Times On Our Side: What happens when the NY Times tackles soccer..

Tim Hall’s View From 101

As we have talked about before in these pages, it is all very respectable to want to increase the media profile of soccer in the United States to reach an equilibrium with the baseballs and basketballs. To that end, we’ve taken great strides. There are more games on live than ever before, and even more tape delayed should you know where to look. Just this week, ESPN announced plans to air every game of the 2017 UEFA Women’s European Championship for the first time across their assorted platforms and networks. Things are, on the whole, on the upswing. 

There’s a reason for the caveat “on the whole” there because there are always forces attempting to undercut the positive flow. The problem with fans pushing media outlets for more soccer coverage is that said media outlets will respond by sending out a reporter with zero skin in the game. They are not interested in the sport, they do not care about the sport, they do not care about the people that care about the sport. At best, this is some sort of anthropological mission for them; they find themselves turning up at a field like they had just exited the bush in Deepest Darkest Africa to encounter a previously uncontacted tribe. At worst, they skip the pith helmeted explorer role and jump into some wacky gonzo journalism that only nominally caters to the actual fans of the sport while at the same time giving a nod and a wink to their buddies back home as if to say “can you believe these rubes?”

Enter the New York Times. Now, the New York Times is to sports reporting what the New York Times is to local New York story reporting, which is to say “very little”. You don’t pick up the Times to get the latest on rent hike battles or a convenience store robbery, and you likewise don’t pick up the Times for the Mets box score. What the New York Times does, and what its readers want, edges more towards long-form, deep-dive explorations of news stories. Which is fine, great in fact, when done correctly. Otherwise it’s just the musty smell of old books sometimes interrupted by four hundred words on why you simply must use San Marzano tomatoes in your pasta sauce.

But the Times decided to take a crack at soccer again this week, and right from the gate you can tell you’re going to need both your pith helmet and your pithiness to get through this one, as “a Times reporter visited four teams in four leagues within the city limits to get a sense of a soccer fan’s options in the city.” And wouldn’t you know it, joy of joys, our reporter gets to play David Attenborough, peaking out from behind pillars to marvel and gawk at you and I as we watch a sport. It’s all just enough to get a good sense what the animals at the zoo feel like.

First stop is Yankee Stadium for NYCFC. You’ll note that, even with two City vs. Red Bulls matches in the month before this story came out which clearly could have killed two birds with one stone, both of those matches happened in Deepest Darkest New Jersey, a bridge too far for even the bravest reporter. Instead we get a review of the Seattle Sounders match that happened right in between the two.

Credit where it’s due, some of the information here is useful. A quick rundown of ticket prices, food options, souvenirs, the sort of things a dry travel guide should provide. Then we get to the fans section and it all falls apart. Rather than interview anyone actually there for the game itself, our intrepid reporter literally found two people that were there just to walk around Yankee Stadium, even so far as getting the almost cliché quote “I don’t get sports where they don’t use their hands.”

There’s your wink to the boys. Surprisingly it doesn’t devolve into a Seinfeldian “And what’s the deal with the cards? One’s yellow, one’s red? Why not purple?!” bit from there.

No time anyway, as we’re spirited off to Coney Island for the New York Cosmos against Miami FC. This actually was a relatively drama free, albeit brief, review of the atmosphere and the Cosmos history, as well as the aforementioned breakdown of parking costs and the like. Could have probably used a mention of how both of these teams are doing right now in the present day, since Miami would go on to win the NASL Spring Season, however that would have been difficult, since the game the reporter went to cover was all the way back on April 1st. For a column running in July. The Cosmos would go on to play seven more times at home between then and publication, including on the Fourth of July, meaning the Times could have had the same reporter do a nature documentary on the oddities of both soccer and the Hot Dog Eating Contest and only paid for one travel expense.

From there, two whole months later (getting a sense this wasn’t a priority column?) we are treated to a trip to Brooklyn Italians of the NPSL, the fourth tier of American soccer, and if you think that the pros were a hoot, wait until you get a whiff of the amateurs. They sell chips and soda! The crowd was small! They even used a recording of the national anthem! You can hear this reporter humming “Yakety Sax” to himself and giggling.

Final game of the expedition was FA Euro of the PDL, also in the fourth tier of the pyramid, taking on Reading at St. John’s University, although the photo used in the article at this section showed a player from fellow PDL team Jersey Express chatting with fans, so who can even be sure what reality is anymore?

And this is the sort of thing that we’ve come to expect, that media types will look down their noses at us, or hold their noses and give us some token coverage, and even when they do, it’s more National Geographic than it is World Cup. It must be so disheartening to young writers to see this drivel and wonder if any of this is worth it.

To that young aspiring writer, I say have faith and be of good cheer, because look what this guy, who is apparently being paid to write for the New York Times of all places, managed to churn out in four months, starting in April at the Cosmos game, and ending with publication. Four months. When you, young aspiring writer with a base knowledge of how schedules work, could have seen all four of the above mentioned teams, in their home parks, within a ten day stretch in May, leaving you with ages to go see other games for other teams, leave the five boroughs, or simply come up with something more interesting than the location of the Coke machine.

We’re winning the war, but we’ll have to sit here and lose some battles to do it. It’s unfortunate it has to be in the pages of the New York Times, but we’ve overcome more from better.

 


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david@firsttouchonline.com