Standing near an RV in the infield at a NASCAR race, the subject of soccer and the World Cup came up, quite unexpectedly. "What's the World Cup?" asked race fan Rich Possinger. OK, so he admitted he actually did know a thing about the world's biggest sporting event. But like many fellow Americans, Possinger was not setting aside time to watch the U.S. team, which took the field for its first game Monday. "I'm waiting for the bug to bite," he said, "and it hasn't yet."
An excellent question, Rich. What is the World Cup? Is it a lousy TV program, an idea whose time has not come and may never come or is it just another excuse for people to get together and drink? It's all of those things, and more.
But the one thing it isn't is interesting to Americans. Somehow, big media and big business have not succeeded in forcing Americans to embrace a game that the rest of the world seems to love. And what's not to love? It's low scoring, played on a really big field and has precious little physical contact. Sounds like a perfect fit for short-attention-span afflicted American TV viewers - or not.
Nevertheless, our big city newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, has seen fit to send one of its better writers off to Germany to cover the games. That's nice, but is anyone reading it? I'm guessing that if the television ratings are dismal, then the newspaper ratings are even lower. The only thing more boring than watching soccer is reading about it.
2006 FIFA World Cup opening weekend from Germany delivered an average 2.8 rating based on overnight ratings in the metered markets.
In contrast, NASCAR rain delay coverage from Talladega a few weeks ago garnered a 4.5 rating. Rain delay coverage. Twice as many Americans would rather watch rain delay coverage of a NASCAR race than soccer. I guess that's why they play soccer in the rain.
So, if you're all charged up about the World Cup, and can't wait for that big Sweden vs. Paraguay match-up, enjoy - but don't expect it to be hot conversation around the water cooler at work. My guess is, that if you are charged up about it, you are a native of one of those countries, and you have a rooting interest. Here in America, we are confused over our nationality.
Are we supposed to root for Italy, if our ancestors are from Italy, or America where we pay taxes? We choose not to care, which makes the decision much easier.
Wait ... I think the NASCAR qualifying in Michigan this week might be rained out. Lucky I have TIVO.