Yes, the World Cup is like a vacation for sports writers and sportscasters. I know it's hard. I only have to come up with something occasionally for CityBeat, and usually it turns out to be an interview and not a few hundred words of my educated but otherwise useless opinion. Scribes for the daily papers -- not to mention talk-show hosts with three hours a day of airtime to fill -- need a break.
Sportswriters across America must have been putting big old X's across their calendar as May 31st approached, and with it, the start of the World Cup. "The World Cup is starting. I'll do piece on how the rest of the world is captivated, while we in the U.S. aren't. No one will remember I did exactly the same column in 1998 ... and 1994 ... and 1990." Yeah, thanks for the insight buddy.
Oddly, I personally have heard a lot of people talking about the World Cup. It's as much a topic of discussion as the NBA Finals, or the Stanley Cup.
Standing in the Fifth Third Bank at the Carew Tower last week, a local merchant chatted up the U.S.-South Korea match with the tellers. The U.S. was lucky to escape with a tie he told them. One teller said she watched a replay of the Russia-Japan match (Japan surprised insiders with a win). "That was a pretty good game," she mused.
TV ratings for the 2002 Cup will be poor. You can catch three games a day but, to see them live, you have to start watching at 2:30 a.m. Even if the games were on in the afternoon or evening, the numbers wouldn't rise significantly. That, however, may have more to do with the fact that a lot of folks that do care about the games gather en masse to watch.
I can't imagine that ratings for golf or tennis are any more stellar, yet we hardly ever hear how Americans don't like these sports. By the way, do you realize there's a whole channel devoted to golf? If that's doing even moderately well, there's no reason we can't have the pro-football channel.
Actually, what we need is a radio station that has nothing but scores. Fox and ESPN run services like this on the weekends. The anchors discuss games in progress, and check in with reporters at the various stadiums and arenas. Very handy during football season. Much more useful than some nitwit telling us that pro soccer will never work in this country.
Soccer, in fact, is not quite as popular around the globe as some would lead you to believe. The Japanese rank baseball first, followed by sumo wrestling. Caribbean nations tend to go more for baseball than soccer, though their Latin American neighbors prefer the latter. Our Canadian friends, of course, are partial to hockey. The Scandinavian countries are more in line with the Canucks.
If you think about, though, any sport can be enjoyed if you know how to watch it. In the past I've referenced an Andy Rooney piece from a 60 Minutes originally broadcast about 20 years ago. Rooney said, to enjoy (American) football, you have to find a reason, any reason, to root for or against one of the teams.
The World Cup should be no different. With 32 countries represented that's an easy order to fill. England, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Cameroon, South Africa ... you could spend an afternoon listing reasons to root for or against any of these teams. Allies, sometimes allies, old favorites, underdogs and arrogant dynasties.
I like soccer.