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How Popular Is The World Cup?

wesley sneijder How Popular Is The World Cup?

As the 2010 World Cup approaches like a runaway train down a slick international track, a mob of detractors and naysayers are queuing up a mile long to have their say against the legitimacy of soccer in the USA and across the world. At times, the very purpose and existence of the World Cup is unknown to naive and uneducated Americans (yes, believe it or not, there are unsuspecting Americans who know nothing of what this tournament even is).

Since we all know football fans and us at EPL Talk aren’t ones to go quietly into the night, here are some useful statistics you can arm yourself with when encountering the unbelievers and the unconvinced.

According to the official FIFA site:

  • FACT: Just under a total cumulative audience of 27 billion (26.29) football fans world wide viewed the 2006 World Cup which was close to equal to that of the ’98 tournament hosted in France. When the tournament was held on the continent of Asia in 2002, the numbers were just slightly lower at a TV audience of 26.4 billion. A lot of people are watching the World Cup.

Some detractors may scoff at you when you throw world-wide viewing figures at them. They’ll probably say something along the lines of, “Sure, the rest of the world cares about soccer, but we don’t.” To that judgmental and blanketed statement, you could reply, “Not true, my close-minded friend.” Because in fact, and according to Infront Sports & Media:

  • FACT: In the States, the Argentina-Mexico match during the 2006 World Cup was the single most watched sports telecast in the history of US Spanish-language television, some 6.7 million viewers.
  • FACT: According to Reuters, the average match during the 2006 World Cup gained 2.6 million viewers per match which was an increase of 65% in viewership when compared to the 2002 tournament. Unequivocal proof that the World Cup is not only watched, but is relevant programing that is growing at a more than healthy rate.
  • FACT: More people world wide care about the World Cup Final than the Super Bowl. The 2006 Final between Italy and France was viewed by some 260 million people while the Super Bowl was viewed by 98 million — and 92 million of those were US viewers. This great stat puts into perspective the power of the World Cup when compared to the Super Bowl – which in many an Americans eyes, is the be all and end all of sporting events.

Detractors still may point out the fact that the US National team isn’t that good and that’s why people don’t care about the World Cup. Although they’ve yet to win the Cup and failed to progress out of their group in 2006, the USA may not be that far away from seriously competing on a global scale. First off, again according to FIFA:

  • FACT: The US is the country with the second most people who play soccer in a year. About 24 million Americans play soccer which is just behind China’s 26 million. Sure, many of those 24 million are children and teenagers who are raised in youth soccer and recreational leagues. However, with a talent pool that large to pick from when those same youth age to more competitive levels, the US could in fact have a clear cut advantage. In fact, soccer is the fastest rising sport in the United States. Which leads us to:

Many readers of EPL Talk have heard of or read Simon Kuper’s recent book Soccernomics. In it, Kuper states that the balance of power from traditional European nations could very well be shifting in the near future based on three factors – population, wealth and experience.

The United States, China and India may soon be the benefactors of these shifting variables if Kuper is to be believed, and I must say, the guy is pretty smart. Kuper, who is in fact a realist, in a recent interview with the New York Times cites the lack of great coaching in America as a potential downfall yet clearly states a path to success for the US and others to potentially emerge as new world powers:

Some people take the view that the U.S. needs an American coach. I don’t think that’s correct. The best coaching week in and week out is in Western Europe, and the U.S. needs to adopt the best practices. And if you want to win, send all your best players to play in Europe and hire all your coaches from Europe.”

So what’s to be discerned from all that?

Some of the top minds in world football are taking America seriously when it comes to the potential of this nation in the future of International competitions. This is the ammunition you can use to load your soccer-loving guns with and aim towards the haters. The States need only to continue on the path they’re on as their ever-increasing talent pool, wealth and experience grow to potentially be unmatched by current world powers.

I’ll be excited to see the staggering television viewership numbers for US audiences when the 2010 World Cup wraps later this summer. If trends seen in recent tournaments continue, audiences will be bursting at the seems in July and will likely overflow into MLS and other popular leagues throughout Europe. One can easily see the snowball effect that will occur when young kids take to the pitches of their local youth leagues emulating their American heroes who play abroad and hope to one day raise the World Cup trophy themselves.

Good luck in fighting the good fight.

Contact Jesse on Twitter @JesseChula


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