You don't need cleavage or thunder -- by far the best thing for U.S. soccer is winning.
Last Thursday, ESPN tried to sell American interest in the biggest sporting event in years by sandwiching the World Cup opener in between the khaki-heavy U.S. Open and the commercial-friendly NBA Finals, calling the three programming events a trifecta: if sports fans eat lunch with the golfers, they might order another beer for the World Cup so as not to lose seats for the LeBron-Duncan showdown later in the night. Monday, the U.S. team plays their first game against Ghana. If they win, or if they advance beyond group stage again, MLS and soccer in general will make great strides.
Perhaps ESPN is right in their approach: that U.S. fans still need a sweetener to swallow primetime soccer, especially when it's aired at a time rife with anti-World Cup protests (chief of ESPN in Brazil, Ruben Pozzi, proudly claimed the military police "vanished" a protest earlier on the opening day in just 12 minutes). When was the last time there was an anti-sport protest in the U.S.? And how many Americans understand the frenzy unleashed in Brazil, for example, when, after a slowish half an hour of the opener, Brasileiro superstar Neymar plopped one into a corner against Croatia (that small Balkan country south of Slovenia)? So the trifecta programming, plus a lot of cleavage and thunder in the intro video describing Brazil, might be necessary bait, but is it enough to win over U.S. fans?
According to ESPN Magazine, in a survey on the percentage of a country's population that viewed a mere 20 minutes of a 2010 World Cup game, we see that three quarters of Costa Ricans watched at least 20 minutes four years ago; so did 65 percent of Hondurans and over 60 percent of Mexicans; and yet less than 30 percent of Americans watched a mere 20 minutes of a soccer game in the 2010 World Cup. It would be interesting to see these numbers broken down demographically. What percentage of Latinos or European Americans, for example, made up that approximately 90 million?
Surprisingly, two Brits commentated the World Cup opener on ESPN, resorting at times to a potentially confounding footballer argot, as well as describing a "raging cont-roh-vuhsee" (controversy, in American English) when the Japanese referee awarded a bunk PK and booked a Croat for Fred's dive in the box, resulting in Neymar marking in his second of the game. You follow that? If you're a basketball fan in Kentucky you might need to head to the la-bore-atory first to figure out how to properly translate football into American English. And maybe that's why Latino-Americans Pitbull and J-Lo overshadowed Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitte in a sort of musical trifecta for the official World Cup song. For many in the U.S., soccer might seem like not much more than an after-school event attended by mostly little kids and moms in minivans. But besides luring in golf fans with strategic programming and pop music fans with Pitbull, cable companies might do well to find some American -- or perhaps better, Latino -- commentators for future games. Or even better: Bradley and Altidore deliver a decisive win against Ghana.