It might be an understatement to say that Grant Wahl is one of the more accomplished writers at the Sports Illustrated franchise. For their weekly magazine, Wahl has written 31 SI cover stories and more than 200 articles since his arrival in 1996. His soccer book, The Beckham Experiment, was a New York Times bestseller. Online, he’s writing and editing a soccer blog, Grant Wahl At The World Cup. Earlier this week, he spoke to Josh Zerkle about the upcoming men’s World Cup in South Africa. We bring you a transcribed excerpt of that interview below.
Josh Zerkle: So this World Cup…I understand it’s a soccer tournament.
Grant Wahl: [laughs]
JZ: Was this World Cup blog something that you got suckered into doing?
GW: No, I wanted to do it. My first World Cup was in 1998 in France, and I think I wrote maybe one or two pieces the entire time. That has changed a lot, obviously. Now, the priority is slightly more for the website than for our magazine, but I like that. I like keeping busy. I have avenues that I can use to get all of my stuff out to the public immediately. For me, it’s been fun having that instant feedback and news-breaking capabilities.
JZ: Has that shift toward the online realm been company-wide? Is there more emphasis on the content online than the weekly periodical that comes in the mailbox each week?
GW: We still have a lot of resources that we put toward the magazine. It’s still very profitable, and it’s still a very good magazine. The cool thing is that [SI.com] is like this other thing now. And we can put a lot of that same quality of stuff out there, a lot of unique content. When you look at SI.com, the quality there and the writers there are really, really good.
JZ: Do you think it’s a good idea to be holding this thing right in the middle of the WNBA season?
GW: [laughs] Yeah, it really comes at a good time of the year. There’s not a heck of a lot going on in the sports world, and by the time we get toward the final in the second week of July, There really isn’t much going on. It’s just baseball, and kinda the dog days of baseball at that.
JZ: The Champions League final didn’t meet ratings expectations for FOX. Will ESPN do any better?
GW: ESPN is really pushing the World Cup more than ever before. I think they want to try and find out what happens when you “max out” the ratings. Plus, FOX got a little unlucky in that the marquee final would have been a Manchester United-Barcalona final, and that didn’t happen. And I don’t really know how much they promoted it. It was a pretty big step just to see it being shown on network TV.
JZ: Will this generate any excitement for soccer in the US, either for MLS or the Premiere League?
GW: We could see a surge in popularity for the English Premiere League. ESPN seems like they want to put more and more of that on their networks, and they also have the rights to the Spanish league. MLS is in an interesting spot; they really need to compete for TV viewers with these other leagues now.
JZ: Your book is about David Beckham, who was paid $250 million to come to America. Now, it seems that he can’t wait to go back to Europe. Was that transaction a win for MLS?
GW: From a business perspective, it was a huge win for everyone. Beckam and MLS and the LA Galaxy. There were 300,000 Beckham jerseys sold in 2007. It was by far the highest-selling sports jersey in the world. Sponsorships and ticket sales improved, even though he was hurt most of the time he was here, and when he was healthy, they were awful. They tied for the league-worst record in 2008, but then he reconciled with Landon Donovan and made it to last season’s MLS championship game.
JZ: You have the US ranked 13th in your Power Rankings. Could we have possibly assembled a better team?
GW: I don’t think so. Charlie Davies probably would have started up front if not for that awful car accident last October. Other than that, this is a good US team. I view 13th as pretty decent; and considering where these guys play at the club level, the US actually does punch above its weight in these international matches.
JZ: Will we beat England on June 12?
GW: I don’t expect them to beat England. There’s a possibility of a win, or even a tie. It’s the first game of pool play, and the US could come back. They’ll be favored in their next two matches against Algeria and Slovenia. But England’s probably one of the top three teams in this tournament.
JZ: Bob Bradley gets a lot of credit for the play of this team. Is there a formula to his success?
GW: I think there is a lot of chemistry, teamwork and a lot of time and effort put into team building, and you need that to win against more talented teams when you don’t have a superstar. I don’t know if Bradley would say that he’s a “slow it down” coach with his counter-attacks with speed, but the US is by no means the fastest team out there.
Listen to the complete interview with Grant at KSK.