Monday, April 14, 2008

This Hurt Me More Than It Will Hurt You

Before you read any further, let me apologize in advance.

There are two reasons for this.

First, it is a blatant ripoff homage to the work of the fine folks over at Fire Joe Morgan. However, having received an email from Ken Tremendous himself over the weekend, I feel that if ever there were a time to steal and get away with it, that time would be today.

Second, I apologize for forcing you to sit though the original article entitled "Why Americans Have Not Embraced Soccer", which will probably leave you dumber than you were before you read it. But because we are powerless to help even ourselves, we give it the FJM treatment:

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

Okay, we're off to a good start. No problems here.

The World Cup is the largest sporting event each year it is held. The 2006 finals averaged 260 million viewers. For comparison, the Super Bowl that year only averaged 90.7 million.

Let me nitpick. First off, who the fuck is teaching people to type these days? Unless you are using grandpa's IBM Selectric typewriter, you don't put two spaces after a period. That is a relic from days before word processors were able to automatically kern between characters. So, stop it. It's irritating. Read the MLA of CMS. And not to put you off, but it will be time better spent than reading the rest of this piece. [Note: Blogger is apparently smarter than Braden Moore and has automatically corrected his penchant for double-spacing after periods. Click on the link provided above if you would like to be irritated by the original.]

Second, this is not really apples-to-apples. Technically the 32 teams that qualify for "World Cup" held every four years are actually in the World Cup Finals. Now there is a final match, which determines the winner of the World Cup (Italy in 2006), but the 32-team tournament itself is the World Cup Finals.

This is not a meaningless distinction for our purposes, because that average number of 260 million viewers includes matches like Iran v. Angola and Paraguay v. Sweden. And, quality side they may be, Sweden plays some boring ass soccer that nobody should be subjected to, not even the fucking Paraguayans.

The proper comparison for the Super Bowl then should be the rating for the Grand Final, which was not 260 million viewers, but 715.1 million, meaning we go from a multiple of about 3 to one of about 8. Not a trivial difference.

But whatevs.

In Europe, fans live and die with their favorite teams. In fact, they get so fanatical the crowds frequently turn violent. They even have a name for these unruly people: hooligans.

What is frequently? Yesterday, Sunday April 13, 2007, there were over 100 soccer matches across the top European and South American leagues. That was just Sunday so you can probably double it to get a decent guestimate for the total number of matches over the weekend. Even then you're lowballing it because it was just the top leagues (no Championship, no Ligue 2, or Serie B) and it was just two continents (no J League, no Africa, not even MLS).

By comparison—and let's go back to the NFL here—there are, what, 16 games in an NFL week. So when you see violence at a soccer match, say, once every 3 months on ESPN highlights, there have been the equivalent of about 9-and-a-half NFL season's worth of matches in that time span. Granted, there's a decent amount of wiggle room in those numbers but would anyone ever suggest that there was frequent violence in the NFL if there was an unruly fan outburst once every ten years or so?

Also, the etymology of the word 'hooligan' has little to do with soccer. But, hey, why let such trivialities get in the way of such a riveting analysis?

Despite its outrageous popularity across the globe, soccer has failed to grab a foothold here in the United States. This has to be attributed to what our society values in its athletes.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of the life force literally being sucked out of me as I read that. Values? Is that like a "culture of life" sort of thing?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but in a world where Leonard Little can get behind the wheel of a car drunk, kill a woman, then 6 years later get arrested for DWI again and never lose his job as a Defensive End for the St. Louis Rams because he is large, fast, and strong, it's probably safe to say that the primary thing we 'value' when it comes to sports is winning (the reason Michael Vick is in jail is because apparently we value puppies more than winning).

The three most popular sports in the US are football, basketball and baseball. All these sports rely on extreme hand-eye coordination and precision.

Among other things (speed, strength, fitness, etc.), sure.

We ask our pitchers to throw a ball into a tiny strike zone, and our batters are given an equally difficult task of hitting it square with a small bat.

Not sure who "we" are, but really of all the problems to explore here, the vague use of the first-person plural here is probably low on the list.

Basketball players are expected to throw a ball through a hoop much higher than they are. Often, if they cannot do this 50 percent of the time, we see it as a failure.

Oh, "we" is you. You see that as failure. If I had someone 6'6" with a 42" vertical leap coming after me every time I jacked up a shot, I'd be pretty jazzed about making it 50% of the time. Defense has a lot to do with shooting percentages. Don't think so? Then why do 'bad' free throw shooters in the NBA (Shaq excepted) still shoot around 70%.

If you shoot .500 from the floor, you are the 33rd best shooter in the league by percentage (currently a spot held by Nick Collison of the Sonics). In a 30-team league where rosters go 15 deep, that puts you in the top 7.33% of shooters in the NBA. Hardly failure.

And they aren't "throwing" a ball through a hoop. They are shooting it (that probably artificially inflates the percentages, huh?) Also, when someone is 6'6" with a 70" wingspan, the hoop ain't that much higher than they are, but this isn't a math paper.

Football teams execute choreographed plays with extreme precision. Passes are expected to hit players in stride, and wide-outs are expected to have perfect timing.

Suddenly this became a love letter to the Joffrey that is the NFL, but there is nothing outlandish here. Passing plays in football require timing.

Meanwhile, soccer is completely free-flowing. Possession changes quickly and often. Players are not able to keep control of the ball for much more than a few seconds at a time.

Yeah? And? So?

Those three statements could just as easily be used to describe basketball, which people in the US apparently love.

Also, kicking a ball is so much more inaccurate than what we as Americans have come to expect in sports.

Right about here, I am praying this was written by a high schooler. Somebody please tell me Braden Moore does not have a college degree as I feel that would devalue everyone else who has ever earned one.

What's your measure of accuracy, Braden? Soccer teams that like to control the midfield actually have decent passing accuracy rates (i.e. passes intended for teammates, make it to teammates). For example, in the first leg of its Champions League match up with AC Milan in March, Arsenal had a passing efficiency of 78%. Compare that to, say, a completion percentage for an NFL quarterback. Last year Drew Brees had the highest completion percentage in the league at 67.5%.

Now, again, this might not be the right comparison but that's kind of the point. Well, it's one of two points. First, you can't compare any two stats that you fucking feel like comparing. And second, your non-quantitative "stat" about inaccurate passing in soccer is wrong.

When an American stumbles across a soccer game on television, they are not able to see the greater grace and skill involved. They see people who nine times out of 10 are failing.

Ugh... I must be a masochist.

I am an American. When I stumble across a game on television or even when I deliberately turn one on, I am indeed able to see the grace and skill involved. As for those people who can't, exactly what "failure" are they seeing nine times out of 10? And are you intimating that this is somehow unacceptable for the purposes of enjoying a sport?

I'm going to take a guess at the answers to my questions and say they are respectively: "A failure to score" and "yes."

Let's take baseball for a comparison, where the goal is also to score. A major league team averages about 750 runs a season and does so over about 6000 plate appearances. That means that a baseball player is failing to score seven of every eight times they come to plate. Are you suggesting that nine of 10 is unacceptable but seven of eight is fine?

I think you are.

By the way, ever seen a save percentage in hockey? Hockey players "fail" at a rate as higher than nine times out of 10. Yet, it is still more popular than soccer in America. How can that be? Is failure somehow more acceptable when ice and skates add to the degree of difficulty?

This of course only applies to uneducated fans. There are soccer enthusiasts here in this country. The sport simply holds more of a cult following instead of mass-market appeal.

If I had any of that life force left, I might argue with the "only applies." Soccer is such a stupidly simple game that almost anyone should be able to see the skill involved. If not, they could pick up something round and after about 2 minutes of trying to juggle it with just their feet, easily have that appreciation. But I'm digressing.

A cult? Should I put on my Nike's and wait for the spaceship to emerge from behind the comet? MLS games average around 14,000 for attendance. So, maybe you could tell me at what number this stops being a cult. Really, as someone raised Catholic, I'd like to know at what point I'm no longer violating the first Commandment by enjoying soccer.

Because of this, I do not see soccer in this country catching up in popularity with the other major sports. Our values are too ingrained into us to change.

Because of what? Because of every point you made that was inaccurate, grossly misleading, or simply stupid?

Oh, because it currently just has a cult status. That's right, nothing which doesn't currently have "mass-market appeal" will ever have that appeal. Not even when the demographic make-up of this country shifts and the already sizable Hispanic-American population, which loves soccer, becomes an even larger percentage of the US population.

The skill needed to succeed in soccer just does not compare to the skills we admire in athletes.

Oh, maybe I should have saved the bit about picking up something round and trying to juggle it for here.

Yes, because we like passing from a quarterback's hands to a receiver's hands, we could never admire the skill in passing from a midfielder's feet to a forward's feet. Or because we like people who fail to get a hit about 70% of the time they step to the plate, we can't enjoy a sport in which teams get off, oh 13 or 14 shots on goal and maybe make 2.

What about NASCAR? It has been one of (if not the) fastest growing sports in America over the last decade. Have we suddenly started to change our "values" with respect to the ability to make left turns for hours on end more than other skills? And if we changed those values, why couldn't we change whatever values are preventing us from liking soccer? Why, Braden why?

Maybe the reason Americans haven't taken to soccer is because they are fucking stupid. I would never make such a brutal and unsophisticated argument. But if forced to, I might offer up this bit of writing as my first piece of evidence.


ü75 said...

I still use two spaces. :*(

Precious Roy said...

So does my girlfriend. So does my bidness partner. So does everyone I've been having to work with lately.

This might be another fight I cannot win, like 'stadia.'

But that doesn't mean I shalln't fight the good fight.

Ian said...

we can't enjoy a sport in which teams get off, oh 13 or 14 shots on goal and maybe make 2.

I don't Arsenal have had 13 shots on goal total in the last month.

The NY Kid said...

@Ian - but "we" have definitely made more than two!