There was once day when the statement I am about to make would be met with horror by any red-, white- and blue-blooded sports fan who once considered an affinity for soccer to be the athletic version of burning the American flag.
But on the weekend after yet another Fourth of July flop at one of the most patriotic of events on our sporting calendar — the Daytona Deluge 400 — I will say this without reservation: All American sports — but especially NASCAR — need to be more like soccer:
Non-stop, fast-paced, energetic and expeditious.
Enough of the four-hour college football games; the five-hour baseball marathons; and the on-again, off-again two-day NASCAR rain delays that suck the very life out of your fan base. In contrast, you can set your watch to soccer matches. Almost without fail, they are done in two hours, and the young fan base is off to something else — a few drinks at the local watering hole, a movie perhaps, maybe a late dinner. In today’s high-speed, high-tech, high-intensity world, American sports fans have better things to do than to be held hostage all day and night at a hot, crowded sports stadium where they can’t get a decent Internet connection.
The reason I bring this up is because Central Florida just endured another Fourth of July Daytona dud in which the Coke Zero 400 was canceled on Saturday night due to rain and then shortened on Sunday due to more rain. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The three dumbest ideas in sports history are: (3) The Decision (2) The Prevent Defense (1) Early evening July racing in Florida, when it rains seemingly every afternoon.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years that drenched fans have had to sit through the inevitable rain delays because NASCAR arrogantly refuses to admit that summertime night racing at Daytona is an idea that was, is and always will be all wet.
Who would have ever thought that NASCAR, a sport built on speed, would need to tear a page from the playbook of soccer — the sport we used to think was too slow, cumbersome and boring to ever catch on here in America?
There is a reason NASCAR TV ratings and attendance have plunged during the last few years and soccer’s popularity is soaring. The massive TV audience for American World Cup matches and the skyrocketing growth of Major League Soccer is proof that soccer is on the verge of becoming our next boom sport. A recent ESPN poll found that pro soccer now ranks as the third favorite sport of Americans ages 12-24, behind only the NFL and NBA. It is the second among 12-17 year olds, behind only the NFL.
Many experts point to the changing demographics and more ethnically diverse population in the United States. I believe it’s just as much about changing preferences and a more time-constrained population. I’ve always believed that the reason the NFL has become the king of all American sports is because the league understands that “less is more.” It’s not just coincidence that the NFL plays fewer games and has a shorter season than any of the other major sports leagues in this country. It’s also not a coincidence that the NFL diligently tries to keep its games short enough to fit into a three-hour TV window.
Major League Soccer uses the NFL model: Fewer games, shorter games, less of a time commitment from its fans. In today’s world of tweeting, texting and Tumbling, where attention spans are short and there are a zillion entertaining ways to spend your leisure time, we want our sports quick and easy.
NASCAR has gone in the other direction. Its races are too long and so is its season. If you don’t believe me just ask Jimmie Johnson — the biggest star in the sport.
“I think you can argue that maybe there’s a little too much NASCAR at times — that maybe we race too many times and maybe our races are (too) long,” Johnson said at the outset of the laboriously long nine-month NASCAR season.
Translation: This is not your father’s sports universe anymore.
We now live in a world where the most patriotic of all sports — NASCAR — needs to be Americanized to be more like European soccer.
Isn’t that a kick in the grass?