Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Open Letter to Die Hard Soccer Fans

What an amazing opportunity we have in front of us? Those of us who have loved the sport before now, especially prior to 2010, we are seeing the true potential of our sport beginning to peek its head out into the sun. For those not paying attention, the USA-Portugal match was an earthquake in the world of sports in the USA, a seismic change in the way soccer's popularity is perceived. All of the talk since the NASL days about soccer breaking out has always been poo-pooed by sporting mainstream - and in a lot of ways, rightfully so, much as it might pain us to admit.

But after the numbers came back from Sunday's match, wave after wave of eyebrows went up. The ratings across all medium were bigger for a USA group stage game in the World Cup - against an opponent who on paper was supposed to be superior - were better than the most recent NCAA football championship game. A few years ago, ESPN did a study that showed that with younger adults, soccer ranked only behind the NFL and ahead of college football as the most popular sport. Sunday's game put paid to that study.

And they were not numbers that can be ignored. The average NFL game is in that range, and we know the marketing potential of that particular brand.

This is a massive change.

So why is this a letter to die hard fans? Because first, let's all pat ourselves on the back. It took a lot of hard work to get here and odds are, if you really cared about the sport, you played your part.

So please take a moment to close your eyes and think about all those times where you tried to grow the sport and you didn't have a direct, positive response. Then let our recent success wash all that away in a sea of success. As powerfully as Jermaine Jones hit his incredible strike, soccer's unpoularity is gone like Portugal's lead and momentum.

Take your time. Seriously. Let it sink in.

And once you have done that, take another deep breath, steel yourself, and when you are ready, read on.

Because now I am going to challenge you. Newton taught us about inertia, and clearly, the inertia is headed in the right direction, almost immeasurably.

And it presents another opportunity to grow the sport - on in a lot of instances, not hamper it.

Because for so many of us, where we have put so much time and energy into things, when confronted with ignorance, we respond with "how you stupid nitwit, HOW can you not know THAT? EVERYONE knows THAT!" Or when someone new to soccer tries to sound knowledgable and either over-does it or makes a mistake, we jump all over them. As an Aggie, I saw it all the time when someone said something about an "ex-Aggie" or misinterpreting one of the traditions, and some Old Army Aggie would go ballistic.

How do you think that comes across? Not only to the person directly in the line of fire, but also to those watching or listening? Let me just say it - poorly. It is as much of a buzzkill as an obvious dive or someone arguing with the referee when everyone knows he is wrong.

It does not help the sport you love.

So take a deep breath, take confidence from all the success we have had, and find a way to affect the conversation positively.

Let me share some perspective for you real quick - one of the reasons that soccer isn't discussed on the radio much if at all is, in large part, because of stuff like that. People calling in to call a radio host dumb for asking something that might in fact be dumb, but no one wants to be on the end of a tongue lashing. And to be fair, we all know often such talk is preceeded or followed by some yuck monkey taking a pot-shot, which probably heightens our frustration. I get that too.

But at this point, I think we have enough good things going on that I can fairly ask you to chill on the negative. Let it go. Find a positive way to make your point, or join a conversation elsewhere - because amazingly, there isn't just one conversation about soccer these days.

We have another three days of certain US soccer talk. Let's make the most of it, and let's make sure that what non-soccer people take away from it is how hard the boys fought, not what jerks their fans are.

(Editor's Note - we will be doing an Open Letter to New Fans soon, hopefully with some tools to help in this conversation. Feel free to share ideas in the comments section!)

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