10-Cent Beer Night at Hooters

You know those junk e-mails you get that have provocative subject lines that promise free money, complimentary vacations, and the power to please the opposite sex for all eternity? The scam artists behind those messages have to make their headlines as sexy as possible because they know that if you were immediately aware of the true contents of the message, you would immediately delete them.

Well, I had to pull that trick here to get you to read even this far. Because if you knew I was going to talk about soccer, you would have immediately clicked over to download Donna Weihofen’s latest tofu cookie recipe. Just the very mention of the word soccer probably means that I’ve lost 3/4 of you already. But for the two of you still reading, I’ll continue . . .

If you’ve been watching any of the ESPN networks lately, you’ve no doubt been exposed to their relentless promotion of the 2006 World Cup, all 64 games (!) of which will be broadcast by ESPN, ESPN2, and their broadcast network partner ABC. The networks, owned by The Walt Disney company, have recently paid $450 million for the exclusive rights to broadcast soccer in the United States.

Why? Why are the mouse networks making such a huge financial and programming commitment to soccer, a sport that has been proven time and time again to be less interesting to American audiences than power sawing and snooker? If this was the first time that soccer’s been massively force-fed down the throats of sports-hungry Americans, that would be one thing, but soccer is an international phenomenon that’s been repeatedly rejected by Americans, like cholera and Benny Hill. And it’s not as if American sports fans are completely closed-minded to “new” sports; just look at the impressively rapid growth of auto racing and televised poker over the last several years. The message should be clear to ESPN and ABC: We’ve seen soccer and we don’t like it.

What makes this boneheaded decision by ESPN to televise hundreds of hours of soccer between June 9 and July 9 all the more aggravating is the fact that sports fans with normal interests like baseball, golf, and all things Suzy Kolber will be forced to sit through loads of soccer talk and highlights on the various ESPN television and radio networks because everybody knows that ESPN simply provides more news coverage of sports properties that they and ABC own. I’m convinced that because ABC lost the the flagship primetime NFL game of the week to NBC, we will see less NFL coverage on the ESPN networks this fall. Maybe Chris Berman will be shifted over to the WNBA. I think that’s another one of those sports ESPN tries to pass off as popular.

On the late, great sketch comedy show SCTV, the owner and president of the fictional SCTV network could often be seen hounding viewers for donations (this despite the fact that SCTV was a commercial and not a public broadcasting station). During these pleas, he would usually inform viewers of the sorts of subpar programming that SCTV would have to turn to if the station didn’t start raising more money. To really scare viewers into donating large amounts, he would always threaten to air more soccer. Maybe if we all band together and send enough cash to ESPN and ABC, we can keep soccer off our airwaves for good. I’m in for $50. That only leaves $449,999,950 left to raise. C’mon, who’s with me?!

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