Another economist looks at soccer

Via Cafe Hayek, Allen R. Sanderson looks at how soccer is structured to explain why the World is passionate about the game and why the USA doesn’t get it. I don’t have time to think about how to reply to the article. Let’s just say that someone who describes the World Cup final as a "2+ hour ordeal" is not likely to be favorably disposed.

Throughout the entire 2+ hour ordeal, I kept asking myself: Why would
anyone waste good time or money watching this sport? Ignoring for a
moment the lack of scoring, the ubiquitous flops that would make an NBA
player jealous or incredulous, and "unnatural acts" such as not being
able to touch the ball with your hands or arms, I began to apply basic
economic principles to the sport, and tried to understand why 6 billion
people, including my graduate teaching assistants from Milan, Rio and
Barcelona, seem to care passionately and a few hundred million, mainly
in the United States, don’t.

I’ll boild down his arguments here:

  1. USA sports are structured to reward effort. He argues that soccer too often does not reward the better team, and Americans do not like that. So results to the untraied eye appear random or capricious. Certainly, theis past World Cup saw far too many games decided by dives, gamesmanship, and referees. But the appeal to me is seeing an underdog team who gets the lucky breaks and upsets the favored teams. This seems to happen more often in soccer, which is fine by me. Apparently, this is in cosistent with "European sensibilities about equality, risk-taking and economic outcomes." while "there are clearly some Americans who are uncomfortable with
    competitions that produce winners and losers, and soccer appeals to
    their egalitarian, risk-averse streak" So, American soccer fans like soccer because we don’t want to see winners and losers? What universe does that make sense in?
  2. USA sports are tilted to favor talent and performance. Home field advantage, seeding, and others mechanisms are built into American competitons because US fans want to see the beter teasm win. I guess here he was unaware of how the World Cup was seeded so that the bigger teams don’t face each other until the knockout stages. I’d agree with his point in this section that Soccer needs to look at technological (instant-replay) and human (more referees on the field/in the stands) to cut down on the tremendous effect that a dive or single referee can have on the outcome.
  3. Americans protect their heads. Not sure how this is a relevant argument, but apparently in the US we like our sports to protect our big, dumb brains.
  4. Americans want to use their hands, anything else is unnatural. This argument has been so overused that its not worth addressing. This non-use of hands leads to a more constrained competition. This is flatly untrue, since you can’t protect the ball with your hands, this leads to more changes in possesion. The artistry of dribbling and controlling the ball through traffic is what makes players into superstars and national heroes. Oh yes, we should also allow more stoppages for more advertising – three fifteen minute periods. Remind me why I don’t watch American Football, Basketball, or Baseball again?

So I promised not to respond, but then ran into the usual criticism of why Soccer and why American’s don’t get it. Clearly despite the fact that there are Americans who do get it. The ratings in the USA for the World Cup final were up there with the ratings for the World Series and NBA. Finals. I don’t care if you don’t like soccer, I’m over trying to convert everyone. Just don’t try to unconvert us or convince us that somehow your position is more American or rational.