Sunday, July 16, 2006

Softball to Expand Beyond Jennie Finch Being Hot

I'm kidding, I'm kidding… but admit it, that’s what most people know about softball, Jennie Finch showing up in Page 2’s “Hottest Female Athletes” section.

Last year USA Softball started organizing the World Cup of Softball, to be held every year, to promote the growth of the sport. In some ways, it seems like a desperate attempt to convince the International Olympic Committee to reinstate softball as a legit sport, particularly when you look at the list of competing nations in this year’s World Cup. It’s pretty limited and completely dominated by the US, which always goes over well internationally, they love us.

However, the International Softball Federation (it exists… everything has an international federation – you probably do too, you just don’t know it) paints a slightly different picture. The ISF has a pretty full calendar with lots of events around the world. With all those events, the popularity of the sport might grow, particularly in regions where baseball already has a following, like Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

For example, the ISF is sponsoring their eleventh World Championships in Beijing next month. Other events include the second World University Softball Championship this month (notice the bilingualness of the site), the twentieth Central American and Caribbean Sports Games (note the malfunctionness of the site), and the fifteenth Asian Games (because Qatar is lovely in December).

The sport definitely has some plans to grow in the future, and those plans seem healthy for a fringe sport. Softball is trying to expand its base of fans and isn’t overreaching. A danger for any fringe sport is growing so fast that it can’t develop lasting interest among its recent fans. Fans need to connect with the sport, and if it looks like the sport is barely paying attention to recent fans as it looks for new ones, the recent ones are going to say “This sucks” and go watch something like lacrosse.

Speaking of which, why oh WHY would two fringe sports schedule major events against each other?! It’s hard enough for sports like lacrosse and softball – sports whose popularity is solid among a small portion of fans, but has potential to grow given the circumstances – to reach more fans. It’s even harder to do so when ESPN 2 or 8 or whatever bastard, red-headed ESPN knockoff has to choose to televise one sport or the other. The World Cup of Softball gets air time on ESPN 2 (thank you Jennie Finch’s breasts) but the World Lacrosse Championships is only aired on Canadian Sports TV.

But I digress.

For softball to grow internationally it will have to rise above games in which one team scores ten runs in the first inning, like the US did against China last night, and above one team pasting its first four opponents by a combined score of 43-1, again, like the US has done in this tournament. Look at basketball – as other countries got more competitive, basketball and the NBA got more popular abroad. A major step was taken toward that last year when Japan upset the US in the finals, 3-1.

For softball to grow in this country, a lively international game in which we have the potential to dominate might be necessary. If you look at other female sports that have achieved some popularity in this country – basketball and soccer being the best examples – that was the setting that promoted their growth. Americans love to win and we love to feel like we’ve earned it… which is why victory in World War II felt way more worth it than in the Spanish American War. Maybe legitimate moral justice had something to do with it also, but earning the W ranked up there too.

Of course, sex sells. If the sport wants to grow without an international field of competitors, maybe Jennie Finch and friends should sponsor a car wash. In the meantime, check out the US-Japan rematch on ESPN at 1 pm today in a battle of 4-0 teams.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very pretty design! Keep up the good work. Thanks.
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4:37 PM  

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