I admit it. I have World Cup fever. I lived in France when they won the World Cup in 1998, and have enjoyed the sport ever since. Needless to say I was thrilled with today’s outcome, a 3-1 French victory over Spain. (And needless to say, I was quite disappointed with the US performance overall.)
So given the World Cup, and a tenuous link to both publishing and technology, I thought I’d post on why I think soccer, despite my affection for it, will not succeed commercially in the US.
- It is inherently a poor sport for advertisers. Since advertising funds most of the content industry (and in this context live sports are most certainly content), you need to examine the advertising opportunity in sports to determine their commercial success potential. If baseball and football are the ultimate advertising-opportunity sports (think lots of natural, long breaks for commercials built directly into the game), then soccer is the ultimate nightmare: two 45-minute, uninterrupted halves with an approximately 15-minute half-time, where you can run commercials, but know that virtually no one is watching.
- It’s hard to find good workarounds to the advertising limitations. I think there’s a 0% chance that FIFA will change the rules to have “TV timeouts” inserted into matches. So your only option is to do what they do in Europe: put logos on the uniforms (a la Vodaphone on Manchester United), signs around the playing field, and a sponsor logo displayed on the screen during the match (on either a permanent or rotating basis). But I don’t believe these sponsorships can command the $4M/minute value of a Superbowl commercial.
- The game is low scoring. Americans like high-scoring games. Think basketball scores: 110-105. Or baseball: 12-7. Or Football: 35-21. Then there’s soccer: 1-0. (For example, yesterday’s Switzerland/Ukraine match which was 0-0 at the end of both regulation and overtime — that’s two hours of play without a single goal.)
- The low-scoring nature of the game increases the impact of questionable calls. When there are 8 runs in a baseball game, 1 blown call has modest impact. When there is only 1 goal in a match and it results from a penalty kick awarded on a questionable call (e.g., last night’s Italy/Australia game) it doesn’t just have a big impact on — it actually determines the outcome of — the match.
- The soccer establishment has resisted using technology (e.g., video replays, RFID chips in the ball) to improve officiating. There’s nothing more disheartening than watching a game for two hours and knowing the result was determined by a bad call (e.g., a questionable “was it in the goal” call as happened in one of France’s first-round games). I think Americans are less tolerant of such outcomes than others, as we tend to adopt a “fix it” attitude instead of a c’est la vie or a status quo preservation attitude.
Many of the problems I cite above are also associated with hockey, which itself has been on the decline in the USA for what I believe are the same reasons. That’s my take. What’s yours?