Friday, June 4, 2010

Soccer Conquers America

Unfortunately my day job keeps me from spending all my time writing here, but I did manage to squeeze in a World Cup post on my company's blog today. You can check it out on the Zeno Group blog, Acropolis, or just read it below.

Originally posted at Acropolis
The year was 1990 and for the first time in 40 years, the United States soccer team was headed to the World Cup. Most of the nation reacted with a collective shrug of indifference. Soccer was best known in the U.S. as a game played by little kids or dismissed as the cause of rampant hooliganism in Europe. Fast forward to 2010. Those little kids are all grown up and so is America’s passion for “the beautiful game.”

As a lifelong soccer fan, I’m amazed by the progress the sport has made in this country. Sitting on my desk right now is a “Special Double Issue” World Cup preview magazine. Not World Soccer or Sports Illustrated, but Time, a sure sign that soccer has arrived on mainstream America’s radar.

In 1990, cable network TNT broadcast selected World Cup matches, committing the cardinal sin of breaking away for commercials in the middle of a game. Now every tournament game will air on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 without commercial interruption. While the voice of Bono graces ESPN’s ad campaign, Brad Pitt has signed on to help promote the United States’ bid to host an upcoming World Cup. Perhaps you’ve heard of these guys.

A handful of factors have elevated soccer’s standing in the U.S. The Internet and expanded cable television has brought a global game into our living rooms. The generation that launched America’s youth soccer boom in the early ’80s has come of age, now taking their kids to watch an American pro league that has made solid strides in 14 years. And as U.S. companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have embraced a global marketing strategy, they’ve learned that sponsoring with the world’s most popular game is a powerful platform.

Will soccer ever be king in this country? Don’t count on it. The world’s richest, most prestigious leagues aren’t leaving Europe anytime soon, nor is America’s passion for the NFL showing any sides of slowing. But in 20 years, soccer has emerged from obscurity to a place of prominence in American culture. I can wait to see what the next month- and the next 20 years- bring to the sport.

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