Are you ready for some Futbol?

By diderot

April 14, 2018

 
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ut here in the upper left-hand corner, we don’t all look like extras from Portlandia.  But we are proud to be trendsetters.

If that just sounds like local-brag, consider this: Amazon and Costco; Nike and Nordstrom; Microsoft and the first national cellular system.  And it’s not just about stuff to sell, but stuff that keeps you well: ultrasound, the defibrillator and bone marrow transplants.  And also, the really important stuff, like grunge and the California Roll and the electric bass and the Nanaimo Bar (if you don’t know what that last one is, it’s worth your time to find out).

Well, I can sense you eye-rolling, so I want to get to the point.  If you ignore what’s hot in the Northwest, you lose a chance to see the future—and maybe profit from it.  So I’m going fill you in on the next big trend to hit America… 

Soccer.

Yeah, I know.  You probably hate it.  And sure, it’s hardly news that it’s already the most popular sport in the world.  But if you doubt its ability to seize a much bigger share of the nation’s cultural bandwidth, you need look no further than the Northwest.


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real estate firm called Estately conducted a survey to determine which state is most nuts over soccer.  It included seven metrics, from Facebook searches to youth soccer participation to pro soccer attendance

Washington won. 

Consider that the vaunted Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS play in the same stadium.  Last year, the Hawks drew a total of 552,000 fans…while more 724,000 paid to watch the Sounders.  (Yeah, fine, I know--different number of games!  Can’t you just let me have my moment here?)  To put it in directly relative terms, traditionally Seattle has drawn twice as many fans on average than any other MLS team (though the rest of the league is catching up quickly).

In Portland, fans just shrug this off.  If their stadium were as large as Seattle’s, they swear the Timbers would easily beat Seattle’s number.  They call themselves “Soccer City”, and they may have a point. The Timbers won it all three years ago (although the Sounders the year after). The women’s college team at downtown Portland State won national championships in 2002 and 2005.  And their National Women’s Soccer League entry (Thorns) is defending champ.  If soccer helps “keep you weird”, Portland is doing it right.

And let’s not forget the good folks from north of the border.  In 2004, when there was only ‘minor league’ soccer, the fans of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. decided to create something called the Cascadia Cup on games between the three.  It means something.  They’ve kept track every year since--and Vancouver holds the all-time advantage...eh?


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o, what’s this all about?  I don’t know for sure…but I have some ideas:

· For a spectator, soccer has something no other sport can match—a fixed beginning and ending.  There are no time outs.  There are no pitching changes.  There are no commercials.  Two hours, in and out. 

· The term ‘soccer Mom’ may have originated on the East Coast or in Denver, but I can assure you, it came to fruition in the Northwest.  Our most popular car up here is the Suburu Outback.  But for soccer Moms, those are just training wheels.  Onto the full minivans and SUVs, ladies!

 Julie Ernst and Alex Morgan, uswnt

Julie Ernst and Alex Morgan, uswnt

· And you know what those soccer Moms hate most?  The idea of their little striker getting hurt.  So, American football is out—no concussions or spinal injuries for my baby!

· The cumulative impact of homo soccermomius has made soccer—by far—the first sport of choice for grade schoolers.  A survey by Pew deemed Washington second in the nation in per capita youth soccer participation.  (Topping the list was South Dakota.  Figures.  They have nothing else to do.) 

· But it must be said that parental involvement is far from selfless.  This from Christopher McCollum, a writer with a long history of involvement in U.S. youth soccer organizations:

“Youth soccer in America is a license to print money; it pulls on the heartstrings of parents with the suggestion, that comes precariously close to a promise, that if their kids play in certain clubs under certain conditions or under certain coaches on in certain leagues, there is a college scholarship in reach.”

There’s a quick response to that—not gonna happen.

· On the other hand, soccer can mean lifelong participation.  (I once saw a 40-something guy huffing and puffing through a match, to the extent that he had to simply pull up on the sideline for a minute—where he had a cigarette). 

OK, enough.  I’ve either convinced you or I haven’t.  But if you think this trend is never going to escape the northwest, let me just note that the Seattle Sounders draw an average of 44,000 fans a game.  In their inaugural year of 2017, Atlanta United FC drew more than 48,000. It’s spreading. League-wide, over the last five years attendance is up 20%.


And finally, this.  Last season the San Diego Chargers of the NFL moved up the coast to L.A.  Where they saw their home attendance more than cut in half—to barely 25,000. 

At their new home in the Coliseum, Charger players don’t take a knee in political protest.

They’re simply praying to the sports gods to keep soccer away.