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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
The U.S. versus soccer 
3rd-Feb-2011 10:32 am

Football, basketball, and baseball are the most popular spectator sports in the United States. In the rest of the world, it's soccer (association football). Why don't U.S. fans like soccer? Many Americans say there's not enough scoring, which makes for a boring game, and outside of the U.S., some say Americans don't like it because it's an international sport, which means it can't be controlled by the United States.

I believe that it's due to historical accident.

Soccer originated in Britain, became formalized in 1863, then spread throughout Europe and South America during the next few decades. In many countries, no other team sport has roots as deep and fans as fanatical. I live in Spain, and I cannot overstate how crazed soccer fans are.

In the United States, however, soccer was transformed in the 1860s into a more rugby-like game that eventually became American football. Meanwhile, baseball and basketball also established themselves as professional sports.

By the time soccer began to gain world popularity, U.S. sports fans were already committed to all the sports they could handle. Both fans and sponsors have limited time and money.

Here's a timeline of major events in the United States in baseball, football, and basketball, and in world soccer, with soccer events in bold. For a long time, the U.S. team couldn't even qualify to play in the World Cup, which didn't help to spark interest in the sport.

But lately, the U.S. team has been consistently qualifying, and soccer seems to be making inroads into sports fans' hearts. Soccer moms and immigrants from soccer-crazed nations may be part of a lasting change. Soccer isn't boring (usually), and if the United States didn't like sports it couldn't control, it would shun the Olympics.

The next FIFA World Cup is in Brazil in 2014. The United States will probably be there. Good luck!

1845 - The first amateur baseball team is formed, the New York Knickerbockers.
1857 - 16 clubs form the National Association of Base Ball Players.
1860s - The "Boston Game," an early version of football, becomes popular at U.S. universities.
1861 to 1865 - U.S. Civil War soldiers play baseball, and the game becomes popular nationwide.
1863 - Britain's Football Association (soccer) is founded in London.
1867 - The Nation Association of Base Ball Players grows to 400 clubs.
1869 - First professional baseball players are permitted.
1873 - Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers meet to codify intercollegiate football rules.
1876 - Baseball's National League is founded.
1880 - At the suggestion of Walter Camp, "the father of American football," the number of players is reduced to 11, and a line of scrimmage with a snap by the center to the quarterback is approved.
1891 - James Naismith invents basketball.
1895 - First entirely professional football game is played.
1898 - First professional basketball league is founded.
1900 - 43 universities field intercollegiate football teams.
1901 - Baseball's American League is founded.
1902 - First professional football league is formed.
1902 - My adopted soccer team, Real Madrid Club de Fútbol, is founded. It becomes the most successful team of the 20th century.
1903 - First baseball World Series.
1904 - Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is founded with 8 members.
1905 - Ty Cobb makes his major league baseball debut with the Detroit Tigers.
1905 - 62 universities create the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, later called the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
1913 - USA joins FIFA.
1914 - Babe Ruth begins his baseball career.
1915 - Jim Thorpe is signed as a professional football player.
1916 - Second Rose Bowl university football post-season game is played.
1918 - Knute Rockne becomes football coach at Notre Dame.
1920 - Baseball's Negro National League is founded.
1920 - American Professional Football Association is formed with 20 teams and is soon renamed the National Football League (NFL).
1921 - The first radio broadcast of a baseball game.
1921 - My football team, the Green Bay Packers, joins the NFL.
1924 - FIFA organizes Summer Olympic soccer tournaments.
1930 - First soccer World Cup, although the economic depression means that several teams pull out. USA finishes third. Britain's teams had already dropped out, and would rejoin only after WWII.
1932 - First NFL football post-season championship playoff game is held.
1933 - First baseball All-Star game.
1934 - FIFA's second World Cup, hosted by Italy. USA is eliminated in the first round.
1935 - Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Sun Bowl football games are created.
1935 - Cotton Bowl football game is created.
1935 - First Heisman Trophy is awarded in football.
1938 - FIFA's third World Cup, hosted by France. USA does not qualify to play.
1939 - NCAA creates the United States basketball championship.
1947 - Jackie Robinson signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.
1949 - National Basketball Association (NBA) is formed with 17 teams.
1950 - FIFA's fourth World Cup, hosted by Brazil. USA qualifies to play and defeats England before being eliminated.
1952 - NCAA claims all television broadcasting rights for its member universities' football games.
1954 - Hank Aaron, originally a Negro League player, begins to play for the Milwaukee Braves. (I saw him play in the 1960s.)
1954 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1958 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1958 - NFL Championship Game is first played, which ends in the first sudden death overtime.
1959 - Wilt Chamberlain joins Golden State Warriors basketball team.
1959 - Vince Lombardi becomes head coach of the Green Bay Packers football team.
1960 - American Football League begins play.
1962 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1966 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1966 - First NFL-AFL championship game, the Super Bowl.
1967 - American Basketball Association (ABA) is formed as a rival to the NBA.
1970 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1970 - NFL and AFL merge and eventually grow to 32 teams. League rules tend to keep all football teams relatively equal in competitive opportunities. By contrast, the top soccer teams in some countries remain the same year after year after year.
1974 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1976 - ABA and NBA merge.
1978 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1982 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1986 - USA does not qualify for FIFA World Cup.
1990 - USA plays in FIFA World Cup in Italy, eliminated in first round.
1992 - USA fields basketball's Dream Team in the Olympics, featuring the NBA stars, including Michael Jordan.
1994 - USA hosts World Cup, automatically qualifies, and is eliminated in first round.
1995 - NBA expands to Canada.
1996 - U.S. Women's National Basketball Association is formed with 8 teams, later expanding to 12.
1998 - Major League Baseball expands to 30 teams.
1998 - USA plays in FIFA World Cup in France, eliminated in first round.
2001 - Spain's Pau Gasol joins the Memphis Grizzlies. This is big news here in Spain.
2001 - NBA Development League is founded with 8 teams, later expanding to 16.
2002 - For the first time since 1930, USA reaches quarter finals in FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan.
2006 - USA plays in FIFA World Cup in Germany and is eliminated in first round.
2010 - USA plays in FIFA World Cup in South Africa and is eliminated in second round. Spain wins!
2010 - 35 university football bowl games are played.
2011 - Fédération Internationale de Basketball will invite the NBA champion team to the World Cup Championship.

— Sue Burke
This was also posted on my writer's website, http://www.sue.burke.name

3rd-Feb-2011 02:16 pm (UTC)
>By the time soccer began to gain world popularity, U.S. sports fans were already committed to all the sports they could handle. Both fans and sponsors have limited time and money.

I think you put your finger on it here. What is more, it used to be just baseball and football. I remember the year that March Madness became a term people used and basketball suddenly became a big deal. Before that, it was as unimportant as soccer. (I think it was about the same time that the baseball players went on strike. It seems to be that baseball never entirely recovered from that. It's certainly not the big deal it was when I was a kid.)

What I think is strange is that the fact that nearly every little kids plays soccer has not made soccer more popular. I keep wondering if it will eventually catch on here just because so many children will grow up with a familiarity of it.

Soccer is the only sport my kids play.
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