Every four years, like clockwork, the World Cup happens and Americans become interested, suddenly, in soccer. This is soccer’s year! Finally, the US will join the rest of the world in watching the right kind of boring televised athletic contest! And then, just as inevitably, the interest fades.
But why is that? Speaking as a nerd, I have a modest theory: It’s because being really into soccer is the hallmark of a truly massive nerd. And those nerds alienate would-be casual fans.
A Sport Only A Nerd Could Love…
The entire problem with modern soccer is that it’s possible for an entire game to unfold with no one scoring. Any other sport would have solved this with overtime or shrinking the size of the field or making the players kick each other in the shins or something. The world of soccer decided to solve it by writing absurdly complicated rules that even your most hardcore D&D player would dismiss as far too complicated and inelegant.
Take the US’s chances at the World Cup. Any other sport, one or the other team would win and therefore advance. But not soccer. Instead it’s ridiculously complicated, to the point where if we lose we might still advance, dependent entirely on how badly the other two teams playing a match that has nothing to do with us screw up. Seriously, read this and try not to feel the urge to grab the person who wrote it by the waistband of their underwear and hang them off a hook in the nearest locker room.
True, there are nerdy fans of every sport, but nobody sane takes, say, Darren Rovell seriously. And therein lies the problem; hardcore soccer fans tend to be hardcore nerds. They want to argue about rules so arcane an expert dungeonmaster wants to beat them with his wizard’s staff. And, yeah, it wrecks the sport for a lot of people.
…And That Nerds Get Defensive About
Similarly, if you don’t understand how amazing a sport with absurdly complicated rules that are annoying for a casual fan to follow is, you will get relentless crap about it from these same nerds. Everybody’s run into at least one European on the Internet who insists Americans are too stupid to understand soccer, usually right before he insists there is no racism in his country, shut up about the idiot fans throwing bananas.
Nobody likes being told something they truly enjoy and spend a lot of time on is utterly trivial, and it’s usually the kind of thing said by a jerk to try and suck the joy out of your hobby. And there’s that creeping insecurity that haunts any hardcore nerdy fan of anything, in the form of the belief that maybe you really are too into this, that maybe you really could stand to lighten up.
As a result, most nerds interpret apathy as antipathy, and freak the hell out. And as a nerd, I’ve seen this pattern over and over again. First the interested non-fan (or perceived non-fan) is seen with suspicion, then demands that they prove their fandom, and then dismissals of not being a real fan, regardless of whether that fandom is “proven” or not.
This isn’t to say all soccer fans are jerks, or that this is the only reason soccer is the red-headed stepchild of American sports. But it’s a big part of it. And if those same fans really want Americans to get interested, they could stand to accept that there’s a learning curve.