Soccer or should we say football or futbol as it is known as in all other countries but the United States has long been the world’s chosen pass time sport…again with the exception of the U.S. Since 1994, when the U.S., hosted the FIFA World Cup, Americans have begun to slowly embrace the sport. ‘‘FIFA President Joao Havelange was bidding to conquer football’s final frontier and it proved the right decision with the event attracting a record total attendance of 3,587,538 spectators.” Can you believe there was no professional U.S. soccer league at the time? Additionally, the United States had not participated in a World Cup for quite some time…40 years!!! Needless to say there were many in the soccer world that were not too pleased about this location choice and even more who had little confidence in a U.S. soccer team. This freshman U.S. team managed to shock the soccer fans by beating Trinidad and Tobago in their qualifying match, but had a lack luster performance for the rest of the World Cup.
Fast forward to 2014, America joined the rest of the world in eagerly anticipating the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. ABC/ESPN paid $100 million to broadcast English-language FIFA events from 2007 to 2014, and Univision paid $325 million to broadcast in Spanish (Latin Americans are more likely to be soccer fans), contributing to the record breaking viewing numbers which included the USA vs. Portugal (24.7 million viewers) and USA vs. Belgium (21.6 million viewers) matches. Many wondered if Americans would continue to watch the World Cup after Team USA’s loss to Belgium. Well Americans not only tuned in, but set yet another World Cup record when viewing the Germany vs. Argentina 2014 World Cup Final, with an aggregate total of 27.280 million viewers, surpassing the record set by the U.S.-Portugal match. Additionally, America is second to Brazil with 57 million versus 61 million viewers, when it comes to the number of fans that were watching World Cup Video Campaigns on YouTube. Mexico takes third place with 50 million viewers. Fans from U.S.A., the country that is supposedly not fond of soccer, brought a total of 196,838 World Cup tickets, the largest number of buyers outside of Brazil, and second to the host country’s 1,363,179 bought tickets. While the U.S. World Cup journey ended with a loss, the team gave new and old fans a thrilling show, which included star player and goalkeeper, Tim Howard, who managed a record breaking 16 saves, the most in a World Cup match since 2002, thus adding more excitement to the event and sport.
Numbers don’t lie; American interest in the sport of soccer is growing.
Hmm…is soccer vying for the favorite American sport spot? Will the sport eventually attract the same amount of attention as other popular American sports; American football, basketball or baseball? Let’s take a look at the attendance numbers for the NBA finals, the World Series and the Super Bowl versus the World Cup. Several of the individual 2014 World Cup matches alone surpassed both the 2014 NBA finals (18 million) and the 2013 World Series (14.9 million) in number of viewers. However, American football still stands strong at the top with a whopping 111.5 million viewers for the 2014 Super Bowl. This is significantly more than the number of viewers that watched the World Cup; but does this mean soccer has no hope of reaching such heights in the U.S.?
There are those who strongly believe, soccer can never be a great a success in the United States for an extended period of time and most definitely think there is no way it could surpass American football. Let’s not be too quick to discount the growing popularity of soccer in America. The increase of interest in soccer is no accident. There are some plausible reasons as to why interest in the sport is growing starting with the changing demographics of the country and the increasing numbers of first and second generation American citizens whose parents are Latin American, the second largest population of immigrants, along with European, African and Caribbean soccer lovers. This is also the same population that played a significant role in electing and reelecting the country’s first African American president. It stands to reason that this group may eventually also impact the tide of American sports. If you are still not sold, put your magnifying glass on this melting pot called American culture. Chinese and Jamaican restaurants have become common place in many American communities. Depending on where you live and shop; if you want to try your hand at cooking a foreign dish you may be able to find some of the ingredients in your local grocery store. In March, Americans of all races and cultures throughout the country are clad in green and enjoying St. Patrick Day festivities, the annual celebration of Irish culture. Next time you flip through your cable channels, check out the growing number targeting Hispanic viewers. Clothing stores, high to low end, are filled with racks of fashions infused with African and Asian patterns. Still think this soccer thing is just a passing phase? Take a look at the America’s youth…the next generation of spectators and athletes. The increase in American viewership of the World Cup has already been attributed largely to the youth.
In the U.S., soccer is a youth-driven sport; about 70 percent of “core” soccer players – those who play 26 or more times a year – are ages 6-17, according to the most recent numbers from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
Of the 3.1 million tweets about the U.S. vs. Ghana game… 53 percent of them came from people 18-34, according to Nielsen Social. And 69 percent of people checking in on their Facebook accounts from host cities in Brazil were in that age group.
Additionally, a significant number of these young fans and players are the offspring of the aforementioned first and second generation Americans. Soccer in the U.S. has not received nearly the same amount of attention from advertisers or schools and universities grooming the next generation of athletes as the game of American football. As more and more educational institutions, companies and advertising agencies try to reach this current multicultural young generation, it is very possible we could start to see a change and an even larger increase in the number of American soccer lovers.
Is America’s soccer fever over? We think not! While American football is most definitely still the country’s favorite sport, we should not be surprised if the demand for soccer one day grows to attract same number of spectators. We say to the soccer haters like conservative political commentator Ann Coulter and company, who think the sport is un-American, what is wrong with enjoying both!