3 August ~ To get an idea of what the casual football fan in the United States might read on the web during the World Cup I used Google Alerts, which provides up-to-date content on the topic of your choice. I was sent an email once a day on the topic of "soccer" with up to 20 results from a smattering of American publications, including several from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and several from smaller publications like the Augusta Chronicle.
As might be expected, many (although not most) articles were editorials about the relative popularity of football in the US gauged by the American reception to the World Cup. Those both pro and anti-football adopted a binary view of whether or not football has or will "make it" in America. It's as if the sport itself was a refugee stepping off an ocean liner in search for shelter and gainful employment, and not a reasonably successful sport with established men's and women's professional leagues, record numbers of youth participation, and a national team that qualified for the last six World Cups.
The majority, and those more in favour of football's steadily growing popularity, boasted of better than modest TV figures (the final actually had more American viewers than any game in the NBA finals), the steadily increasing expectations of the national team, and the sustenance of a professional league, albeit one that seems incapable of producing a globally marketable talent.
American readers were subjected to very few of the well-worn cliches about the incompatibility of football with American culture (almost always in the singular) and the snarky pieces about how intrinsically boring football is. These embattled authors fetishize the privileged places of baseball, American football and basketball, and act as if any media coverage of football is tantamount to being force-fed foie gras. Yet US sports networks have invested heavily in selling the World Cup to Americans.
The St Petersburg Times' Michael Kruse points out that ESPN made their coverage of South Africa 2010 "the most comprehensive marketing plan in company history," seemingly in response to demographic figures and cultural trends which suggest that American society is ripe for the creation of a substantial football market. The writers who savage the sport are well aware that media powerhouses are targeting football consumers and yet, the World Cup still inspires only the most obtusely patriotic responses from a segment of the American sports press who view football's very existence as a threat.
One way to deal with this threat is to make it disappear completely, which is precisely what ESPN's Jeff MacGregor attempts to do by asking "does soccer matter?" in the US. MacGregor insists that: "Nothing else is possible until that question is answered. That's soccer's existential American crisis. Or America's existential soccer crisis." In turning the "has soccer ‘made it?'" question into a debate about whether football even exists for Americans beyond the spectacle of the World Cup, MacGregor gives football-hating a patina of intellectualism. For some the success of the sport in the US is still seen in all or nothing terms. Sam Fayyaz