More people watching = more advertisers willing to pay.
The World Cup is the biggest “single sport” event on the planet. It gets the most press, it generates the most money, and it has the most widespread appeal. It really as simple as that. I understand that a lot of people in the U.S. either don’t like soccer or don’t understand the fervor that it creates, and that’s fine by me. I am one of soccer’s biggest evangelists but even I know that you can’t convince anybody. However, what always manages to annoy me is when people denigrate the sport simply because it is felt that it threatens “their” sport.
There’s no conspiracy. There’s no television network plan to “make” anybody like soccer. It’s not a liberal-led campaign to force you into accepting soccer prior to a socialist coup. Soccer is in the United States to stay, and simply complaining about it isn’t going to reverse the trend.