There is a channel in Canada called Bite TV, and yes, wouldn’t it be appropriate if Luis Suarez were given his own show?
Suarez, of course, is the Uruguayan soccer star who was booted out of the World Cup for biting an opponent. It was the third time in his career that Suarez has been suspended for gnawing on human flesh (on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO and HBO Canada, the host joked that if Suarez bites seven more people, he gets a free person with FIFA’s “frequent biter” card).
But with the 2014 World Cup final set to air Sunday, July 13 on CBC and ABC, here’s something else to gnaw upon: Soccer has kind of arrived as a major North American viewing spectacle.
No, not all soccer. But soccer at the highest level is capable of drawing big North American TV audiences now, and in my humble opinion, this fairly recent transformation has occurred for three main reasons:
1 High-definition TV.
No sport has benefited more from the high-definition revolution than soccer. The game lends itself to the shape of a high-def screen, much better than the old box-shaped screens. And since soccer players don’t wear helmets or caps or masks, you get to see their faces and expressions (and teeth), which is more important than you think when you’re trying to introduce a sport to someone who doesn’t know much about it.
With the explosion of sports specialty channels and pay services, mostly through Rogers and Bell, the biggest and best soccer leagues in the world – the Premier League in Britain, La Liga in Spain, the Champions League, which gathers the best club teams from across Europe, etc. – are much more accessible now to North American TV audiences than they ever were before. For example, personally I am a fan of Manchester City in the Premier League, and over the past few seasons, I have been able to see virtually every one of Man City’s games from the comfort of my own home. That was unthinkable a decade ago, or even a half-dozen years ago. And the more you watch the best leagues, the more interest you’ll have in something such as the World Cup, which essentially is a big all-star tournament with players competing for their home countries.
3 No commercials.
This wouldn’t be the first thing you’d care about if you didn’t care about soccer at all. But if you do have even a marginal interest in soccer, or if you’re just catching onto it a little bit, you will begin to notice something remarkable. A soccer game starts. The first half goes for 45 minutes, plus injury time. There are no ads. No TV timeouts. There will be some commercials at halftime. Then the second half begins, and it’s the same thing. And you start to get used to that. Watch five soccer games, then try watching an NFL or CFL or NHL or NBA game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shouting at the TV, “How is this normal? Why do we put up with this in North America? All these ads and stoppages are driving me bonkers!”
Maybe a sport with no ads speaks more to a generation that has grown accustomed to watching TV shows with no ads, through online services or premium cable channels. Is that the soccer generation?
Regardless of the hows and whys, more North American TV viewers than ever are getting a kick out of big-time soccer. It’s up to savvy TV executives – and players such as Luis Suarez – to make a meal of it.