Seems like we’ve tried everything: playing exhibition games in America, watching Brandi Chastain celebrate a goal in her sports bra, and even bringing freakin’ David Beckham over to play in Los Angeles.
But, still, soccer remains the unpopular stepchild in American sports.
“We, as Americans, need instant gratification and forward progress like in football or basketball,” says Terry Hasseltine, executive director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing. “Soccer is a game with more finesse and strategy.”
So why do we keep trying to push it—like this month when Tottenham Hotspur plays Liverpool at M&T Bank Stadium?
While Hasseltine admits that soccer’s format and pace does clash with some American values, he says the popularity of soccer all starts with getting the youth culture involved.
“It’s a non-collision sport, so it gives kids a chance to be physically active from a young age,” he says. “But after age 13, there’s a huge drop-off. That’s when kids get introduced to combat sports.”
Therein lies the disconnect between youth players and adult appreciation, something that is necessary for the sport to really take off. So far, the Baltimore game has sold around 27,000 tickets and the stadium’s sales office hopes to double that.
“Obviously, soccer hasn’t taken off here like it has worldwide,” says Mike Burke, ticket sales manager for the Baltimore Ravens. “But we see a soccer game just like we see a big concert. The more events in Baltimore, the better.”
Plus, Hasseltine adds, the spectator experience at a soccer game is a unique one compared to popular American sports like football or baseball.
“The audience is constantly moving and chanting, and there is a huge camaraderie,” he says. “There is a buzz about the stadium all the time, not just during big plays.”
Arguably the most important reason to continue encouraging soccer over here is to keep America relevant in a much larger conversation.
“Soccer is the world’s game,” Hasseltine says. “Europeans practically come out of the womb with a soccer ball in hand. When we want torun in the global circles of sport and business, we better be able to talk soccer.”
Okay, but we’ll never call it football.