Is Soccer on Television on Boring?

E42040_Adidas_Official_World_Cup_Match_Ball_2010_tnTelevision ratings for Major League Soccer are stagnant and have been for years.  Despite improved numbers since the switch from Fox to NBC, (which can largely be explained by the number of additional households in which the NBCSN is available), soccer remains well below the other major sports in television success.  While the spectacle of the World Cup draws attention every four years, the sport has failed to gain traction with many Americans.  Success at the gate notwithstanding, why has soccer failed to hold eyeballs on television?

One hypothesis, muttered under the breath of soccer fans, yet voiced loudly by mainstream sports commentators, “soccer haters” and others, is that soccer on tv is boring.  Fans captured by the breathless excitement of the NHL, captivated by the violence and speed of football or engaged by the cerebral captivation of baseball find little appealing about soccer on tv.  Anecdotal evidence supports the contention that soccer on television is boring.  In hockey (the team sport closest to soccer in many ways, including in the amount of goals per game), a team is never more than a few seconds from a scoring chance or shot on goal.  In basketball, successful plays abound and to most Americans, little compares to the Autumn spectacle that is the NFL.

Soccer is low scoring.  To the casual fan, soccer is moments of brilliance surrounded by long periods of tedium. For every match that is a beautiful spectacle, there are five that ponderous affairs with little attacking play, long balls booted back and forth punctuated by back passes, square passes and passes to the keeper.  Soccer’s running clock begets mind numbing delay tactics and the play acting is offensive to even the most passionate fans.

So is soccer boring? As a lifelong fan, I say no, but I will leave the last word to my son.  He is a huge sports fan, has been to lots of soccer games, an NHL match, baseball games and more.  We used to watch soccer together regularly and he could name players on lots of MLS teams.  Now, five minutes of soccer is too much, while two hours of hockey, 6 innings of baseball or four quarters of football are fine.  The other day, we were watching a Crew match after an afternoon of him playing soccer and baseball.  We turned a Crew match on NBCSN when after a couple of minutes he turned to me: “Dad, soccer is boring.”