Archive for May 23rd, 2012
I thought I’d start today by combining #SportsWeek with #WaybackWednesday in one picture. Here’s a picture of a little Captain back in my soccer star days in the 1980s.
This would’ve been around ’86-’87 back when I played soccer in the Khoury league down on Missouri Bottom Road. Despite my love of the Cardinals at that age, my favorite game to play was soccer. And as is typical with most kids, I lost interest in soccer within a few years. Which brings up the question I want to discuss today for #SportsWeek. Why are only a few specific sports popular in St. Louis?
It’s well known that St. Louis is a baseball town. And while hockey will never be as popular as baseball, it still has a pretty sizeable following here. Both are by far the most popular sports in St. Louis. The rest are a real mixed bag.
The popularity of football is heavily dependent on the performance of the local teams. I remember going to a football Cardinals game at Busch Stadium back in the 1980s and seeing a lot of empty seats. After little support for losing teams the Cardinals left town and St. Louis stopped giving a shit about football for a decade until the miracle Rams won the Superbowl in 1999. Suddenly the Rams were the hottest ticket in town for the next several years until they returned to last place. Around that time there was a little excitement about the Missouri Tigers, but that has evaporated when Chase Daniels graduated. And while currently there is not much support for football, I think one playoff run by the Rams would bring a lot of enthusiasm back to football in St. Louis.
The sport that is glaringly absent from St. Louis is basketball. I can only remember two times when basketball was a story in St. Louis. In the early 1990s SLU basketball was pretty popular during the Spoonball years. And last decade the Missouri Tigers were big the two times they made it to the Elite Eight. But that’s about it in my lifetime. And after the Tigers epic choke in the first round of March Madness this year, I just don’t ever see basketball being popular again in St. Louis.
The most surprisingly unpopular sport in St. Louis is NASCAR. For a town with plenty of rednecks St. Louis has never developed a sizable NASCAR following. While I still see plenty of NASCAR decals on pickup trucks around town, I rarely hear anyone talking about it. I’m sure the lack of a qualifying track nearby is a big part of this, but even if there was a track in St. Louis I don’t think it would be successful. It’s another reminder that St. Louis is not part of the South no matter what Jefferson County says.
Tennis has been somewhat popular in St. Louis for most of my life, and I have no idea why. But I can always remember watching people I knew playing the game and to watching the major tournaments. The opposite is true of golf. While I do know a few people that play golf, I’ve never really heard people talk much about the PGA. Like NASCAR, I’m sure that the lack of a local course where national players can compete is a big part of disinterest. But once again, I don’t think St. Louis would support a PGA tournament here.
Which brings me back to soccer. While soccer is not hugely popular in St. Louis, I think it has more to do with lack of legitimate options. When I was a kid, soccer was quite popular in St. Louis thanks to the St. Louis Steamers. Even after that team folded, local interest still remained high. I remember a lot of buzz in St. Louis when World Cup came to Chicago in 1996. Since then I think that the interest in soccer has been simmering in St. Louis due to lack of options. The U.S. Olympic teams have been pretty popular, and World Cup support is always surprisingly high in St. Louis. But there is a general lack interested in MLS despite the effort to bring a team here a few years back. Building a stadium in Illinois was probably part of that, but some of it I think was due to the confidence in MLS. Or to put it another way, if soccer ever captures the national interest for a sustained period of time, I think St. Louis would be one of the first towns on the bandwagon. But until then soccer in St. Louis will remain something loved by children and parents.
I’m sure that at least one of my opinions is wrong or at least easily debatable, so feel free to correct me.