Wednesday, 30 June 2010
...And Out Come The Wolves
I have a friend who is ridiculously pregnant. As I am typing this, she is several days past her due date. As such, whenever we speak to each other, it is unavoidable that we will talk about pregnancy and baby stuff. (She is literally the elephant in the room.) Of course, one time the topic of baby names came up and I found myself Googling “popular baby names” for the past several years. As it turned out, there is a page on the website for the Social Security Administration that lists, by year, the most popular baby names in the United States. It also allows you to search the popularity of a name by year, going as far back to the 1800s. After predictably searching for unpredictable names like “Barack,” “Sanjaya,” and “Brody Jenner,” I searched for an assumedly common name: Britney. My search turned up something peculiar about “Britney.” In 1998, “Britney” was the 452nd most popular baby girl name, but in 1999, its popularity jumped to 205. I hypothesized that this was due to the popularity of Britney Spears, who released her first album …Baby One More Time in 1999. However, I did concede that this could have merely been a coincidence. To prove (or disprove) my hypothesis, I searched for the name of another female pop singer, who rose to fame in 2006 with her breakthrough role in the Disney Channel’s original series Hannah Montana. Prior to 2007, the name “Miley” (as in Miley Cyrus) had never been in the top 1000 baby girl names for any given year. In 2007, “Miley” was ranked 278. (Furthermore, the most popular name today for a newborn boy is “Jacob”, the most popular name for a newborn girl is “Isabella,” and the most popular movie franchise of the past two years releases its third film, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, this week.) All of this struck me as dangerously revealing. This Baby Name Phenomenon has led me to conclude two things: 1. Fans of teenage icons like to procreate at the heights of their icons’ careers and 2. Americans are easily influenced by what they’re exposed to. I’ve realized that this second point explains everything from baby names to Americans’ feelings toward soccer.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably American. And if you’re American, then you probably couldn’t care less about soccer because soccer is not popular in America, despite the fact that it’s the most popular sport in the world. The reasons for this are multiple. Americans have seemingly formulated every excuse to justify their dislike for the sport. People have said that it’s boring. People say that it takes too long for a team to score, and too many games end in a tie (or “draw” as “football” people say). People have complained about the wimpiness of the players, who are known to dramatically drop to the ground in agonizing pain whenever someone steps on their shoelace. And, people have charged that soccer is a foreign sport that simply doesn’t appeal to American tastes and sensibilities, and some conservative pundits have even alleged that soccer is un-American.
Nevertheless, every four years when the World Cup comes around discussions begin on whether this will be the year that soccer finally breaks through and becomes a popular sport in America. And, again, the answer this time around will be “no,” but it’s not because Americans think that watching flimsy foreign people run around a big green lawn is boring. Just like anything with widespread recognition, soccer’s popularity comes down to exposure, and soccer will never be popular in America as long as American’s aren’t exposed to it. Unlike the other major American sports, Major League Soccer does not have a lucrative network television deal that would bring the game into the homes of every American citizen. The NFL (Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN), NBA (ESPN and TNT), and Major League Baseball (Fox and ESPN) all have network deals that broadcast their regular season and playoff games. These sports are highly exposed. So why don’t the networks strike a deal with soccer? Like most things in life, it comes down to money.
Soccer simply doesn’t make money for television networks. It’s is a game that’s played on a continuous clock that doesn’t stop; one half of soccer runs for a minimum of forty-five continuous minutes. The clock continues to run during time-outs, player substitutions, injuries, etc. This means that there are no breaks in the game for television commercials, which is where all TV revenue comes from. In football, broadcasted games cut to commercials for time-outs, change of possessions, player injuries, two-minute warnings, and end of quarters. There are even time-outs during the game for no purpose other than to let the networks show commercials (these are called “TV Time-outs”). In baseball, there are commercials between every half-inning and pitcher substitutions. In basketball, there are commercials between quarters, for every full time-out, (sometimes) between free throws, and whenever Ron Artest punches out a fan. In soccer, the only opportunity to show commercials during a game is at halftime. It doesn’t make financial sense for a network to sign a significant broadcast deal with MLS. (To a lesser extent, this is also why hockey doesn’t gain as much traction as football, basketball, and baseball.) If the networks figured out a way to make soccer lucrative, we’d see soccer every day, we’d be cheering for our local MLS teams every year, and we’d be apoplectic about Team USA getting punked by Ghana every four years.
Americans don’t hate soccer. We only think we do. We need to realize that by “hating” soccer, we’re not being “tough.” By snubbing soccer, we aren’t being particular about sports, and we’re certainly not being more “American.” We’re just being a byproduct of the television networks’ balance sheets. Americans are victims of exposure, and we’ve literally gone so far as to name our children after it. Even if you adamantly insist that you genuinely hate that foreign sport, I insist that you’d like it if it was on every Sunday night on NBC, every Monday night on ESPN, or every Saturday afternoon on Fox. Because, just how you may insist that you hate teenage pop superstars, at some point in the last 2 years I guarantee you found yourself singing Party in the USA and I guarantee that you liked it.
Oops, I did it again.