American indifference to soccer is a legend by now. Our own networks consider it an immutable fact of nature, and not one of them bothered to bid for the World Cup, an event which had half of Europe up beyond its bedtime and was even accused of breaking up marriages in Sweden. (How much that takes, I don't know.)
The networks, to be sure, would have had to pay a pretty peso for the rights—though not half so pretty as the sums that changed hands in the fever zones abroad. According to one possibly overexcited Mexican journal, the European Broadcasting Union was obliged to shell out six million dollars. A cool half million-plus would have taken it away over here. At least MTS, a closed-circuit outfit, got it for something like that—people in the business are notoriously kittenish about figures—and the networks folded their hands without a whimper.
Their reasoning was, as usual, impeccable. NBC had given the Cup a fling in 1966, and the results didn't recommend a second try. CBS had taken a bath trying to do the American soccer league—who can forget those commercials running into the action?—and was not ready for another one.
ABC, possibly the most quixotic of the big three, made a real effort to get the Cup on Wide World of Sports. But canny old MTS said ABC could not have it for 90 days, long enough to cool off the hottest game of anything. Otherwise, ABC could have some 10-minute highlights anytime it wanted. (Hello, hello, click, is the imagined sound effect here.) If a network can be said to sound regretful, ABC sounded regretful as it described the sorry situation.
This is a sermon without a moral. Closed-circuit may have been right to suppose that for once it could make more money than the networks. Soccer fans are bunched tight in the cold-water ports and cosmopolitan centers. The closed-circuit show at Detroit's Masonic Temple drew a party of Englishmen from Ontario along with the local Brazilians. The Montreal closed-circuit crowd ran 90% "European" and in San Francisco it was 4 to 1 Latin. It seems to take a generation of Americanization to acquire complete boredom with soccer.
Still, one wonders. Madison Square Garden was jammed beyond the dreams of Billy Graham. I exaggerate, of course, but $175,000 (second largest per-day gross in the history of the new Garden) is not bad for one afternoon's take and, pound for pound, no sports crowd ever generated more ecstasy. If this continues, perhaps the world's most popular sport will one day fan a spark in all Americans.