Christopher Medley’s video clip on Soccer and the Mechanics of Sport on TV looks at how soccer could be made more attractive in the USA by making it more analytical and information based just like the 3 big sports that dominate viewership. Much of what happens in a soccer match is never really analyzed the same way as an NBA, MLB, or an NFL match. The “how did he do it” never gets deconstructed in the same exhaustive way in the big 3 which makes them attractive to viewers. Thus, soccer is lampooned as 22 grown men chasing a ball futilely for hours to no end.
Medley’s got some great insights and his argument has much merit but this analysis will never be easy in a sport played in a continuum. To be able to give the sort of on the spot meaningful breakdown one needs to have the stretched out time frame of an NFL match or the pitch by pitch quality of MLB. I also believe the technologically advanced states of the big 3 sports plays a big part in helping that superior analysis. The rigorous playbooks NFL players memorize by rote and then execute as “plays” are therefore easier to decipher on the ground. The introduction of the 24 second shot clock in the NBA not only boosted sagging scorelines but also led to the insightful commentary that we take for granted now.
At its heart, soccer is a low tech sport which has remained obdurately unchanged over the decades. The unsophisticated nature of the sport is reflected in the accompanying commentary. The Europeans are much more knowledgeable than the Christopher Sullivans of ESPN but they remain Luddites compared to the specifics offered by a John Madden analysis of a touchdown. That is not their fault. The sport of soccer has been enjoyed in some form or shape since the Middle Ages. The big 3 are New World sports inextricably linked to the American character and the evolving history of this country. Soccer here lacks the Gipper and the Curse of the Bambino, stories that are found plentifully elsewhere in the world.
However, Medley’s point is very good. We do need to change our thinking, actually; lack of thinking, and look at soccer more critically in the three areas he has highlighted in this very compelling and entertaining video. Yes, saying Messi Magic really explains nothing. It’s like pixie dust. Are ESPN and Fox Soccer commentators going to take up Medley’s challenge? Or do they need to get him on board?