The first half of the 2014 baseball season has come to an end. There are my angles I could find to write on the Mariners. They are having one of their best seasons in the last decade, but as I attended their last game before the All-Star break, my thoughts turned towards another sport. On this particular July day, both the World Cup final and the Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers soccer game were happening. That got me to thinking – what can soccer do to appeal to more non soccer fans?
I will be the first to admit that I think soccer is boring most of the time. Amongst my friends, I have often been the naysayer when discussing the merits of the world’s most popular sport. But why do so many people worldwide have such an affinity for it when I think I’d rather go watch my grass grow in my front yard? There has to be something soccer can do to appeal to the perfect non soccer audience – i.e. me. Below is a list of the top five things the world of soccer could do to bring excitement to their sport.
5) Hold a World Cup every 2 years instead of every 4.
The World Cup this year was probably the best soccer I’ve ever watched in my life? Why? Simple: national pride. The whole country was talking about their home soccer team and excitement was everywhere as to what the U.S. men’s team would do and how they would perform. It is great exposure for their sport, but it only happens every 4 years. Soccer needs to take more advantage of this boon to their sport and increase it to every 2 years.
4) Do penalty kick shootouts instead of extra time after 90 minutes in a scoreless game.
Faithful soccer fans hate the penalty kick shootout deciders, but to the non-soccer fan, this is, by far, the most exciting part of soccer. When fans have watched a game for 90 plus minutes without a score, they need something to root for. It’s hard to watch a 120 minute game and for the final score to be 1-0, which happened often during the World Cup. If the score is scoreless after 90 minutes, they should go straight to penalty kick shootouts. This will reward the fans for sticking with the game for 90 minutes and provide the perfect one-on-one action that exists in baseball, football, basketball, and other popular sports.
3) Get rid of stoppage time.
As a non fan watching a soccer game, it drove me nuts to not be able to know when the game ends. It’s supposed to end at the 90 minute mark. However, the clock never stops, so anytime there’s an injury or penalty, the referee will add time to the clock, but not tell the fans. At least that’s my understanding. So we get past the 90 minute mark and we’re just waiting for a whistle at that point. This lost my attention quickly. The most exciting part of football, at least to me, is when a team is down with less than two minutes to go in the game and they are trying to drive and score a touchdown before time runs out. They’re competing against the opposing team’s defense, sure, but they’re also now competing against the ticking clock. The ticking clock adds so much drama and intensity to the end of a game. Soccer doesn’t have this, and it should.
2) Flop less
A “flop” for those non sports fans out there, is when a player takes an intentional fall or over exaggerates an action to try to get the referee to call a penalty. Basketball does it almost all the time – soccer does it more. There are some nasty spills and slide tackles in soccer. But there are other times I watched when the player hardly even got touched and went flying five yards down the field. This leads to a lack of credibility in your sport. I was always taught, as a sports fan, that if a penalty does occur, let the ref call it, but keep on playing as best as you can. That’s called sportsmanship. The lack of sportsmanship shown on the soccer pitch during the World Cup led me to not want to watch some of these players.
1) Have ONE league – and only play games in this league
This is the biggest one out of all of them. The number of different types of games the teams play makes it almost impossible to follow. There are aggregate matches (where the score is combined over two games to create an overall winner) there are friendly matches (that don’t count towards a league season, but happen during the season), and there are various tournaments that don’t have anything to do with the regular season that teams will compete in. All of this leads to a very confused fan. Soccer should have one league that really matters. Some will argue that they do have MLS (Major League Soccer). That’s great, but when those MLS teams play against non MLS teams during the season or play games that don’t really matter towards the MLS season, it makes it really hard for the casual fan to keep track. Take a cue from MLB, NFL, and NBA and have your teams only play league games during the league season.
I will be the first to admit that I am not the largest soccer fan, but all soccer fans I talk to (and they’re probably the nicest fans I know) will say they want to bring awareness and a larger fan base to their sport. Something needs to happen in America in order for this to happen, however. Even if they took just a couple of these suggestions, soccer would be far more accessible to the non soccer fans like me.
Shane Rivers, Centralia
July 15, 2014