I saw an interesting question posed on EPLTalk recently, which really got me thinking. Would winning the Olympic soccer gold medal do more for soccer in this country than winning the World Cup would?
I think the answer has to be yes. Obviously winning the World Cup would be a huge deal and it would get tons of media coverage. Even in 2002, when the Cup was in Korea/Japan and was on at barely watchable hours, the US side got a fair amount of coverage and developed a bit of a following. And there were millions of Americans who were disappointed when the American side fell on their faces in Germany in 2006.
But the Olympics are a completely different story in this country. Maybe the biggest difference is that women watch so much of the Olympics whereas mostly men are the viewers of soccer on tv. As the Beijing games are about to commence, NBC and every sports media outlet are gearing up for ridiculous amounts of coverage. I read that the NBC channels (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC) will feature something like twenty days worth of coverage hours, which is of course longer than the games themselves. The opportunity to be seen and the following that would ensue would be astronomical. And in America, people relate to the Olympics. They get behind the sentimental stories and amazing success stories and just go crazy.
Of course in Europe, the Olympic soccer event is more of an annoyance than anything else as players are taken from their club sides just as the regular seasons begin. The last three Olympic gold medals have gone to Nigeria, Cameroon and Argentina (a legitimate power, but they defeated Paraguay in the finals). Clearly the event doesn’t hold much weight in most of the traditional soccer nations.
So maybe it really would inspire this country if the US team could win the Olympic gold. They certainly have a much better chance of doing so than in the World Cup anyway. Most people in America don’t know who the power countries are and won’t know/care that they’re not sending their best sides or really care about it at all. All they’re going to know is what NBC tells them and often that’s enough to really rally behind even the most obscure of sports. Who knew anything about Apollo Anton Ono or short track speed skating before he burst on the Olympic scene?
First things first, though, the US side has to actually start winning in the tournament to see if this hypothesis can even be tested.