When I was a kid, I remember waking up in the morning, long before my parents and older sister were awake. I’d quietly creep downstairs, not wanting to wake anyone up so I could sit and enjoy the living room TV by myself, for as long as possible.
I was up early, 6, 7 am. I was young, so I didn’t stay up late the night before.
I would get downstairs, turn on the TV and pour myself a bowl of cereal, unless I knew my mom was making pancakes or waffles later.
I struggle to remember the names of the shows I watched back then. There was one where kids would play arcade games against each other on Nickelodeon.
Another involved some sort of yellow, cat-like creature.
God knows what these abominations of television were actually about. But I was up watching them, sure as hell.
As I got older my tastes changed. There were less cartoons and more sports. I turned on ESPN in the mornings and watched reruns of SportsCenter over and over again until noon, when ESPN switched to other programming.
Hell, on Sunday mornings I actually sat through the Sports Reporters on a weekly basis. And I didn’t even try to shove sharp objects through my ear drums.
Oh, how innocent and stupid I was.
Starting this year, after the economy went in the crapper and Setanta Sports’ profits did too, ESPN got the rights to broadcast English Premier League matches in the US. Now, every Saturday morning on ESPN2 there’s an EPL match shown live.
Because England is five hours ahead of the US (on the east coast, six hours ahead here in Austin), these matches are shown early in the morning. For instance, my beloved Tottenham Hotspur take on the scum of Arsenal this Saturday, and the match starts at 8 am. Others start as early as 7 am here.
Not a lot of adults are up at 7 or 8 am on the weekends. And if they are, they’re just getting their eyes open. But you know who is up at 8 am? Kids.
If there’s ever a time that soccer is going to “make it” in the United States, or be something close to mainstream, it’s starting now.
A common theory was that kids grow up playing soccer and eventually these kids will become adults who like soccer. Not true. I know lot’s of people who played soccer when we were kids and none of them made it to high school before they gave it up. They all moved on to more popular American sports like football, basketball and baseball. (Note: in Texas, no one plays hockey. The only people in Texas who do play hockey aren’t actually from Texas.)
But kids today can turn on ESPN and see a professional soccer league full of arguably the best soccer players in the world, first thing in the morning. That’s what’s going to help soccer make it big in the US.
Before, it was harder for kids to catch European soccer here in the US. They would either need access to Sky or Setanta Sports, which only come on satellite packages. On the off-chance that they actually had satellite service, there were so many other channels to compete with, that soccer was hard to find.
The other option was watching on Fox Soccer Channel, which is usually only available on digital cable packages. And then, there were many other channels for FSC to compete with.
UEFA Champions League matches have been available on ESPN for the last several years. But kids most likely didn’t get to watch any CL matches because they are shown on weekday afternoons, when kids are in school.
If there’s one thing that keeps kids playing the main professional sports in America (baseball, basketball and football), it’s seeing their favorite players on TV several nights a week. Why follow a sports if there’s no one in it for you to look up to?
On Saturday morning, little Johnny can wake up and watch Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney bang home two goals, and then little Johnny will want to go to his YMCA soccer match and do the same. Or he can go out into the yard and kick his soccer ball off the side of his house for practice or play with friends who watched the same Man U match. Little Johnny’s got someone to emulate now.
Adult sports fans may never come around to soccer. But kids today are going to be watching the best of the best ply their trade in the world’s most popular game, before adults have even stepped out of bed.