World Series

Stop Comparing Soccer to American Sports

In the days after the United States Women’s National Team winning the 2015 World Cup, I’ve been reading and hearing many bold proclamations (and/or hot takes) about how this victory means that soccer is on the rise, and it won’t be long before soccer surpasses one of the “four major sports” (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) in some manner – viewership, attendance, fans, etc.

Let’s just slow down for a minute.

Yes, soccer is arguably bigger in America than it has ever been.  The game has grown in popularity over the last 20+ years, and that growth shows no sign of stopping.  And yes, the World Cup final drew a huge TV rating, notably surpassing the viewership from Game 7 of the 2014 World Series and the decisive Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals.

But…

First, let’s address those TV numbers.  More accurately, let’s acknowledge that comparing the Women’s World Cup championship to the other two broadcasts is an apples to oranges comparison.  Yes, all three are “fruit” – decisive, championship games in their collective sport.  But the difference lies in the teams.  The World Series featured the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants.  The NBA Finals had the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Women’s World Cup had The United Freaking States of America.

I would argue a decent (if not sizable) percentage of the WWC audience tuned in not because they are soccer fans or because they enjoy watching soccer played at a high level by amazing athletes.  They tuned in because it was a chance to see America to win a prestigious global competition.

Who was the primary audience of Game 7 of the World Series?  Fans of the Giants (6th largest US television market) and the Royals (31st largest).  For Game 6 of the Finals, you have Warriors (again, 6th largest market) and Cavs fans (17th largest).  For the WWC, your primary audience is fans of America in EVERY market with a Fox affiliate.

It’s the same reason why NBC shells out billions of dollars for Olympic broadcast rights:  Americans love to watch other Americans competing (and winning) at a high level against top international competition – no matter the event.  I’m not saying that a U.S. versus Japan competition in say, water polo, would draw the same numbers as the World Cup final.  But I am saying the nation’s love and support for the red, white, and blue greatly surpasses the nation’s love and support for the Kansas City Royals.

Until the MLS Championship draws more viewers than the World Series, Stanley Cup, or NBA Finals, stop with this comparison.

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Without question, soccer is growing in America.  I won’t argue that.  But where is the peak?  You’ll find many credible voices who say soccer could become the “national pastime” or supplant baseball or hockey in the “big four” of American sports.

I disagree, especially in the short-term.

Soccer interest, at least in America, tends to be cyclical.  Setting aside the loyal fans of MLS and European leagues, a person who identifies themselves as “liking soccer” will get into the big tournaments (men’s and women’s World Cups, Olympics, etc.).  After those events end?  The interest tends to wane.

An article in the Seattle Times referenced a marketing-research study on “fan engagement” of Americans towards soccer, conducted after the last four men’s World Cup tournaments.  Every time, there was a significant drop off in interest after the tournament ended.

 

“You see the same pattern,’’ said (Robert) Passikoff (of Brand Keys), who added that his surveys are accurate within 3 percent. “You get high interest, high numbers during the tournament and then it’s ‘Thank you very much and goodbye.’ ’’

With other sports, he added, the numbers climb a bit during playoffs and championships but “you don’t see as high a fluctuation.’’

Personally, I wonder if the growth and expansion of soccer will follow a similar pattern to NASCAR.  There was a point in 1990’s / early 2000’s where NASCAR experienced phenomenal growth, with some saying that the sport was poised to join the big four.  Fast forward to the mid to late 2000’s and NASCAR’s popularity hit a big bump, with attendance and TV ratings taking a dive.  Obviously, that is not a perfect comparison – most notably, the millions of kids in youth soccer should help to sustain soccer’s rise – but NASCAR’s failure to join the Big Four should serve as a cautionary tale for soccer fans seeking to join the big time.

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So where will soccer be 15 or 20 years from now?  I fully expect that MLS will still be going strong, with 32 teams across the country playing in soccer-only stadiums in front of passionate crowds.  World Cups – both men’s and women’s – will still be events that grab headlines and national attention (especially when the U.S. is winning).  I would not be surprised if the United States has a true soccer superstar who is on par with the greatest players in the world.

But I don’t expect soccer to have bumped MLB, NHL, NBA, or especially the NFL from their perch as America’s favorite sports.

And that should be okay.

End of Year Blowout – 2014

If it’s the end of the year, that typically means two things:  1) I’m a couple of posts shy of my annual goal and 2) I’ve got some odds and ends that never got finished.  Therefore, we grab one virtual stone, take aim at two metaphorical birds and fire off some miscellany:

Randy Gregory goes pro.

All year, I’ve been seeing Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory listed as a top 5 – or at least high first round – pick in the 2015 NFL draft.  Some experts have him as the #1 overall pick.

Coming into the season, I probably would have agreed with that.  Gregory had a great 2013 season and looked to improve as a junior.  But four months later, I am not sure why Gregory is still considered a lock to be a top 10 pick.

Don’t get me wrong, Gregory is an athletic freak with a strong upside, but when I watched him play this season I rarely thought “this is one of the best players in college football” or “this guy is NFL ready right now”.

He has an amazing motor, hustles like a walk-on, and is relentless in his pass rushing – and maybe that’s what the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays are going off of.  But I also see a guy who – while improved – is still questionable on run defense, appears injury prone, and sometimes loses his composure.

Clearly, if he’s going to be a top 10 pick he made the right decision to go pro, but I’m not sure I’d want my NFL team to take him with their first pick.  The reward may not be worth the risk.

There’s Bo place like home.

Author’s note:  I wrote this after it was announced that Bo Pelini was going to return home to be the head coach at Youngstown State.  This also happened to be the night before the second Pelini Audio Bomb was dropped.  After that beauty hit the fan, I didn’t think this would be well received:

Good for him.  Whether or not you liked Bo, supported him, or wish he would have been fired a year ago, I would hope you think this is a good move for him.  It was very clear during Bo’s tenure just how much he loves his hometown, and how much pride he has in his roots.  I don’t want this to come across as a swipe at Bo, but I think that when a coach truly loves the school, city, or state he represents, it generally leads success.

I don’t claim to know what Bo’s career goals were two months ago, or are today, but Youngstown State seems like a good fit for where he is at now – and a great stepping stone for future opportunities.  Even with Youngstown State’s history, there won’t be nearly as much pressure to win as what he felt at Nebraska.  It’s unlikely that Pelini will face 20+ media members after every practice.  Once again, his boss is the legendary, championship-winning coach and not a lawyer.  And most importantly, he’s back around family and friends.

Nebraska gets a new trophy game

Author’s note:  This was from a post tentatively titled “Freedom isn’t Free (but apparently, ugly trophies are)”

Big Ten loves it some trophy games.  Fine.  That’s part of who they are, so it should be embraced and cherished.  In that regard, I’m all for putting a trophy at stake in the Nebraska – Wisconsin series.  With both teams now in the West division, that matchup looks like an annual winner-take-all battle royale.

But whomever is responsible for the actual trophy has no idea what makes Big Ten trophy games so unique and fun.  The draw and desire is not to see two programs honoring “freedom”, “heroes”, or some other broad term that most everybody already respects*.

*I’m looking forward to future trophy games honoring “America”, “Moms”, “Apple Pie”, and “Three Day Weekends”.  Maybe Nebraska can get a trophy game going with Purdue or Rutgers for one of these themes!

Big Ten trophy games are about peculiar items that are only considered “trophies” by the teams involved:

A bronze pig.  A jug.  A wooden turtle.  A giant ax.  A spittoon.

Yeah, some of these are cheesy and corny*, but I feel that was part of the draw for Nebraska fans when we joined the Big Ten.  We could picture ourselves getting worked up over a bronzed ear of corn, a big cow, or some other random item.

*Yeah, that was intentional.  Memo to Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Big Ten leadership:  stop being embarrassed by the agricultural roots of our great states.

Nobody is getting worked up over the ultra generic Heroes Trophy (presented by Hy-Vee!) and I don’t see many players or fans getting too hyped over the Freedom Trophy.

And that is what is the most disappointing about this – it is just such a huge missed opportunity.  Nebraska and Wisconsin seem like natural rivals – and they have since the day NU joined the conference.  Two traditionally powerful schools, priding themselves on homegrown talent, big offensive lines, powerful run games, and passionate fans.  The ties between the two programs (Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez was a NU player and assistant.  Nebraska’s AD Shawn Eichorst worked at Wisconsin) are big.  With both teams in the same division, the matchup just seems destined for a heated rivalry.  Adding a trophy should have been the cherry on top, but in this case, it was a swing and a miss.

Both Wisconsin and Nebraska are states that are proud of their agricultural roots, and are widely known for the food they produce.  Wisconsin is synonymous with cheese and if you want a good steak, find a cow raised on Nebraska corn.  A cow would have been a natural trophy – something with meaning to the two schools and states, something unique, and something that respects and honors the legacy of Big Ten trophy games.

But apparently somebody thought it would be better to go broader.

And that is disappointing to me.  The Big Ten could have done something unique to honor the people and culture of the teams involved.  Instead, they opted for something vague, non-specific, and unnecessarily self-important.  It makes me sad, but given this is the same conference that gave us Legends and Leaders, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Big Ten went for the most pompous route instead of the one that makes the most sense.

Ironically, the design inspiration appears to be taken from a December 2013 post on knowitallfootball.com, where J.P. Scott wrote:

“I was rooting through some Husker gear when I came across a lunchbox that had “Huskers” painted onto one side and the Wisconsin “W” misprinted on the other.”

Seriously, toss a big ol’ flag in the middle and there’s your Freedom Trophy!

2014 World Series Games as Husker Bowl games

Author’s note:  The genesis for this post was the heartbreak of the Kansas City Royals’ Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.  It reminded me of the 1984 Orange Bowl, where Nebraska was so close, but fell just short.  The original idea was to take each game of the World Series and find a comparable Husker bowl game (preferably one with national championship implications).  I didn’t games 2 -5 done, but here is what I had:

Game 1:  Giants 7, Royals 1 is the 2002 Rose Bowl (Miami Hurricanes 37 – Nebraska 14).  Some may question if the Royals should have been there, much like Eric Crouch’s Huskers were questioned for appearing in the Rose Bowl.  A game that was not as close as the final score indicated, as the Canes and Giants were dominant in all phases of the game.

Game 6:  Royals 10, Giants 0 is the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska 62, Florida Gators 24).  Few gave the Huskers a chance against the vaunted Fun and Gun offense (“Nebraska can’t run on grass”) just like nobody gave the Royals much of a chance of coming back down three games to two.  At best, it was expected to be a close, hard-fought game that came down to the wire.  Instead, it was over in the second.  The Huskers exploded for 29 second quarter points to take a 35-10 halftime lead.  The Royals batted around in the second inning to score seven runs.

Game 7:  (Giants 3, Royals 2) is the 1984 Orange Bowl (Miami Hurricanes 31, Nebraska 30).  The games were so close, yet so far away.  The opponent controlled most of the game, a key injury (Rozier / Sal Perez HBP) left fans wondering what could have been.  But these two games will be forever remembered for a critical decision made late in the contest.  Should Nebraska go for two to win outright?  Should third base coach Mike Jirshelle have tried to send Alex Gordon home after his single was bobbled and booted around the outfield?  As much as fans may disagree (Nebraska probably would have won the National Championship by kicking the extra point to tie / Gordon may have beaten the throw or the relay may have been off-target) it says here that the right decision was made.  Osborne gained so much more than he lost by going for two.  Gordon likely would have been out by 10 feet, and the next batter (Salvador Perez) had homered off of Bumgarner earlier in the Series).

Braxton Miller is out for the season. 

Author’s note:  This was written shortly after Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the 2014 season due to injury.  A local radio station was making the case that this injury was bad for the Big Ten, and therefore, bad for Nebraska.  I didn’t buy that.

It sucks for Miller and to a far lesser extent, Buckeye fans.  But I just do not feel compelled to feel bad because the Big Ten’s “best chance” at getting a team in the playoffs and therefore, restoring glory and respect to the conference is gone.  Yeah, Ohio State has a far tougher road to get into the playoffs – let alone win the Big Ten East, but I’m not really sure how that impacts me as a Nebraska fan – especially since Ohio State was not on Nebraska’s schedule, nor do they play either of the teams expected to contend for the West title (Wisconsin or Iowa). 

This may be 15 years as a fan of a Big XII school talking – but I don’t take a lot of pride in the successes of fellow conference schools.  Sure if the championship game came down to say, Alabama or Florida State versus Michigan State, I’d want the Spartans to win.  But I’m not going to chant “B-I-G” the next time a Big Ten school wins a title. 

*Or would it be “Bee-One-Gee”?

Heck, I think Nebraska fans are more likely to find amusement in the stumbles of conference mates (such as the typo in the Texas media guide) than gain pride in something that Illinois does.  Besides, getting a team into the playoffs isn’t going to magically erase the stigma that the B1G is the weakest of the Power 5 conferences.  That will take multiple years of bowl wins, non-conference victories, and most likely a national title or two.  As good as Braxton Miller is, he can’t do all of that by himself.

The “Obama Presidential Library” is unveiled in a Norfolk parade

Author’s note:  A Fourth of July parade in Norfolk, NE contained a controversial float of the “Obama Presidential Library” – a Obama caricature sitting in front of a dilapidated outhouse.  

As is my custom, I’ll do my best to leave my political views out of the discussion.  If you want to read an impassioned response from a conservative or a liberal, you have many options.  I’d rather try to view things from both sides of the street.

I am not at all surprised by the float’s popularity.  The joke seems to be lifted right out of my Facebook feed, which is often filled with images and other memes mocking President Obama.  Obama is not popular with many of my Facebook friends, and I’ve seen more than one person use language that was rather disrespectful.  That’s part of life with a left-leaning President in a very conservative state like Nebraska.

I’ve seen many people asking what the response would have been if it was a conservative politician being lampooned.  Certainly, in an ultra red state like Nebraska there are several options (the governor, both Senators, and all three U.S. Representatives are Republican – and the odds are microscopic that a Democrat will win any of those offices in November’s elections).  So I can understand that a hypothetical float mocking the accomplishments of Governor Dave Heineman’s 10 years in office would not be well received – if it was even allowed entry into the parade in the first place.  But that’s not the point.

Personally, I’ve had enough with the “where was the outrage when so-and-so was ridiculed” straw-man arguments.  Yes, folks mocked George W. Bush (as well as Bush Sr, and Reagan), just like folks mocked Clinton and Carter.  And I’ll guarantee that whichever Republican wins in 2016 will be mocked too.

Let’s all acknowledge that democrats bash republicans and republicans bash democrats.  Let’s also acknowledge that this childish back and forth is one of the things most people hate about our current political culture.  At some point, somebody needs to be the bigger person and say “This is over the line.  There is a time and place, and this is not it”.

In one local article, a defender of the float said it is nothing worse than a “political cartoon” in a newspaper.  That is a fair point.  I’ve seen sharper jabs in political cartoons than what the float was trying to convey.  But there is a difference:  There are not too many young minds who read the editorial/opinion pages.  The ones that do probably can understand the concept of political satire.

But when an outhouse float goes down Main Street USA to the applause and laughter of the crowd, it becomes tougher to explain to a child why we should continue to respect the office, especially when the current President is depicted outside a dilapidated outhouse.  I don’t have a problem if you don’t respect the current President, but I do take issue with being disrespectful of the office.

 

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