Footie fascination will fade

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

They're already calling David Beckham The Next Great One.

And while no one outside North America has a clue who the original Great One is, there couldn't be a more appropriate title for the L.A. Galaxy's newest midfielder.

Because in the end he'll have the same impact on pro soccer in the U.S. as Wayne Gretzky did on the NHL south of the border: Very little.

Oh sure, like Gretzky initially did for the Kings, at first Becks will surely "save" pro soccer in California. (Truth is, you can save almost anything in the world -- including Mel Gibson's career -- if you throw $250 million at it.)

Jay Leno spoke for the nation when he said of the signing, "I didn't even know L.A. had a soccer team."

So, yes, landing one of the most famous sportsmen of our time and his world-renowned wife is a marketing coup that garnered front-page headlines worldwide yesterday.

Although nowhere near one of the world's best anymore, his personality, good looks, marketability and fame allow him to transcend the sport he'll try popularizing while wearing Galaxy green and gold.

When you consider nothing matters more in America than fame (money is a close second) Beckham indeed has it all.

And America -- like the U.K. and every other country in which he's played -- won't be able to get enough of him.

He'll have a far bigger impact on hairstyles, casual wear and man-purses in the U.S. than he will on the game.

Of course he'll be able to ensure sellouts in every stadium he plays.

But it won't mean a damn for the balance of the MLS schedule that doesn't include him.

The fascination with Beckham won't translate into sustainable interest in the pro game because while he'll initially draw more eyeballs to his new team and league, it won't change the fact soccer in the U.S. is seen for what it is: A horrific bore.

By far the most popular participation sport in the U.S. and Canada for quite some time, the terrific pastime simply doesn't enjoy massive popularity at the U.S. pro level because it's a monotonous game of turf chess interspersed with the briefest of failed offensive forays and regular stops for wussiness.

There aren't enough goals or stats, there isn't enough action or contact and it doesn't make for compelling TV.

There's only one football in America.

Always will be.

The reason soccer enjoys unparallelled popularity elsewhere has much to do with the history of the game and the storied local clubs in every other corner of the globe.

There's civic or international pride involved with every match.

Not here.

The only history pro soccer has on this side of the pond is one of failure at every turn.

World Cup USA in 1994 drew record crowds for the same reason we watch luge or table tennis at the Olympics: It's all spectacle.

It failed to produce enough pro soccer fans to sustain a viable league, nor did the importing of Pele, Giorgio Canaglia or Franz Beckenbauer by the ill-fated NASL of the '70s.

Through TV, sports fans here are exposed to so many more entertaining sports to watch and play.

While they may tune in to watch the initial circus surrounding Beckham's new club, they'll leave disappointed to see he only touches the ball for the briefest of spurts in a soulless game destined to finish 1-0.

Despite Gretzky's brilliance on and off the ice, hockey currently sits somewhere between spelling bees and paintball championships in U.S. popularity.

Soccer is even farther down the list and having Beckham around won't change that.

Like his cologne, the novelty will quickly wear off.


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