Thursday, February 4, 2010

Football or Futbol?

By Jessica Ceresino (SMBA '11)

After a long week of Statistics and Accounting, we were delighted to have Mark and Yuki Zeigler stop by and speak to the SMBA class about an often-forgotten sport in America: soccer. Mark is a sports columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He covers a lot of soccer domestically and abroad, including the World Cup. Yuki works for Soccer United Marketing, focusing daily on the massive challenge of creating popularity for soccer in a country that seems to have no interest.

Soccer is the world's favorite sport, and the number one sport played by youth in America. However, after the youth level, something happens and its popularity plummets in the U.S. So, what happens?

Well, Mark and Yuki offered their experience and first-hand knowledge of the sport here in America to try to explain just where the disconnect happens. They showed us how soccer is different than other American sports in that it's divided into different sections. Those sections of fans only care about one level of soccer. That is, it's not the same as baseball, where the fans only have the MLB to watch. Soccer fans can watch the EPL, MLS, World Cup, youth games, college games, and the list goes on. So, generally, a soccer fan is only a fan of one of these leagues. Therefore, it's difficult to get the same backing the Chicago Cubs have in Chicago, behind the Chicago MLS team, the Fire. It's not that there aren't fans out there, they just aren't all watching the same games. This presents a difficult task to Yuki and her colleagues of combining these fans under the same umbrella and driving them to watch the same thing.

Mark and Yuki happened to hit a nostalgic note with me, as Mark mentioned his coverage of Olympic Gold Medalist, Rachel Buehler. I remember my first game playing against Rachel; we were 9 years old. I quickly learned that Rachel was going to be something special. She was a perfect combination of athleticism and finesse, which is a rare thing in the soccer world. We went on to play on the same team for the 9 years that followed that game. In fact, Rachel and I held a sign at the 1999 World Cup championship that read, "Surf girls u-15, future U.S. national team."

While that wasn't true for 17 of us, last year in Beijing, Rachel and the U.S. Women's National soccer team took home the gold medal after defeating Brazil. I can't explain the feeling of watching Rachel celebrate and carry the American flag around with some of the greatest names in the game. It's moments like that that Yuki and Mark are looking for to reignite the passion of youth players in America to follow soccer intensely, like baseball and football fans have their entire lives.

I'm not sure where the disconnect happens, but it does, and I speak from experience. Once a devoted soccer fan, watching Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm whenever I could, I now--regretfully--only tune in to World Cup games. Hopefully, Yuki and Soccer United Marketing can figure out a way to fix the current disconnect.

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