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.”

8 Responses

  1. No, soccer on Tv isn’t boring, just watch an EPL or Liga MX game to see that. MLS on TV is boring though, and that’s because MLS lacks much offense. It’s so overly defensive and conservative it would bore even the Italaians who are known for loving that style.
    With the way the playoffs are set up, there is little incentive to win in the regular season, making most coaches just playing for the 0-0 draw on the road and the 1-0 win at home. Not to mention the refs allow sooooo much thuggery to go unpunished by defenders, it’s near impossible to play attractive attacking soccer. The kind of soccer people like to watch.
    I blame alot of this on Garber. He has an NFL mentality and doesn’t understand the sport of soccer. He’s obsessed with making MLS more physical and making more conferences to dilute the regular season even more, he’s ruining MLS in the process. He did a good job of overturning the mistakes of the early years, but now is making those mistakes himself. It’s time for a new commissioner. One who has been around the sport all his life. Who understands that letting over half the league make the playoffs is bad for product on the field and that fans want see CAM’s with technical skills display their crafts in fast fluid formations and not CB’s hacking down and breaking the legs of Forwards.

    I should mention I am a season ticket holder for an MLS team.

  2. I never bought the argument that ECS makes. Very few teams in any of the leagues around the world play “exciting” soccer that translates to tv. Sure Barca/Real is great but if the only thing that makes for good tv is top teams in top leagues, that doesn’t say much for the sport.

    There are lots of dog games in the EPL just like there are in MLS.
    We should be honest: The sport can be slow at all levels in all leagues and I admit to watching lots of games (even for my team) on FF with the DVR

  3. I don’t agree with the playoff argument. 16 NHL teams make the playoffs. 16 NBA teams make the playoffs. Whole conferences make their post season tournaments in basketball. That doesn’t dilute the playoffs at all.

  4. i think understanding and appreciating a sport plays an enormous role. and although soccer has enjoyed tremendous youth participation, it still lacks the cultural integration that football, baseball and basketball have had in the united states for decades. and if you think about the tv viewership of soccer/mls against the nlf, nba and nhl, i think another legitimate question would be, ‘who would watch golf?’ to me, golf is quite boring to watch: its subdued pace, soft spoken commentary and lack of physical contact. yet, millions tune in and watch because millions more play, understand and appreciate the sport. yes, a polarizing figure like tiger woods can make a different but remember, golf has had its own television channel well before the nfl network was created.

    with respect to mls, part of me wonders if the lack of a tv audience is a reflection of the growth of the sport as a whole rather than lack of interest in the sport. the epl and liga mx have healthy ratings and i think that reflects interest in soccer and the desire to watch it a a high level. mls is still a newcomer; after all, game attendance was stagnant until 2006, 9 years after the league was created. perhaps we are witnessing a lag between growth in attendance compared to growth in tv viewership…only time will tell.

  5. All sports can be boring. The best way to enjoy a sport is to play it. If you arent lucky enough to play, the next best thing is to be there when someone else is playing, if neither is an option, watch sports on tv. No one should worry about boring soccer on TV. Every sport can be boring. Soccer will prevail in its 90 minute bracket, preferred by the future generations who have zero attention span and who cant sit through 75 innings or 50,000 timeouts.

  6. And just to add, following the puck during a hockey telecast is excruciatingly tedious. Checking for the sake of taking a guy out of the game is lame. And baseball? Good lord, unless youre a statistician, you will slip into a coma. American football? Ive had so many friends from Europe comment on how boring THAT game is. I have to agree. I would love football if they removed time outs and got rid of the nauseating commercials. As far as referring to the speed of American football, i think we can all agree there are plenty of plays where the running back just oofs into the pig pile, only to end up under a ton of beef. Yay. Thrilling. Basketball’s strategies can be similar to the general idea of soccer, and it has global appeal. But basketball players are also known to flop and if another player so much as breathes on his opponent, its a foul. When you really think about it, any sport can be exciting during the final moments of a game that is close, that is between two evenly matched opponents, and when theres something at stake. Likewise they can be boring blowouts. My personal preference after soccer is boxing. Golf is not a sport. Its a game of skill. There’s a difference.

  7. I agree 100% with Chuck Zupa’s thoughts and Ben is dead on about the playoff argument. I think it is just a matter of time and generations as Chuck mentions. The NFL struggled back in its early years and now look at it today after the sport has been passed from generation to generation. I recently watched the 30 for 30 on the USFL and they were complaining about average attendance at 23k. how many MLS teams outside of Seattle & Portland and maybe LA would kill for that number on average. The USFL got those numbers because of the NFL and Americans love for football passed on generation to generation and it ultimately failed because they tried to be something they weren’t and go head to head with the NFL. I hope the MLS just sticks to its boring game plan on slow steady growth and it will coninue to rise slowly and perhaps be one of the big sports in this country in terms of ratings and attendance in a few generations (:

  8. A lot of games can be boring, not only in the MLS but also in any of the major leagues in Europe. Believe me, I watch a lot of televised games. I feel what the EPL does right, is show games that have atmosphere and full stadiums. The networks should go to places such as Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, LA and pump up the volume so the crowd noise makes it difficult to hear the commentators. As much as I like soccer I find it impossible to watch a game in New England where the crowd is sparse and all I can see is a bunch of football lines. Fans need to feel a part of something big.

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