The beautiful game

Can anyone answer why football (soccer) isn’t as popular in the US as it is in the rest of the world?

I would have thought that considering the amount of European immigrants living in America it would be. Also considering the large population, excellent sport facilities and finances available the US national team should be pushing to win the world cup rather than coming last.

Soccer is gaining in popularity in America, but there is a strong American tradition to do things different from the way they’re done in most of the rest of the world. Metric, frinstance, or national health care, or gun control, or McDonald’s … oh, wait, maybe I exaggerate that last one.

The answer has its roots in American Colleges and baseball.

‘Football’ has been around an awfully long time. In middle-ages Europe, it often was played by having the people from one town meet the people from another town at a spot equidistant from both, then attempt to kick a ball into one or the other town square. The Italian version of the sport was known as ‘calcio.’ England had a version as well.

In the early 19th Century, ‘muscular Christianity’ was a concept introduced into English public schools, designed to help educate young gentlemen through athletics. Among the sports utilized was football.

Unfortunatly, the schools had troubles agreeing to rules for the game. Some schools wanted to allow the ball to be carried and the carrier ‘tackled’ by physically restraining him and putting him on the ground. Others wanted to leave the game primarily a game of the feet, without being able to grab a player to stop him. Of the former, the most famous school was Rugby, and that version came to be known as Rugby Football. The other version was developed into the Football Association, and came to be known as Assoc. Football, or, eventually, Soccer.

Unfortunatly, soccer became quite popular with the masses, making it ‘unsuitable’ for the young gentlemen who attended such bastions of learning as Cambridge or Oxford. Those schools adopted football programs based on Rugby rules.

Jump to the US. The time is the turn of the century. Lots of people are here from England and other countries where soccer is getting quite popular. It becomes popular here, too, though never quite to the degree it did in places the English held a large degree of commercial sway (e.g. Argentina, Italy, Portugal, etc.). However, the top colleges, among them the Ivy League schools, decide that they have to be as much like ‘Oxbridge’ as they can. Therefore, they develop football based on rules similar to Rugby rules, with some peculiar variations thought up over here. The result, of course, is American, or ‘gridiron’ football. As that game becomes increasingly popular at the college level (remember that in the 20’s and 30’s the college game was what people followed), soccer’s popularity wanes. In 1930, the US makes the semi-finals, losing to Argentina 6-1. By 1950, the US only was able to win one game, and then didn’t make the finals again until 1990.

Lest you think soccer was never popular here, the American Soccer League in the 20’s and 30’s played to crowds of 6,000 or more, better than the original professional American Football crowds.

How does baseball fit in? Well, frankly, baseball makes soccer unnecessary. In England, and in countries England traded with, there was no single sport that had captured the interest of the population. In the US, however, we already had baseball, which used up quite a bit of our sporting effort. In Italy, soccer became virtually the only sport worth patronizing; in America, baseball made development of fan appreciation less easy.

For those of you with interest in sources of history of the sport in America, and abroad, you can read such books as ‘Twenty-Two Foreigners in Funny Shorts’ by Pete Davies, or go to sites like . The latter has a series of fun links to articles about the development of the game in the US. :slight_smile:

I think another reason soccer may not be as popular could be because of the low scoring.

Baseball is the only really low scoring popular sport (and the scores are still generally higher than soccer matches).

Some might argue that Hockey (another low scoring sport) is popular in some regions, moreso than higher scoring games like basketball, but you will find that over all more people in America attend higher scroing games like American Football and Basketball than Hockey or Soccer or Lacrosse (a very excellent sport indeed).

I don’t know why this is, but it just seems to be the way it goes.

(Tennis doesn’t count as a high scoring game, since there really are only 4 points but they disguise them by doing huse jumpt like 15 at a time, once we Americans watched tennis, we weren’t fooled and promptly stopped watching.)

BTW this is all just a guess and has no real facts or merit. Mainly I’m just trying to get attention again.

To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.

Thanks for taking the time DS. Excellent and interesting answer.

Burnmeup - your comment on low scoring has some merit.

During the run up to the 1994 world cup it was suggested (by the US organisers) to make the goals wider (and taller?) to increase the scoring, thereby making it more interesting to the average viewer in the US. Sacrilege if you ask me…

There was also another suggestion to make the game into 4 quarters so there could be more TV advertising.

Because it’s boring.

Also, we Americans like to use our hands…

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I think there is some merit to the scoring situation but if you think about it football is the same way, one score is either 2,3 or 6+1or 2 points. So a 21 to 14 final score basically breaks down to a 3 to 2 score, not incomparable to baseball or soccer.

I can’t speak for everyone else, but here’s what I think:

I think hockey, soccer, and baseball are great to watch when you’re physcially at the stadium, but wathing them on TV is…so…b o r i n g…

I think that’s why basketball and football are more popular (as far as TV is concerned)


Funny, that’s what most of the rest of the world thinks about baseball.

Never regret what seemed like a good idea at the time.

Do I have to answer all your questions people(starting to feel like cecil)!
In America we like to chear for AMERICANS,
not e-u-r-o-t-r-a-s-h! Which have some how found there way into the NFLs only part time position kicker.(I am 1/2 Ialian, I dont hate europeans just love pro football!)

Do I have to answer all your questions people(starting to feel like cecil)!
In America we like to chear for AMERICANS,
not e-u-r-o-t-r-a-s-h! Which have some how found there way into the NFLs only part time position kicker.(I am 1/2 Ialian, I dont hate europeans just love pro football!):}

The Chef

The points made above are very good ones. Remember, soccer is popular elsewhere because people identify with their favorite team (or national team) quite strongly. So the low scoring isn’t the issue – it’s the fact that your team was the one that scored that single goal. Baseball already existed in the U.S. as a focus for team identification.

What makes soccer (and baseball) interesting isn’t the scoring – it’s the anticipation of the scoring. (He’s moving upfield, he dodged the defender, he’s free … is he going to score?). Both are games of suspense, not action, and U.S. sports fans these days prefer action. So it’s hard to drum up a fan base because most U.S. sports have more scoring, and because baseball has more suspense (anticipation is a part of every pitch).

This is the answer i give everytime this debate pops up.

Soccer is a great game that panders to the lowest common denomonator. All you need is a ball (or a reasonable facsimile) and a pair of feet. The rules can be explained and understood in a matter of seconds. This is why its the most played (not still the most watched, but still like 3rd or 4th) sport in the world. Most of the world is poor and uneducated, especially 100 years ago when sport became central to human culture.

America OTOH has historically been able to afford more complex games with more time and equipment requirements, this allowed more options. I don’t think the Oxford bias story holds much water about the popularity. When an American kid grew up with the choices of Football, Soccer, Baseball, Basketball etc. Soccer was just the least fun. Also living in the US requires a variety of sports because of the climate extremes and seasonal changes. Soccer is nearly a year round sport in the majority of the world, but in the old population centers of the US it was too cold for much of the year so variety of sports is necessary. Comparing Football to Soccer is like apples and oranges regardless of their roots and names (Futbol et al). Baseball is the primary rival for attention with soccer because they season coincides and the requirements are similar. Simple equipment, easy rules, and not need for special facilites. Baseball is popular because it was what poor kids in the cities played in the past (as opposed to the poor kids in the villages playing soccer in the rest of the world). Why they choose one over the other is unprovable, but I suspect that its a combination of predominantly Anglo roots, and some nationality and desire for playing an “american game”.

I think the low scoring arguement is lame and is used by people who don’t truly enjoy any sport. They just want eye candy. For example the football scoring, as already stated, is just a way of amplifying the apparent score. While without the average game is still higher scoring than soccer, but not so much so as to be valid. 2-1 is a common soccer score, I suspect that football breakes down to about 4-2 (28-14) and baseball is 5-2. These slight increases don’t tell the story, most football and baseball fans enjoy a low scoring game more than a high scoring one. A 55-38 football game is a poorly played shootout reminiscient of SEC teams, a good ole 13-6 game is usually considered a great game. (A old Army-Notre Dame game that ended tied 0-0 is still considered the greatest college game of all time.) Most baseball fans are upset about the high scoring nature of MLB today, they want moderation, not high or low. Soccer is not uninteresting because of its low scoring, but because of its freeform monotonous style. Baseball is slow moving as well, but actually the excitement is intense and frequent but short lived. Soccer is bounded by the constant jogging and from a viewers standpoint the difference between a jog and a sprint is not apparent. This causes apparent lack of action. Hockey (the closest comparison to soccer) is very very fast and shows that a speed up version of soccer is attractive to US audiences.

The big reasons are varied. The US can afford better and therefore usually chose it. The US needs a large variety and no one sport is going to be nationally loved. Soccer is slower than the other choices and therefore has a smaller appeal to the unintiated. The US wants to cheer for Americans, and similarly wants to play a American game (don’t give me any bullshit that all our games come from other cultures).

Futbol? Kick the ball out of bounds.
Trip the guy with the ball, then kick it out of bounds.
Repeat as needed.

Our great-grandparents when arriving in America were ready to cut every tie to “the Old Country.” They embraced everything American – the language, the holidays, the sports.
'Twas a better time, methinks.

Soccer hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but it hasn’t caught on in Canada either. Also, in the other Western Hemisphere locales where baseball is popular, soccer isn’t (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela in particular.)

Japan has tried to become a soccer-playing nation and is suffering through the same growing pains as US Soccer.

My late grandfather played both semipro soccer and baseball back in the 1920s in St. Louis, which used to be the soccer center of the USA. (It has since migrated more to the East Coast.)

Soccer’s best hope in the US is for its men’s national team to do well in the World Cup, which is pretty unlikely in the next 20 years I think. Until then, American attitudes toward the sport will always be patronizing.

Basketball is as “easy” as soccer and you can even have less people to play. Europeans are somewhat educated :wink: and they love the sport and the hooliganary.

The things you need in for a succesful sport is :a marketable hero/antihero, team identification, public awareness, cultural hipness, flashy moves that makes you think, “with a little practice you can do it too”, and the ability to play it with friends. Sometimes players don’t even need any skill whatsoever as long as its entertaining (i.e. pro wreslting)

The only way for soccer to get that is to have a proven winner with a ugly ass tatooed freak scoring the winning goal…

I think if they decided to eliminate the goalee position, the game could be alittle more watchable. It would cause the players to move faster and facilitate more strategy.

Today, it’s too slow and Budweiser doesn’t like slow.


Short attention spans.