Friday, June 08, 2012

Your Hate of Soccer is Making You Dumb, Joe Anderson

I want to preface my comments with a clear statement that Judd & Phunn (Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson) host my preferred local morning sports radio show. They are generally entertaining, and have a nice back and forth that works. The result means more talking about sports, and less of the painful shtick that their opposite number Paul Allen is producing morning in morning out on KFAN. There are no minute long musical bumps on Judd & Phunn. There's little to no effort expended on coming up with wacky names for wacky segments. It is clear, informative (as far as sports radio goes) and generally not painful to listen to.

If I had one complaint, it is that they talk hockey way too much. But I'm a transplant to Minnesota, and I long ago learned to live with Minnesotan sports idiosyncrasies (high school tournaments on prime time TV? Sure. The Vikings are terrible/Super Bowl Bound in the span of a couple of weeks? OK. A belief that hockey is the world's greatest sport if the world would just get its head out of its ass? Why not? Doesn't hurt me any).

But the hockey thing gets more annoying when it gets paired up with someone like Joe Anderson of Judd & Phunn, mostly because of Anderson's bizarre antipathy to the world's favorite game--soccer. I have ripped various folks for hating on soccer (Tom Powers comes to mind), but it is much easier to do when I don't really care for the body of their work in general. I really don't like criticizing guys who I generally enjoy, and like I said, Judd & Phunn is a pretty enjoyable sports show. I enjoy Scott Van Pelt more than most of the guys on ESPN these days. Both Anderson and Van Pelt can be total dicks about soccer.

But Anderson's dislike for the game is particularly puzzling to me for two reasons. First, the intensity. He isn't a 'take it or leave it' kind of guy--he hates soccer. Today, during the segment that I'm about to finally get to, he muttered as they went to break, "Soccer is just stupid." Thoughtful take, "Phunn". Second, I'm confused to how a guy who loves hockey can hate soccer that much, because they are probably more alike than either fan would like to admit. Set aside the niche audience, the frequently low scoring, and continually put-upon fans. To transform hockey into soccer takes about 3 steps, and it is mostly about scale. Double the size of teams, greatly expand the size of the goals and playing surface (which obviously needs to switch from ice to grass). Boom--soccer. Both are free-wheeling games, with minimal stoppages when things are going well. Both require a ridiculous amount of conditioning to play at its peak. You don't find roles for 350 pound guys in either sport. There are more similarities than differences, really.

So here's the segment that made me a little crazy. Judd and Joe were discussing the flagging ratings of the Stanley Cup, as the media does every year. They were both stunned to discover that a show about training dogs (that they thought was about walking dogs) got better ratings than a potential final game of the Stanley Cup. Anderson then started a weird little rant about how soccer fans are going to eat up these low numbers and start pushing for more soccer on TV, because in terms of ratings, soccer is getting close to hockey numbers. And he huffed and fumed about that for awhile before making a prediction that it would never happen.

Except, of course--it already has. The Champion's League Final, just last month, outperformed not only the playoff hockey game that aired the same day, it was watched by more people than any Stanley Cup Final game in the series. The only reason European soccer doesn't regularly outperform hockey as this point is because of the time difference. Prime time games are aired live in the middle of the afternoon here. Tired whining about how soccer is dumb and boring aside, the people have spoken, it appears.

What will be interesting to see is how well the Euro Cup (started this morning! the Polish goalkeeper saved a penalty kick!) does in terms of eyeballs throughout the next few weeks. I imagine there will be any number of games that will demonstrate that world soccer is a far bigger viewership draw than the NHL. Joe Anderson might not like it, he may hate it, but soccer fans don't have to do any whispering campaigns about how soccer deserves to take precedence over hockey. The campaign has already happened, and already been won.

UPDATE (6/10/12): Brazil lost to Argentina 4-3, with a Messi hat trick and over 80,000 people in attendance. In MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (aka, the Meadowlands).  Further proof that um, hey, the demographics of the US are changing, and soccer has eclipsed hockey in almost every way. (the quality of the MLS still needs to bump up several notches).


Anonymous said...

Great blog, but I have to point out that 30 years ago soccer was hailed as the next big sport that was going to take America by storm. Well, it's 30 years later and while it is popular, it isn't even close to touching the Big 4 sports in mainstream popularity. Just because you and a bunch of like minded people think soccer is huge in this country, it isn't. Yes, there are a lot of little kids running around in soccer leagues, but when it comes to professional sports in this country, it doesn't come close to being at the top. And that is a fact.

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

Sorry, Anonymous, your assertions of facts are not facts.

Here's a fact for you:
In New York City, the 2012 Game 6 of Stanley Cup drew a viewership number of 5.0.

In New York City, the 2012 Euro League Championship between Spain and Italy drew a viewership number of 5.8.

That's only one statistic, obviously, but I think it is important to point out that there is a difference between soccer fandom and MLS fandom.

The MLS, despite its name, isn't a true major league. And I don't know if it ever will be. But when people get a chance to watch truly world class soccer, they enjoy it just fine.

And the MLS is actually doing OK, too. In the space of 12 years, the league has almost doubled in size, they are getting soccer-specific stadiums built for them (somehow, someway, DC United has to make this happen for them), and the attendance numbers are creeping up. I might actually have some numbers in a separate post comparing MLS and NHL teams. That might be fun.