You normally turn to the NYT for the inside scoop on the world and the US. Front page articles usually report the state of affairs in Iraq, or that of public opinion solidly against escalation of troops which clueless Dubya does not seem to acknowledge. Rarely, are such headlines interspersed with articles on sports and mostly these deal with baseball. Barry Bonds and the lack of a Yankees championship are favourite obsessions.
Imagine my shock at reading the front page NYT headline A Soccer Star heads to the US, Heeding Lure of Hollywood sharing space with the more prosaic Bush’s Plans for Iraq Runs Into Opposition In Congress. The NYT continues its lovefest with Beckham in the sports page as Harvey Araton, the doyen of sports writers waxes eloquent in the Sports of the The Times with his article American Soccer Takes a Bold Gamble On a Boldface Name.
Lets put this in perspective. The NYT could not be bothered to send a reporter to the recent MLS final that the Houston Dynamos won and relied on a 15 line AP post. Their World Cup reporting was cursory with Jere Longman providing the lede and Araton with the analysis. They did have a fairly active World Cup blog led by Roger Cohen. But for the most, their coverage compared to other newspapers, even in the US, was desultory. When it comes to international news, the NYT is second to none with bureau offices in many countries and reporters contributing original articles. But their sports coverage is decidedly parochial. There is very little on international sports and even less so on soccer, the global game. Oddly enough, this in a city that prides itself as the melting pot of the world with so many thousands of expats that are devotees of the game.
However, lets not get carried away. An article does not make for change in course, or a rethinking. Araton’s article could easily have been carried in the business section. For this is all about Brand Beckham and the millions of dollars that he will generate through merchandising. I would love to be proven to be wrong but this is essentially a business deal between a world class player with waning skills and a club that has hired him and as such should not be read as an extrapolation into the development of soccer in the US. The novelty factor of Becks will find a temporary uptick in MLS games attendance but the hardwork of attracting audiences to games with no name players needs to continue, well after Beckham hangs up his boots for good.