On Monday, major news agency Reuters published a poll stating two out of three Americans do not plan to follow this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, suggesting the U.S. men’s soccer team’s home support “may be tepid at best.”
Using the poll to make a claim of soccer’s lack of popularity in the United States – a fun narrative sports writers have run into the ground over the last decade – illustrates a stunning lack of context from the prestigious news organization.
First, the results imply that one-third of Americans do plan on following the event, which, by some very basic math, calculates to around 105 million individuals. That is not a small amount.
For the sake of comparison, during the NFL’s conference championship weekend, two weekends before the Super Bowl, 80 percent of Americans said they had no interest in the country most popular sport. The NFC and AFC title games did more than fine.
On Twitter, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl pointed out that the United States pays the highest amount of any country for World Cup broadcast rights and that television audiences in the States have exceeded those for the NBA Finals and World Series.
The narrative driven by this Reuters article also ignores the steady rise in soccer’s popularity in the United States. Among 12-24 year olds, soccer ranked second in 2012 only to the NFL in popularity, surpassing the NBA, MLB and college football. Even the MLS, which is more than a year younger than I am, has caught the MLB in popularity among teenagers. Repeat. College-aged domestic soccer league is as popular among 12-17 year olds as America’s 145-year-old pastime.
The negative framing of soccer’s popularity in the United States is a lazy narrative from the ‘90s written with little awareness of comparative levels of audience ratings. Anywhere close to 100 million Americans tuning into the World Cup match, would have the executives at ESPN popping champagne.
If World Cup ticket sales and the general growth of the sport in the United States are any indicator, the men’s national team’s support when they take the pitch June 16 against Ghana will be anything but tepid.