Mark Lima

Mark Lima is VP-News, Fusion; formerly Senior Producer, Nightline and a reformed sports producer. Tweet him @Markx

A TV producer and lifelong Steelers fan came to know soccer for practical reasons, but then things got romantic

I fell in love with soccer in 1994. Sure, the U.S. was hosting the World Cup, and the enthusiasm in Washington D.C., where I lived at the time, was great, but my reasons were much more practical.

You see, I was a local TV sports producer, and I fell for it since a soccer game was over two hours after it started. You could pencil a match into the rundown and count on it being over. No three-plus (or four-plus!) hour baseball games, no endless pitching changes, extra innings, no TV timeouts. I was seduced by that beautiful clock, the one that kept running, and the lack of huddles and twenty-second timeouts (that lasted, like, a minute) and seventh-inning stretches. In other words, I loved the attention to action over advertising.

I’ll confess, my newfound feelings for the beautiful game felt a bit like sacrilege. I was raised in the shadow of Beaver Stadium at Penn State. I grew up an acolyte of Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions. I spent my youth in a Franco Harris jersey and loved American football above all else. But that was changing.

When MLS started up two summers later in 1996, D.C. United was happy when a TV crew came out to cover them and made their superstars available. The club did everything they could to make you feel welcome. This was a far cry from most pro sports leagues who were just starting to rein in access to their teams.

Those first United teams featured a colorful cast of characters drawn from the U.S. and abroad: Americans like Eddie Pope and John Harkes, Raúl Díaz-Arce from El Salvador, and of course the great Marco Etcheverry from Bolivia. They were terrific players—they won three of the first four MLS Caps—and they were accessible.

I found myself slipping out to RFK Stadium on off-days to spend two hours with a beer and United. Like clockwork, I knew I could fit those games into my day. I liked the drumbeat of the fan clubs and the Latin flavor of the crowd. Soon after, I was watching soccer on TV on the weekends, even calling it football from time to time. I would ask bar owners in out-of-the-way Southern towns to switch to the U.S. National Team games in 1998 in order to watch the World Cup.

Then I became a Dad. After the birth of my daughter in 2001, I realized once again why the length of games was such an attraction. It was tough to balance TV sports viewing with parenthood, but soccer was the exhilarating exception. With my new TiVo I could watch an entire game in 90 minutes by skipping halftime.

Nowadays, I’m more of a fan of the game itself—and more appreciative of the skill and style of the players—than any impact it may have on my daily planner. My heart soared in 2002 when the U.S. beat Mexico to reach the quarterfinals against the mighty Germans. In 2006, I was genuinely angry when we failed to advance out of the group stage. And this year, I felt my hamstring twinge when Jozy Altidore went down in our first match.

With the impressive ratings generated by this year’s World Cup, I suspect that a new generation of TV producers are finding many more reasons to fall in love with the beautiful game.

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