Reason #12 for why Soccer will not become a major American Sport any time soon

The box scores are crap. Sports fans are kind of geeky in the states. We don’t beat people up for wearing the jersey of our rivals. We argue with them about why their team isn’t any good with statistics.

“The Yankees suck. Just look at Jeter’s VORP.”

“Ozzie Smith was robbed of the MVP in 1987!”

“But Andre Dawson led the league in HRs, RBI, and had a much higher batting average than the measly .304 that Smith produced.”

“But that .304 was just icing on the cake for the backbone of a great defence. Look at Smith’s chances per game and compare that with the number of errors he had.”

This doesn’t seem like an argument you can have about soccer. You can say that Drogba had more goals and you can argue that Kaka creates more plays for Brazil than equivalent players, but you can’t go into the detail that you can with American sports. I’m sure that someone could create a player rating similar to the NFL passer rating or a basketball PER, but it doesn’t exist now. For soccer to catch on, the geeks need to be thrown a bone. I don’t get to watch NBA games, so I only get the highlights and the box score. The highlights are great, but I can fill in some details with the box scores. “Look at Dirk’s +/- compared to Paul’s in that game!”

Also, because there are so few goals in soccer, the stats aren’t really very accurate. We need something else. Not just shots on goal, but time of possession for individual players near the opponents box. Also, it would help if we had ball speed on different shots on goal. We can’t watch highlights in the paper, but we can get a sense of what we missed with more detailed data.

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3 Responses to “Reason #12 for why Soccer will not become a major American Sport any time soon”

  1. Reg Says:

    Opta Sports provide a load of data on football matches (albeit for quite a hefty price which theyonly tend to sell to broadcasters or newspapers).

    Sky Sports Football Yearbook lists everything that happened in every English and Scottish league in a weighty 1000 page tome published annually and similar books are available for the amateur/semi-professional game.

    I don’t think you can say that a lack of stats are the reason for football not quite cutting through in the States. One of the most stat-heavy sports I know of is Cricket and there’s no way that’s catching on the States. Wisden’s have been publishing a cricketing almanac every year since 1864.

    Try here for starters..

  2. James Says:

    To be fair, soccer stats have actually become increasingly more substantial and accurate in recent years, thanks largely to the clever bods at Opta.

    Admittedly the info is probably not as accessible for Joe Public as the stats for baseball, basketball and (American) football are, but broadcasters and newspapers (certainly in the UK, at least) are often now referring to the “Opta stats” on a player’s pass completion rate, his average playing position over 90 minutes and just how much ground he’s covered in a match (a stat which makes me feel incredibly useless, knowing it’d take me many weeks to run the same distance).

  3. ivangoddard Says:

    I figured there must be more stats than what makes it in the box score, but I don’t see them myself. If the stats exist and they’re not available the next day, I lose interest.

    The difference is largely cultural I think. For instance, there was a big conference last year at MIT devoted to mathematics and basketball. I’m sure there have been similar conferences on football, but did they get TV coverage? actually broadcast some of the panel discussions.

    I also should have been clearer about my intentions with the post. This is a minor concern as to why soccer hasn’t caught on as a spectator sport. It just contributes to the other more important reasons that have been argued over for years.

    If I were to pinpoint 3 major reasons it remains a minor sport in the states, they would be:
    (1) that it came on the scene too late. One only has so much time to watch sports. And with 162 baseball games, 82 basketball games, 82 hockey games, 16 pro football games, and 12 college football games, there just isn’t much space to devote to a new sport.

    (2) The four major sports in America have most of the best players in the world in their respective sports. It’s hard for Americans to watch sports knowing they aren’t watching the best of the best. Major League Soccer is really minor league soccer, which is fun, but not something you want to devote much time to.

    (3) Americans hate ties. Hockey actually got rid of them in the 90s by changing the rules in overtime. They happen in Am. football, but they are extremely rare. There was a tie in a meaningless baseball game a few years ago and the league actually changed the rules so it would never happen again. They are a regular occurrence in soccer. The expression in America is that “tying is like kissing your sister.”

    The lack of detailed stat sheets is lower down on the list, but I think it contributes.

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