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The United States men's soccer team is moving up in the world. I'm not talking about its appearance on multiple magazine covers currently peppering airport newsstands and bathrooms across the nation. I'm referring to its triumphs over the STIHL Timbersports Series and World's Strongest Man reruns - staples of afternoon programming on the Worldwide Leader in Sports - in the journey into the Hearts and Minds of the American Public.
But they didn't bump Oprah. They're not that important.
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The FIFA World Cup begins in earnest this Friday in Germany and will run until a champion is crowned in Berlin on July 9. The ESPN and ABC family of networks will broadcast all 64 matches of the tourney, which are slated to begin between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. in Deutschland.
There is a six-hour time differential between the German venues and New York viewers, which translates kickoff times to between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST. That disparity means breakfast in Berlin and lunch in Leipzig for fervid soccer faithful in the States. And for afternoon couch potatoes it means swapping chainsaws for the Czech Republic and truck pulling for Trinidad and Tobago.
Obviously, the time discrepancy doesn't create the optimum scenario for fans and gamblers in the U.S. However, it's a tremendous step forward after the chronological catastrophe that took place in Korea and Japan during the 2002 World Cup. The East Asia address of that event meant a roughly 13.5-hour time gap between local start times and their broadcasts on the East Coast.
In 2002, the games routinely kicked off between 2:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. here in the States. A different breed of humans roams the roads during those hours, and it isn't customarily a soccer-loving crowd. That's the domain of the drunken sex fiends, amphetamine-addled vampires and multiple felons. It's the desperate and deranged that dwell in the dusk, and that's no place for the sort that respect the power and beauty of a full-volley ripper into the side netting.
Not a chance my friend. You have to question the motives of any man who was awake to watch Cameroon top Saudi Arabia at 4:30 in the morning. Regardless, the folks over at the Nielsen Media Research Center claim that their ratings indicate interest in the World Cup actually grew between 1998 and 2002.
"Hardcore football fans will tune in no matter what time the game is on," said Jeff Dye, Sportsbook Business Manager for Bodog. "But the typical American football fan who has an interest in soccer might just go online and get results rather than tune in."
"People love to gamble on events they can watch on TV," said Will Hawkins, the Racebook and Props Manager at Nine Sportsbook. "Granted, soccer is not the most popular sport to play amongst North American gamblers, (but) we certainly expect a big bump over 2002 due to the accessibility of the games."
There is a nine-hour differential separating Germany from Las Vegas, meaning that gambler's could be busted before the bacon is burnt or up a dime before dinner is served.
Hawkins also pointed out that while the time of the day that these games occur may be less than ideal, the time of the year in which the event takes place works in its favor. Given that soccer derives much of its popularity from a younger generation of athletes and fans, the fact that its Grand Event is taking place during the summer will only help boost its notoriety within the U.S.
Clearly books like Nine Sportsbook and Bodog don't plan on taking action from 15-year-old jayvee soccer players. But the impact that increased viewership and burgeoning support from a youthful fan base will help create a spectacle and buzz. Throw in the Mega-Marketing Machines of sponsors ESPN, Adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonald's and you've got yourself a regular three-ring circus.
Furthermore, with the NHL and NBA playoffs wrapping up over the next two weeks, the World Cup should only have to compete with the dog days of the Major League Baseball schedule for top billing on the American sports marquee.
But more importantly, as long as the United States is still kicking it on the pitch the American fans and North American bettors will both stay plugged in. For example, its quarterfinal game against Germany in the 2002 Cup became the most watched soccer game in American history, despite a start time of 7:30 a.m.
"The hype guides our gambler's focus and dramatically affects our action," Hawkins commented. "However, as the USA team has improved, we've seen that the biggest impact on gamblers isn't so much the time, but rather the quality of the team and the exposure of the sport. As the U.S. team and soccer gain exposure through the major sports media networks, we expect the action to grow significantly."
The United States plays on Monday, June 12 at noon EST, on Saturday, June 17 at 3 p.m. and on Thursday, June 22 at 10 a.m. For a complete television schedule of the 2006 World Cup check Doc's World Cup page.
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