This is a post on marketing as much as sports. Here’s my logic:
- If you want to maximize the audience for your sport, and ergo maximize potential revenues, then outcomes need to be fair. Professional wrestling excepted (which Wikipedia refers to as “a form of sporting theater”), who wants to watch a sport where the outcome is either random, predetermined, or meaningless?
- Cycling has been ruined as a sport by doping. Who wants to invest twenty-something days watching the Tour de France, see Floyd Landis win it, and then get stripped of his title a few days later for doping? It ruins the fun when people are cheating, and as long as people are cheating the results are meaningless. Who wants to watch sports where the outcomes are meaningless? Some people, but not me — I haven’t really followed the Tour since 2006 — and not lots of others. Ergo, the potential audience is not maximized.
- Long before yesterday’s goal scandal, I have argued that soccer suffers from serious problems with officiating which, among other problems, limits its ability to succeed as a major sport in the USA. Soccer is a low scoring sport so the impact of blown calls is much larger than in higher-scoring sports. One blown foul call in a basketball game that ends 110-100 makes little impact. One blown call in a soccer match that ends 2-2 makes the difference between the USA automatically qualifying for the next round and (basically) being in a win-or-go-home situation on its next match.
The real problem here is FIFA which stubbornly refuses to use technology to solve this problem. Video replays and ball-sensors are obvious solutions to the problem. (I’d also argue that soccer should add a fifth referee simply to manage the pushing and shoving in the box on set pieces, much as years ago hockey added a fourth one just to look after nastiness off the play.) Yet FIFA somehow insists that such things are not in the culture of soccer, which is frankly an idiotic excuse for not fixing the problem. As a friend once said about presentations — why is the presenter the only person in the room who can’t see the tweetstream? — why is the center referee the only person on the planet who can’t see the video replay?
Back to marketing, if FIFA won’t fix the problem, then over time I think Adam Smith will. People will gradually lose interest in a sport that every day becomes more and more out of touch with both technology and consumer expectations. Yes soccer has a huge worldwide audience today, but if such injustices continue, worldwide interest will erode over time, and in America, soccer — from an audience size perspective — will continue to be a C-tier sport.