San Francisco Bay Area

Yeah, yeah, you're wondering whether I flunked geography. Hey, like our ex-President Ronald Reagan, I too know that the capital of Brazil is Buenos Aires, so there!

The San Francisco Bay Area is also known the center of the universe. San Franciscans act that way, so it must be true.

However, despite a decent soccer tradition, the immediate Bay Area, is now essentially a soccer wasteland. There have been several attempts at professional level here, but all have ended in failure. The North American Soccer League (NASL) once had franchises in Oakland ("Clippers", "Stompers") and San Jose ("Earthquakes"), but it was a race to see whether the club or league would go belly up first. The latest attempt was the Major Soccer League's San Jose Earthquakes , sensational MLS Champions in 2001. However, by 2006 the league decided to abandon San Jose and move the club to that soccer hotbed of Houston. But evidently they decided that wasn't a good idea, so they granted San Jose a new franchise, which started up in 2008 as...the Earthquakes.

The 2nd level the USISL San Francisco Bay Seals created some noise, especially in the Cup, but folded back in 2000. Rumour has it that the old owners are trying to start over, but they might as well save their cash, since nobody was interested even the first time around. There are a couple of other lower level USISL clubs within a few hours driving distance, but nobody cares. If you want to actually play, you can check out the San Francisco Football Soccer League, which was founded in 1902.


The reality is that most European clubs are not big draws here in California - unless they're playing a Mexican team. So Barcelona comes to town and plays Club America of Mexico City at AT&T Park in front of 50,000, of which 49,000 are Aguilas supporters. It's common for clubs from Mexico and to a lesser extent Central America to draw huge crowds for friendlies, although if Chivas and Aguilas play, it's not likely to be too "friendly". However, unless you speak Spanish, you probably won't hear about it, since it's largely ignored in the Anglo media.

On the TV:

Things have improved quite a bit in the US since the dreary days past. It is now possible to see quite a bit of soccer, even some Bundesliga games, along with the top Euro competitions. The best is generally FOX SOCCER CHANNEL (Fox Sports Español in Spanish). This is basically 24 hrs soccer, and once ruled the (cable) airwaves. The used to have other great events, such as Tri-Nations rugby, or one of the world's best sports, Aussie Rules Football. (No, it's not soccer with more beer drinking.) However, as rivals sprung up, Fox dumped non-soccer coverage and also lost rights to various leagues, and aside from their dominant coverage of the English Premier League, they've become just another contender. They've been filling up their air time with crap college men's and women's soccer, in between their incessant "make a zillion dollars at home" and "better than viagra" commercials. In 2006, they still had the Argentine Primera and some Serie A (only crappy teams, from Sicily mostly). However, the lineup seemingly changes from year to year, so you never know.

Most importantly, in 2006 the Bundesliga moved over to rival GolTV, which also has the Spanish Primera. GolTV is a Spanish-speaking centric network (run by former Uruguay great Enzo Francescoli), so they've gobbled up most of the Latin American leagues as well. They broadcast in both English and Spanish.

These days, just about every sports pub has a satellite/cable package that carries FSC, and so there's a decent chance you'll be able to see some soccer. Otherwise watch ESPN-2 reruns of the 1995 strongest man competition, interspersed with an occasional Champions League clash. ESPN and ESPN-2 are basically worthless except for occasional Champions League coverage. They also might show the odd MLS game. Of the major networks, only ABC ever show anything, usually the US national and the World Cup. The local affiliate is KGO-7.

The two major Spanish networks are readily available in most of the Bay Area. Univision, and it's local affiliate, KDTV-14, is the leading Spanish network and you can find it everywhere. Usual soccer programming includes Spanish language MLS matches, Liga Mexicana on Sundays, and the occasional international match. They also have the Spanish rights to the World Cup and they ALWAYS do a better job than the gringo networks. Plus they'll usually have scantily clad women competing for something like "Senorita Republica Deportiva" par for the course...

Telemundo (KSTS-48) is the poor cousin, but is available on most cable systems. Nevertheless, Telemundo has strong soccer programming. Sundays usually feature 1-2 Mexican League matches and occasionally Saturday night is "Sabado de Futbol", which varies, but usually a big match from South America or Europe. One note about the Spanish announcers is that they are given to hyberbole, as every goal is inevitably a "GOLAZO!!!!", even though it might have bounced off a defenders face and dribbled across the line.

In 2002, two additional Spanish language networks were added to the mix. Telefutura is affiliated with Univision, and has some decent soccer matches when not showing crappy dubbings of American B movies. Azteca America is affiliated with Mexico's TV Azteca, and basically gets all their programming directly from Mexico. The sports is usually pretty good, and Sunday evening has a good roundtable discussion among journalists of the weekend's Mexican soccer matches. The weakpoint is that they all wear white shirts and ties and never say "chingadera" or "chinga-te", so they can't be real Mexicans. They're just like their pompous Yanqui counterparts, but at least they don't have goofballs like Terry Bradshaw.

You can try switching to KMTP-32 at various times, which usually has some Deutsche Welle programming. If you're lucky, they'll have some soccer highlights. Otherwise, you'll be treated to a surprisingly informative Unser Freund, der Otter documentary or art theater where nutty people put bags over their heads and dance around. WTF?! If I were Deutsche Welle, I would actually hide this crap and put on more soccer, then foreigners around the world would actually WANT to watch their show. And before you know it, they would be signing up for German lessons, and hanging out at San Francisco's Goethe Institut reading books about art theater where people put bags on their heads and dance around...oh forget it.

Good pubs:

The SF Bay Area is blessed with perhaps the best concentration of microbreweries and brewpubs in the United States. A good 40 are within an hour or so driving distance. For a list of pubs that "brew their own", consult Ken Papai's Northern California Brew Pub list

Soccer in the pub is still pretty much Brit oriented, for the obvious reason that if you go to an Irish or English pub, you'd expect to see their long ball kickabout. If it's an American Sports Pub, they're guaranteed to have multiple screens, odds are one will be tuned to a soccer station. And of course, during major events like the World Cup, any place that has a TV will probably have it...

If you speak Spanish, major South American events usually mean satellite coverage at the various bars in the "Mission" area of SF. Just don't jump up and down and yell "GOL!!" when somebody scores against Mexico.

Other (minor) Sports

Aside from soccer, the visitor may want to check out some of the minor sports played in the Bay Area. It terms of American Football, during the season of August-December, you have your choice of the ex-powerhouse San Francisco 49ers and the sleazy Oakland Raiders. It used to be almost impossible to get a ticket for the 49ers, but since they've sucked in recent years, you can usually get tickets. If you are inclined, remember that the cheapest seats are $50. The Raiders are currently not a problem, although if they start playing half-way decent (not much chance of that!), you won't find tickets there either. In the college ranks, University of California Berkeley and Stanford are worth checking out. Both play in huge stadiums (70,000 plus), so a ticket is rarely a problem - unless they are playing each other in the "derby", The Big Game.

For baseball, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics . The A's are arguably the better team, but it's pretty easy to get tickets, which will be around $10-$20, cheaper for bleachers. The Giants inaugurated a beautiful new downtown stadium, PacBell Park in 2000, and this quickly became on of the hottest tickets. This lasted for several years, but these days you can usually get a ticket without much of a premium, if any. You'll be rewarded with a seat the nicest stadium for any sport in the US. Half the time crowds are wandering around admiring the park rather than watching the game. The other half they're standing in line to get beer, hehehe.

Professional Basketball is not played in the Bay Area, unless you consider that sorry ass excuse for a team, the Golden State Warriors. They suck - haven't made the playoffs since Dirk Nowitzki went through puberty. (OK, they finally broke a 13 year streak, but then went back to sucking). If you want to waste your money, don't blame us. You'll pay through the nose for the "privilege". Instead, check out one of the local colleges. Cal and Stanford are usually competitive, and occasionally the smaller schools like USF, St.Mary's, Santa Clara and San Jose State have decent teams.

Ice Hockey, as represented by the NHL is a bit different from Europe. The objective is to skate around and get in fights. The locals are the San Jose Sharks. They're generally pretty good, but expect to pay an outrageous amount for a ticket. More entertaining is professional wrestling, and the ticket is about the same. It's not that wimpy European Greco-Roman stuff, but where the bad guys hit their opponents over the head with a chair. It may be less violent than hockey, but is more fun because you aren't distracted by the puck going into the net and the red light going off.

(c) Abseits Guide to Germany :