American Soccer and the Youtube Generation

There was a time when soccer fans in the United States, I am told, were only able to obtain fleeting glimpses of the game via a weekly show on German soccer. I can’t even imagine that; since I’ve been living in the U.S., I’ve been able to watch more soccer cheaper than I ever could in England via the likes of Fox Soccer Channel, GolTV, Setanta – and of course, via the internet.

And today, I noticed that the number fourteen channel on all of youtube right now is U.S. soccer. Not the number fourteen sports channel or the number fourteen soccer channel – the number fourteen channel out of all the endless content on web 2.0′s most well-known outlet. To be even more specific, U.S. soccer’s video of the team’s victory in the Gold Cup is the 59th most-watched video today. What does this tell us about the future of soccer and the media in the U.S.?

One problem soccer does have here is that it is still mainly broadcast on niche channels such as Setanta (who show many of the best Premiership games), which require either a satellite dish or IPTV box and a $15 subscription. MLS now has primetime Thursday on ESPN2, a major development, but most of its games are still buried on the stratospherically numbered channels on your cable box.

ESPN camera

Moreover, the Gold Cup this past month was shown on a Spanish-language channel and on Fox Soccer Channel, with barely a mention on the behemoth of Amerian sports broadcasters, ESPN. There’s a theory that if it’s not on ESPN, then for the average American, it hasn’t happened. As That’s On Point wrote after the Gold Cup,

For those puzzled, how I knock ESPN for its mangling of the beautiful game, yet rail when it doesn’t acknowledge a major victory by the Americans. Here’s the gist. Unfortunately ESPN basically dictates the American sporting mind. That’s why a total sausage-fest like the College World Series becomes a big deal, whilst the Gold Cup is an also-ran, at that. This trickles down from sports editors of major newspapers to local news telecasters to the American public in general.

But is this changing for the youtube generation? More and more of the younger generation turn first to the web for news and video of sports. Popular blogs like Deadspin or The Big Lead or the Sportsbog or the Fanhouse might not cover soccer in as great a detail as the big three major American sports, but it is part of the texture of their updates, and relatively speaking, they give soccer more coverage than the mainstream media. And then there is the explosion of American soccer blogs that all covered the U.S. win in the Gold Cup in the most minute detail.

And, as I mentioned, U.S. soccer has had a veritable explosion on youtube this week. Sure, ESPN could conceivably go on in its love-hate relationship with soccer, sometimes covering it well – can anyone really complain about every World Cup game being broadcast in high-definition last summer, even if Dave O’Brien was doing the commentary? – yet sometimes preferring to show speed knitting over a gripping event like a U.S.-Mexico major championship final.
But one suspects that either they’ll notice a growing grassroots interest in soccer coverage through its popularity on sites like youtube and cover the Gold Cup in greater detail next time, or they’ll become increasingly bypassed by a portion of the younger generation that has grown up with new media.

Am I overhyping youtube’s impact, in the typical fashion of web 2.0 evangelists? Possibly, but given we discussed here both the lack of appeal of the national team to soccer fans in America and the overwhelming dominance of Mexican fans at Soldier Field in the final, it’s worth pointing out a positive for American soccer. Let loose with your thoughts in the comments.

Finally, kudos to the kids at U.S. soccer for all their hard work on their videos and blog. The English F.A. may be the world’s oldest, but the mandarins at Soho Square don’t cover the game half as well as the upstarts from the USSF in Chicago. Here’s their handiwork after the final last Sunday, for anyone who wants to watch Landon Donovan drink champagne out of a giant Gold Cup. You know you want to.

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