WORLD CUP WORRIERS

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With the opening matches of World Cup 1994 only days away, some advertisers backing coverage of the soccer championship in the U.S. reportedly are worried that Americans aren't showing much interest in the event.

If they expected the promotional buildup to turn this into a nation of soccer enthusiasts, they were mistaken. This is soccer; this is the U.S. Patience is needed here.

The time to take a look is when the games are over-after Americans have had the opportunity to watch, in person or on TV, the sport that has captivated most of the rest of the world. If ABC's and ESPN's coverage helps explain the finer points of the game to American viewers, and some engaging soccer personalities emerge, Americans might well catch the fever.

Even the Super Bowl did not become a centerpiece of TV sports viewing right away. That came when Joe Namath boldly delivered on his promise to lead the New York Jets to victory over heavily favored Baltimore in Super Bowl III.

Personalities give drama to sports events. The highest TV rating ever for soccer coverage in the U.S. came in 1977, when the legendary Pele played his final game for the New York Cosmos. Olympics coverage has always centered on personalities; look what Olga Korbet did for gymnastics and Mark Spitz for swimming.

And, of course, if the U.S. team does well in the World Cup ... well, you can't beat a "miracle" for attracting an audience.

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