Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saints have yet to visit White House |

There is a lot of ceremonial stuff that happens at the White House. As a sports fan though one of the coolest ones for me is when sports teams are honored at the White House. 

If you haven't noticed yet, the New Orleans Saints have not yet visited the White House in honor of their Super Bowl win this year. Mike Florio of "Pro Football Talk" is reporting today that the delay is to be blamed on Saints owner Tom Benson. It should be noted that Tom Benson is a Republican. He's backed both George W. Bush and John McCain in their Presidential bids. He's also donated generously to the GOP.  

This is pretty low isn't it? I can even excuse him somewhat for not wanting to go to the White House but why has he not flown his team to Washington yet? Heck, Barack Obama like most of the country hopped on the Saints bandwagon this past season. Has anyone else heard anything on this lately? Has any other owner tried something similar recently? I can't recall one.

Read Mike Florio's full story on this. Saints have yet to visit White House |

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"Americans don't care about Soccer"

"Americans don't care about Soccer."

We've heard that line for years. People who don't like soccer have used one lame excuse after another to ignore the world's most popular sports and the world's biggest sporting event. We've heard people whine about the lack of scoring, we've heard them moan about the "diving" and we've heard them complain about the officiating. This time around we've even seen them try to knock the Vuvuzelas. I wanted to use this space to address some of these "issues" and hopefully give you some other reasons why you must tune in.

We've all heard people say that no one watches soccer right? The US/England game which was played on a Saturday afternoon drew over 17 million people to their televisions in the US. That number is higher then the average for the first six games of the NBA finals. Heck, it was comparable to the roughly 18 million people who watch NFL games from week to week during the course of a football season. To put that into perspective keep in mind  that "only 13.5 million tuned in to watch the finale of "Lost," which is the same number of viewers who watched the "Dancing with the Stars" finale." Through the first 14 games of the World Cup ratings on ESPN/ESPN2/ABC have seen "a 64% increase from the same period in 2006." That number does not include people watching the Spanish broadcasts on Univision or the authorized live streams provided by ESPN 3 and That number includes millions more. 

The World Cup has dominated social media too. Twitter recognized ahead of time that the World Cup was going to dominate discussion on its platform for the month so they dedicated a portion of their site to the World Cup. A quick search of the terms "USA" or "USMNT" will provide thousands of tweets from around the country. It has always made it easy for fans who are at work or in classes to discuss the game from the comforts of their homes, desks or offices. 

ESPN needs to be applauded for their efforts this time around. At Euro 2008 they took measures to reduce costs and let announcers call games from a studio in Bristol, CT. Thankfully that is not the case at this World Cup. ESPN has gone all out and has sent out a very good team to South Africa. Darren Rovell of CNBC recently reported that ESPN sent over 300 people to South Africa to handle their coverage. That a huge improvement for ESPN from 4 years ago when they called 20 games from studios in the US. ESPN 3 (where available) has been a huge asset for them. Early in the World Cup there were 1.3 million people watching live online. That number has likely gone up now as they continue to advertise it on a daily basis. I am a big Olympics fan but get annoyed by their tape delayed coverage. For the 2nd straight World Cup the ESPN family of networks are airing all 64 games live

There is a segment of the population that believes that soccer is boring because there is a lack of action. I will never understand the fascination with high scoring games. I would much rather watch a 1-0 or 2-1 baseball game with great pitching and defense in the National League over a 7-5 American League game. High scoring hockey games get annoying as do most high scoring football games. Is a 127-125 NBA game really fun? Whatever happened to "defense wins championships?" Yes, there is less scoring but the ball is always in play. There are no lengthy "TV timeouts". I don't now how many of you caught this but Wall Street Journal had a great article earlier this year about there only being 11 minutes of actual action in a NFL game.  Just think about that for a second. That works out to roughly 18% of the actual game time and obviously far less once you factor in all the stoppages. I haven't seen a similar study for baseball but I can't imagine that the numbers would be much different there. How can you complain about soccer being dull when after every pitch the batter takes 15 seconds to adjust everything from his helmet to his cup? How can you complain about there being down time in soccer when the last 5 minutes of a basketball game take about 40 minutes to complete?  

Over the past two weeks I've seen people comment on not being able to watch soccer because players "dive" too much. These people can't possibly be serious right? I can't help but laugh at these people since many of these same people were just going on and on last week about the greatness of the NBA Finals. How can anyone be a NBA fan and complain about diving in other sports? We're talking about a league where even the tiny bit of contact gets you a foul. We're talking about a league where players exaggerate contact just so they can get to the free throw line. We're talking about a league where players and coaches work the officials the entire game so they notice and call fouls on every little contact. Are these people seriously trying to tell me that a Wide Receiver in the NFL has never tried to sell a pass interference penalty? Have these people never seen a catcher move his glove after a pitch to try and sell a strike? How is any of this any different? Athletes and coaches have been working officials for a long time in ALL sports. 

Vuvuzelas have been a huge a subject on conversation at the World Cup this year. If you are not familiar with Vuvuzelas I wrote about them last week. Again, I have to ask you, how is that any different then what happens at sporting venues around the world? Part of what makes sports great is regional traditions. ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said it best recently:
It's part of the experience and flavor of football in South Africa. 
I couldn't agree with him more. I was at a Raptors/Nets NBA Playoff game in 2007. It was Game 6 at what is now known as the IZOD Center. The majority of the fans in attendance though were Raptors fans. Nets players were getting booed throughout the game on their home court so for the final minute the Nets game day crew piped in crowd noise into the arena to drown out the Raptors fans. There was no way the Nets fans were actually that loud that night. Would you rather have that over actual noise being made by fans? Things like the thundersticks are widespread around North American sports. How is that any different? If you're that bothered by it, buy ear plugs

I always get a kick out of US media trying to sell to us the idea that close to a billion people watch the Super Bowl. I can believe the 100 Million viewers in the US for the Super Bowl but if you try to tell me that people actually care about the Super Bowl in Buenos Aires, Seoul, Johannesburg, Madrid or Athens I will just laugh at you. Believe it or not there actually is civilization on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific and they do have different interests. The FIFA World Cup truly is that global event. It has stopped wars and it is a passion followed closely around the world. 

Will this World Cup run help grow soccer in the US? Sure it will and it has been. People in this country have been embracing Soccer for the better part of the last 20 years. Hosting the World Cup in 1994 was big and stadiums were sold out from coast to coast.  MLS has definitely helped the sport in the US as well. Is it comparable to the big international leagues? Of course not, but it is growing. The success of hockey at the Olympics this year helped the NHL ride the momentum to record TV ratings, surely MLS can expect a similar bump? Average MLS attendance is expected to increase 15.4 percent in 2010, to about 18,500 fans per game. There are teams in the NBA and MLB who would love to have those attendance numbers. There are new soccer specific stadiums being built around the league and the MLS has been expanding across the continent. ESPN has been doing a great job promoting the sports while also appeasing the real fans. Coverage this year hasn't been "dumbed down" like previous events were. 

How can you not like this sport? How can you not like the World Cup? I love the format. Pool play is great and the knockout stage is even better. ESPN has a great advertising campaign that says "One Game Changes Everything" and that couldn't be more true. Just take the US win over Algeria that won them their group for the first time since 1930. The US was on the verge of elimination from the tournament but one great play, one great moment, one great game changed everything. The success of the at this World Cup will go a long way towards securing the rights to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup here in the US. FIFA is going to award those rights in December. 

I'm getting ahead of myself. It was just one goal. But remember today when the bids are announced later in the year. If the United States gets the 2022 (or even 2018) World Cup, today was a huge reason why. Some ten year old kid out there who watched today's match and ran outside to re-enact that goal over and over again in his backyard...he might just be thanking Donovan in 12 years. 
I would love the opportunity to go to World Cup games here in the US. It is one of the items on my bucket list.

I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. I have been a fanatical sports fan all my life. It doesn't matter what the sport. Cricket will always be number one for me but even as a 9 year old living in Pakistan I used to get up at all hours of night to watch the 1994 World Cup which was held in front of sold out stadiums around the US from  the Rose Bowl to Giants Stadium. When I moved to Toronto in 1995 the city was getting ready for the induction of the Raptors into the NBA so I quickly became a basketball fan. That fall the great playoff series between the Yankees and the Mariners was going on and that led me to embrace baseball. Living in Toronto I quickly became a hockey fan and remain a fanatical Maple Leafs fan to this day living here in New Jersey.. In international sports I generally root for Pakistan or Canada but I have been fully behind the US Soccer team since I moved here 10 years ago. 

Don't try to tell me that Americans don't care about soccer. There is nothing wrong with you not liking the sport but quit announcing it to the world. No one cares. It really has been a shame seeing some really smart people act like ignorant fools for the past 12 days. If you are that bothered by it turn off your TV and stay off of twitter. No one cares about your "jokes" about soccer being boring. It doesn't make you cool.  I ran across a brilliant column on this subject from Andrew Kron. 

Oh, American Sports Fans…

It hasn't even been a week and you're already starting to complain about the World Cup.
There isn't enough scoring. Why would I want to watch Ghana play Serbia? What in the world is that damn buzzing noise in the background of the television? I can't understand the commentators. There isn't enough scoring. Why do half of these guys only have one name? There isn't enough scoring.
Just stop. Slow down for a second… Now do me a favor. Don't like what you see? Then turn your television off. Don't read the newspaper articles. Don't watch the highlights on SportsCenter. Just, don't watch anymore. Go watch baseball or motocross, or Hannah Montana, I don't really care. To me, the more you rant and rave and complain the more you are embarrassing not only yourself, but your country as well. So again, do me a favor. Turn your television to the Disney Channel and keep it there.

I couldn't agree with him more. If you don't like it, don't watch it. Turn off ESPN but please let us watch in peace. You can't tell us that people don't care when we see US soccer jerseys everywhere. I was at a hospital today. It was an amazing sight to see doctors, nurses and other hospital staff spill into the waiting room to catch the closing minutes of the US game. Don't try to tell me that Americans don't care when World Cup talk has been dominating twitter in the US.

I leave you with this brilliant Youtube brilliance.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jean Van de Velde - 18th Hole Carnoustie

Watching the US Open today I remembered a name I haven't thought of in years.

July 18th 1999 is a date that will be remembered by golf fans for a long time to come. It was the final round of the 1999 British Open, held that year at Carnoustie. A French journeyman by the name of Jean Van de Velde held a 2 stroke lead going into the 72nd hole. Under normal circumstances that is a relatively safe lead in golf. What followed was disaster. 

I ended up searching for the video on Youtube earlier today after I saw Dustin Johnson throw away his lead on the 2nd and 3rd holes of the US Open at Pebble Beach. It is also appropriate since Frenchman Gregory Havret is currently in 2nd place at the US Open. By the way, has a Frenchman won or been those close to winning a major since Carnoustie? I can't think of one. 

When you get the chance go back and watch both of these clips. For anyone who watched that live or has seen clips of it since it really is hard not to feel bad for the man. 

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Why is FIFA silent about US/Slovenia?

Whether you are a soccer fan or not chances are by now you've heard about the US Mens National Team getting robbed at the World Cup today late in their game versus Slovenia.

The officials called back a goal that would have given the USA a 3-2 win and put them on track to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. Instead what followed was mass confusion. The referee himself didn't seem sure why he had refused to award the goal and no one seemed to have answers. Wide spread anger spread amongst not only fans of the USA but most soccer fans around the world. This of course followed a yellow card that was given to Robbie Findley in the 39th minute when the ball clearly hit Findley's head. The officiating was a widely discussed and high trending topic on twitter which is obviously a shame.

 From what I gathered FIFA does not make its officials available to reporters after the game. Any time a sport or league does something like this they end up looking like a joke. According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, under FIFA rules the official in question "doesn't have to say what the infraction was." That is an absolute joke. Why shouldn't officials be open to ridicule? The quotes that are coming out of South Africa tonight make FIFA and the World Cup look like a joke.

Landon Donovan:
"Who knows what it was? I am not sure how much English he spoke, or if he spoke English. But we asked him several times in a non-confrontational way. He just ignored us.'
Jozy Altidore:
"Four years of your life you put into this game, and this happens. I am baffled. We all are. We were all just in the locker room, asking, 'What's the call?' I thought it was a clean goal.''
Slovenian Coach Matjaz Kek:
"I will not pass any judgment on refereeing, I believe the referee hasn't had an impact on the final result.''
 The picture here speaks for itself. No matter how many times you watch a replay of the goal it looks like any potential call should have gone against Slovenia, but the referee seemed to be the only one who thought otherwise.

Thankfully this big error from referee Koman Coulibaly does not eliminate the US. There are still several scenarios out there that will ensure that the US is one of the two teams that advances to the knockout stage from their group. Yahoo Sports is reporting that the referee could be removed from the remainder of the World Cup.
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Obama is watching Strasburg vs his White Sox tonight.

The White House Press Corps is buzzing on twitter tonight. Barack Obama is at the Nationals game tonight as they face his beloved Chicago White Sox.

Hats off to Mike Memoli, he was the first one I saw ask a week or so if Obama was going to make a trip to this Nationals game tonight. It is the perfect night for him to show up at the ballpark. Not only is his favorite team in town, it is also "Strasmas." If you don't follow baseball "Strasmas" is the name given to each start made by the young star Stephen Strasburg who has taken the baseball world by storm.

Anyone know whether this is the first time his family has accompanied him to a sporting event since he became President? Obama's love for sports is well documented including at this blog. Now I know that a certain segment of the population will be up in arms over Obama enjoying himself while the Oil Spill is going on but those are the same people who will complain about anything and everything this man does. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if they complain about the amount of oxygen he takes in on an average day!

By the way, how lucky is Sam Youngman of "The Hill"? He was the pool reporter for Obama's opening day trip to Nationals Park as well. One of the great perks of the job.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

U.S. Open: Erik Compton embarks on another journey - ESPN

If you're like me and like to root for underdogs and usually latch on to one or two at every sporting even, why not pick Erik Compton? He is a 30 year old professional golfer who has gone through two heart transplants. Yes, you read that correctly. Two heart transplants.
He's playing in his first major championship this week at Pebble Beach. Gene Wojciechowski wrote a piece on him for ESPN
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stop with the vuvuzela hatred

Am I the only one who thinks that we've gotten to a point where the people whining about the vuvuzela are far worse then the noise the horns make?

The vuvuzela gained fame last year during the FIFA Confederations Cup which was also held in South Africa. There have been a lot of people whining about the noise these instruments make. I'm sure by now everyone has heard the "bee hive" references. I honestly don't see what the big deal is. This is sports. Regional flavors like this are one of the greatest things about sports.

The anti-vuvuzela banter just went to a whole different level today with reports indicating that the organizers are considering banning them from the stadium at the request of broadcasters. How ridiculous is this? Since when were sports (especially soccer/football/futbol or whatever you may call it) played in silence? What is this golf? Players are seriously trying to use this as an excuse? France's captain Patrick Evra blamed the small instruments for his team's sub par performance in their opener:

"We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6 a.m. We can't hear one another out on the pitch because of them,"
Yeah, this is just getting annoying at this point. The people who are whining about this have actually made watching these games less fun. The hatred for the vuvuzela has been all over twitter. Is it really that hard to drown it out? How is this any different then any noise we hear at the ballpark everyday in pretty much all other sports? Would you rather have some songs playing over the PA? How is that any better?

The Vuvuzela sound is available as an MP3 for just $0.83.

Please stop with the whining and let us watch the games in peace with the vuvuzelas or whatever as the background noise.
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