We’re officially in striking distance of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A decent enough hamstring strain has the potential to linger into the opening group stage games at this point. One of the traditions around World Cup years in the United States is the media asking whether or not this cycle is going to be the time where it all clicks and propels the sport onto the major national scene. True soccer fans and the Average Joe seem to be united in their outrage at this particular question being constantly thrown in their faces every four years. I’d like to argue that maybe soccer fans should embrace the question and hope for this to be the major breakthrough into the consciousness of the Average Joe or Jane.
These games will all be while we are awake and engaged. World Cup 2010 was decent enough for people living on the east coast, but still was not ideal. The typical weekday 2010 schedule was 7:30am ET, 10:00am ET, and 2:30pm ET. Those times basically wiped out two West Coast viewing opportunities immediately and had an entire slot taking place during a usual ET commute. This year, Noon ET is the earliest start time for a World Cup 2014 game. That’s absolutely huge on a national scale. The opening Saturday should make a strong impression as mother ship ABC will be broadcasting two soccer matches from noon until 5:00pm ET and that leads into two more on ESPN from 6:00pm until 11:00pm ET.
Social media will have an impact on this front. I can only go on personal experience, but Twitter specifically started as a platform for following celebrities, athletes, and news outlets and has evolved into much more than that. I’m now over the 500 mark as far as who I’m following and that includes my friends, people with similar interests, writers, satire accounts, and things that are just plain hard to categorize. It ticks a lot of boxes and affects my life in ways that it didn’t do in 2010. I’ve long since ditched following Kim Kardashian and any boring athletes and follow the ones that have unique and interesting takes. Average Joe won’t be able to escape the World Cup tweets in June and people are too attached to their accounts to avoid it for a whole month. ESPN is such a strong brand that has massive amounts of credibility with the masses that the World Cup will be staring at you in some form in every direction that you turn. Their strong production and incredible on-air talent selection should be a major boost as far as engaging fans as well.
Timing is crucial for anything to gain traction and the World Cup is in a near-perfect slot to take advantage in this country. The NBA Finals will be winding down as the World Cup starts and the games will never go head to head. I’d venture to guess that water cooler and call-in radio talk will be split down the middle with the NBA Finals in the first week and then the stage belongs to soccer. What that leaves is Major League Baseball alone. The big three of American sports have all embraced replay reviews and dozens and dozens of commercials to increase their revenue. Soccer must be licking its collective lips when it comes to that as the gameplay will stand in stark contrast to the downward spiral American sports have gone in. Tournaments are also perfect for capturing the imagination of any group of fair weather fans and this can be seen in the differences between regular season college basketball ratings and the NCAA tournament.