Soccer on TV in San Franciso during the 1990s measured up as scarce.
Managing to get a grainy picture of an Italian league game on Channel 26 on a Sunday afternoon, replete with Italian commentary, was a godsend. Irish and English pubs smart enough to have installed large satellite dishes on their roofs beamed in big games from Europe, charging punters $20 at the door, a hefty sum before plundering the wallet to pay for Guinness at the bar. Custom was not in short supply.
Today, you don’t need to be tempted by pints of stout to get your fill of soccer. You can tune in seven days a week from your sofa, if you have an extended cable package. Watch American, Canadian, English, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Chilean, Brazilian, and Mexican matches. Add to the bubble, Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga.
For years, German football languished on Gol TV, out of reach for much of soccer’s burgeoning cable viewership in the United States. Fox claimed the rights last year and broadcast its first German game last week. Champion Bayern Munich hammered Hamburg SV 5-0, a portent of how the season is likely to unfold. The Bavarians dominate German soccer, crowned as champions seven times in the past 11 seasons. Who would bet against them this year?
But the Bundesliga faces a genuine competition in the race for viewers in the hot American market. Fox broadcast six Bundesliga games last weekend, pulling in 268,000 viewers. Across the dial on NBC, more than 3 million people watched eight English Premier League games with Manchester City versus Chelsea netting 818,000 of that number on Sunday. Coverage of the Mexican league trumps all of this. In April, the Univision network posted 3 million viewers in the Super-Clasico match between Chivas de la Guadalajara and Club America, the most watched club soccer game in the U.S. in the past five years.
Nary a week goes by without the soccer broadcasters sending ALL-CAPS press releases to the in-box proclaiming another viewing figure record smashed. But one has to ask, how much soccer can be consumed before the fan begins to resemble one of those old fashioned bladder-balls that stick in the mud of boggy pitches? How far can soccer mania be kicked?
Soccer has only one season on U.S. TV, one that lasts 12 months, then repeats: national leagues, FIFA-sponsored tournaments and then juggernaut tours in the summer months across the States featuring the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United. But boredom can be a side product of abundance. Too much of a good thing can push desire to seek alternatives in an era of limited leisure time. Soccer still has some way to go to anchor its following in the States. It has to become part of the American sporting creed, passed down through the generations. But for now, the Great American soccer rush continues.
Rod Stewart’s buying: In Las Vegas last weekend, singer and avowed soccer lover Rod Stewart finished a successful run of shows at Caesars Palace. To celebrate, he promised to buy anyone a drink if they came to the bar afterward wearing a Glasgow Celtic shirt. Sure enough, plenty appeared. Stewart is a die-hard supporter of the Scottish club.
Not that Stewart’s accountant will be sweating when the $5,000 bar tab arrives. Enough copies of his hit single, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” were sold to keep his’s books as good as his looks for the rest of his life. Photos on Twitter showed the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with Celtic fans toasting their good fortune for packing their soccer tops on their vacation to Sin City, while getting to meet a legend.
Alan Black is a freelance writer. Twitter: @footyheader.
Saturday: Hoffenheim at Bayern Munich, 6:30 a.m., FS1