June 16, 2010

Uruguay 3, South Africa 0: Finally, someone came up with a way to shut up the vuvuzela. Thanks to the two goals of Diego Forlan, Uruguay breezed over the hosts, and effectively knocked them out of their own tournament. In addition, the victory was only Uruguay's second in the last 18 games for the two-time World Cup champions, going back to 1970, and the three goals scored is only the second time in the past fifty years that they have scored more than two goals in a World Cup game, a stretch in which they have been shut out fourteen times and held to one goal on ten other occasions. Your long national nightmare is over.

Going back to my earlier post, another way in which Jon Chait misses the point is by dismissing the relatively high ratings (when compared with events like the NBA Finals, for example) of the World Cup by asserting that such is irrelevant, because the tourney is a big event and thus not representative of the sport as a whole. The obvious problem with that has to do with the nature of how people follow sports: sports fans do not "follow" sports, they follow teams (or specific athletes) and/or watch events.

For example, football is, by any objective standard, America's National Pastime, but few of us will go out of our way to watch someone else's high school play on TV, or Tivo a broadcast of last year's NAIA playoffs. Its success stems from its short season, meaning that it can package each game as being important, an "event," making it easier for casual fans to partake, as well as its relative simplicity; compared with other team sports, there are fewer actions occurring during the course of the game(there are rarely more than 150 plays per game for both teams, few of which are anything more than "QB passes/hands ball off to teammate"). That, and the constant stoppages in play, allow the casual fan to more easily digest the game. It's that feature which allows someone to walk into a sports bar on any Saturday or Sunday, and comfortably watch four or five games at once, even if he has no rooting interest.

Soccer, like sports which demand a higher degree of audience attention, like basketball and hockey, can't accomplish that. In order to generate fan interest, these sports have to get the audience involved in the spectacle itself, whether it be the NCAA or NBA Finals, Lord Stanley's Cup, or the tournament we're watching now. Uniquely, football can package every game as an "event" to entice fans; other sports have to be more particular.

So the fact that sports other than football are able to entice fans during events like the NBA Finals, the World Cup or the Olympics matters a great deal. Such events are how most people in the real world "follow" sports.

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