The World Cup Runneth Over
By Gary Singh
BEGINNING this weekend, the 2006 World Cup will be upon us. Without exaggeration, billions of people worldwide will watch it on TV, including many local soccer fans, like me, who are still in denial about losing the San Jose Earthquakes. The team was yanked away to Houston, Texas—a real city whose daily paper now heavily covers the team on a regular basis, unlike the case was here.
I'm not just whimpering about this because the World Cup starts in a few days. Actually, Barcelona—one of the biggest teams on earth—will be doing a three-city American tour in August. They have the world's best player in Ronaldinho, and they will play exhibition games in New York, Los Angeles and—bada bing—Houston, Texas, where they'll play against a Mexican team in a doubleheader preceded by a league game featuring the team that used to be the San Jose Earthquakes. Barcelona recently won the European championship, and people from all over the United States will travel to see these matches. The economic impact just in Houston's case will be enormous.
This is exactly what would have happened right here in San Jose had the Earthquakes secured their own stadium with a local owner. The games comprising the Earthquakes' regular season would only have been part of the whole shebang. You'd have World Cup qualifying matches. You'd have teams like Barcelona—who are 30 times bigger than any baseball team—come to play exhibition games, which would draw people from all over the country. But no. As always, San Jose was one gigantic step behind on the whole issue.
Allow me to quack about it from another angle. Twenty years ago, there were no hockey fans in San Jose. None. Nowhere. Zilch. Whatever you think about former Mayor Tom McEnery, at least he had the vision—gee, what a concept—to build the San Jose Arena. Remember how many people were violently against that? Try and find someone to actually admit, now, in 2006, that they voted against the arena. Betcha won't. Nowadays, it's one of the most heavily booked venues of its kind in the country for nonsporting events, and the Sharks have completely penetrated everyday San Jose consciousness.
With solid local ownership and their own venue, this is exactly what would have happened with the San Jose Earthquakes, who play a sport that the 2006 Sports Business Market Research Handbook by Richard K. Miller & Associates says will replace hockey as the nation's fourth major professional sports league by 2010.
And then you have the backward-thinking farmer's-town types who say stuff like "Major League Soccer is not a major league at all." They claim it's not on a par with baseball, basketball or whatever that sport with a pointy ball is called. This is a completely xenophobic attitude. Anybody who knows the game can see that in the United States it's only going to grow and grow. More kids in the Bay Area are playing soccer than any other sport, and European powerhouses are starting to either buy MLS teams, partner with teams or invest in the league because they know the time is right. This is why the A's jumped in and bought the option to bring the Quakes back. They get it.
Also, the San Jose Earthquakes players were not multimillionaire rock star athletes doped up on steroids and getting arrested for assault and battery. Many of them hung out after each game and signed autographs until every last person was gone. You could just see the admiration in the kids' faces as this went down. The players constantly showed up at hospitals to visit injured children, coached youth teams or donated their time to charitable causes. And a few of them are still coming back to San Jose to run soccer academies. They gave to the San Jose community 10 times more than they ever took back. Would any of this happen with a baseball franchise? No way, Jose.
The San Jose mayoral primary election will have already happened by the time you read this, so here we go: Whoever becomes the next mayor, forget the attention-starved fantasy of luring the A's here and bring back the World Game that was already here to begin with.