Can The World Cup Create New American Soccer Fans?

In a little over a week, a tournament will commence that millions around the world wait for during an excruciatingly long four-year period.  It’s a contest that players, coaches, and fans take immense interest in, and even elicits mild curiosity from the casual spectator.  Many follow the progress of their national teams in the four year intervals, eagerly watching their development until the time comes when the squad is finally announced: the twenty-three that will represent their country on the world’s largest stage.

This year, the stage is set in Brazil and the World Cup kicks off in Sao Paulo with the host nation playing Croatia. It’s a moment that has been anticipated since the finale of the 2010 edition when Spain lifted the trophy in South Africa and proclaimed themselves champions of the world. It almost seems like an eternity ago, doesn’t it?

It was a moment to appreciate the present, reflecting on all the matches the summer had offered and the brilliance the world had seen in each one, but it was also a time to envision what the following World Cup would offer. Brazil seemed so far off, yet so near.  With the history the country offers as the all-time leading champion, Brazil presents itself as a land of intrigue and infinite possibilities with its size and diversity.

Since the moment FIFA announced the 2014 World Cup would be hosted by Brazil, the reaction to the news was a complete mixture of appreciation and derision. Much of the negativity stemmed from within the borders of Brazil, interestingly enough, and focused heavily on the construction of the new stadiums built specifically for the tournament.  With costs skyrocketing past initial expectations, deadlines falling drastically behind schedule, entire neighborhoods moved out due to their decrepit appearances and proximity to the venues, and numerous injuries and deaths resulting from poor working conditions, the entire affair had many wondering whether the contest would even be a positive experience.

Does the World Cup provide dreams of a bright summer and even brighter future, or simply undelivered promises hidden underneath the hype and expectations?

It’s interesting the differing perspectives and opinions that a single event can create; however, it’s not too difficult to grasp as the World Cup literally affects the activities of entire nations that live and breathe soccer. Businesses cut hours, people skip work, crowds gather at bars, pubs, and restaurants (anywhere with access to a television and alcohol), and soon the chants begin. National anthems, players’ names, the tournament’s official song—it could be anything, as long as it fuels the fire of passion.

As the opening date of the group stage draws near, it doesn’t take long to notice people on the streets sporting the jerseys and waving the flags of their country. It’s a moment to take pride in your nation as the selected players represent you.

Any time the prestigious tournament rolls around, the sport catches the attention of the United States for a brief amount of time. Numerous television networks fight for the broadcasting rights, as the ratings for soccer seem to soar during the period despite never recreating those strong numbers any other time of the year. It begs the question of, “does the U.S. have a passionate enough of a following to warrant any success the team may garner in the tournament?”

Soccer still lags far behind the major sports in this country in terms of viewership and attendance, despite the recent trends of growth that suggest a shift could occur in the near future. It’s safe to say there are more than enough eyeballs on the one month that consists of the World Cup, but how about the other times of the year when Major League Soccer is in session?

It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason why the average American will tune into the World Cup and cheer on their team but insists on ignoring the existence of a league within the country’s borders. It may be a lack of awareness and perhaps some teams have yet to reach out and publicize themselves enough in their area to get more fans in the stadium.

Maybe there isn’t a team nearby for them to cheer for. MLS consists of 19 teams at the moment, with two more to join for the 2015 season, and another arriving two years later.  Some of these teams are filling holes in the map where the lack of a professional soccer team is very apparent. It seems Commissioner Don Garber has made it his mission at the moment to focus on expanding to the Southeast, where previous teams folded at the start of the millennium, and also gain teams in bigger markets to feed more money into the league.

MLS isn’t the richest league in the world by any means, which might be a reason why it hasn’t caught on yet because it doesn’t have the same amount of reach as the Premier League or La Liga. That by no means negates MLS’s development, which has been incredible since its inception in 1996, as the number of teams has nearly doubled and the level of play has vastly improved. The fact remains, though, that the sport can’t acquire the TV deals it desires to extend to broader audiences. Networks that broadcast MLS games seem to only acquire a dozen from the entire slate of games and, of the teams chosen, there doesn’t appear to be much diversity.

There is no doubt that the average MLS follower most likely is a fan of the U.S. national team and will watch every single match it participates in this summer. A typical MLS fan seems to be well-versed in the sport, watching the games of other teams in the league, following the play of various leagues around the world, as well as observing the progress of several different national teams. Perhaps this is no different than any other soccer fan from another part of the world, but the point is that there seems to be a certain type of passion that only exists within a soccer fan, as opposed to a fan of another sport.

Soccer fans seem to be the ones most willing to jump up and down, scream, wear the colors of their team, and stay proud regardless of a win or tie. They never give up, and this attitude continues to be reflected when it comes to the national team as well. The connection of the love of your soccer team and the love of your country is tied together because every four years the players you follow take part in the most important games of their lives.

This type of fanaticism and passion seems limited in the U.S. as the majority of the population hardly pays attention to the sport anyway. So the question remains if the future of soccer within the United States is a bright one or not. Does it have a tough road to complete in order to garner more fans, to create a tough, competitive league that can win over the casual viewers and make admirers out of them?

The World Cup is the battleground, not only for the U.S. national team in Brazil, but also for the popularity of the sport amongst Americans. Will this be the year that more people take an interest and wonder who are these faces representing them down in South America, what teams they play for, what their histories are, or why they’ve been chosen as opposed to others?

If soccer can pose these kinds of questions to its audience then the road to soccer’s success in America will be much easier.

32 thoughts on “Can The World Cup Create New American Soccer Fans?”

  1. I’m mostly in agreement with you about the general concept of the World Cup being an entry point for new soccer fans. That’s how I got into soccer.

    But where I diverge from you is this notion that American soccer fans must be fans of MLS because it’s our league.

    I love local soccer, but I’m talking about LOCAL soccer where you can have a team that you own season tickets to. If I lived in an MLS city, I’d be a season ticket holder for that club.

    But, the closest MLS team to me is ~6 hours away. That’s not local. So, I own season tickets to my nearest team (USL-PDL) which is only about 45 minutes from my house.

    I’ve tried to watch MLS on TV, but it’s just not that good on TV. It’s not terrible, but on TV it honestly does pale next to the really big European leagues and without some local connection, I can’t get into it. I have had a MLS Direct subscription for years and always renew thinking THIS WILL BE THE YEAR….and it just won’t happen. Maybe I’ll fall for one of the new clubs like NYCFC or Beckham’s team?

    I don’t mean this to slam on MLS. I don’t watch lots of the soccer that is on TV from countries like Scotland, France, Mexico, etc. I just think its a little unfair to equate soccer fandom with supporting MLS because much of the country lives in places that MLS doesn’t (and won’t) serve.

    1. In San Diego most of my the people i know watch Tijuana Xolos in Liga MX over LA Galaxy. ( we do have San Diego Flash but no one knows about them…)

    2. I agree with you, Dean. You don’t have to be an MLS supporter/fan to be a soccer fan.

      When I moved to the US a decade ago, I tried to watch MLS but the quality wasn’t really good. Of course it has improved but I just don’t feel the connection, plus with no local team – it’s hard.

  2. Survive this group and anything could happen. Dare to dream and the rest of America will get onboard.

      1. You’re damn right we won’t. Soccer blows. And we Americans know it. Your sport sucks, and anyone who plays it or likes it sucks.

  3. Even if the USA won the World Cup, by the time the NFL/college football season rolled around the majority of the nation will have forgotten about it. Sort of like the recent Winter Olympics, most people couldn’t tell who won what medals in what event etc. Soccer would be treated the same.

    1. As soon as the World Cup is over, all of the European club teams will be here playing across the United States, which will lead into the Premier League season, so even if the US did well in the World Cup, I would argue that the European teams would profit the most from the exposure and excitement.

      1. Aren’t you the soccer loving-douchebag who said that soccer would become a mainstream sport in the U.S. after the World Cup 4 years ago? How’s that dumb-as-hell prediction working out for you? Or are you still delusional about soccer’s chances for acceptance in the American mainstream, which are realistically zero?

        1. I consider soccer a mainstream sport in the United States.

          Do you only come out every four years?

        2. man, that was rude. yeah, every year is “the year America will fall in love with soccer”, and I don’t see it happening, and no, its not a mainstream sport really, but, why so hard on this guy just because he likes a game you, and most of us for that matter, don’t?

          (note, I am here trying to get a little info on what the fuss is about…gotta’ talk to foreign clients. I at least need to sound informed when I explain that I don’t follow the game. why some people hate soccer so much they feel a need to troll soccer websites and be rude makes no sense to me)

    2. Sad but true…For as much as I feel the popularity of the US team has grown I still come across more people that could care less then the people who do. Its a niche sport and I am ok with that.

      1. Agreed. If soccer became mainstream, I’d probably lose my nut. I like the fact that footy is the proverbial rock band no-one knows about yet.

  4. For the most part, it’s a generational thing, as well as a class thing. Soccer is simply not popular within most working class communities outside immigrant enclaves. It’s a middle class suburban pursuit that is typically dropped when they go off to college.

    African-Americans don’t even play baseball anymore, let alone soccer.

    Most people over 40 don’t care about it or are even outwardly hostile to it.

    The thing that has been and will continue to establish an enduring foothold for the sport in this country is the ubiquity of coverage of top leagues, primarily the English Premier League.

    13 year old kids know who Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo are, etc. It’s an important foundation, just the acceptance of the sport as a real global force.

    The future of the sport lies with the youth, who are embracing it more and more with each passing year. But we are still in an age where USA World Cup qualifiers don’t even get a mention in papers, or on SportsCenter. The rest of the world know more about our team than we do.

    Plenty of watching, learning, waiting, teaching to do. It will happen, but it will take another 30 years.

    1. That’s what people like you were saying 30 years ago. It didn’t work out then. And they were saying it 40 years ago, 50 years ago, 60, 70, etc. etc.

      And it’s never happened.

      And it never will.

      Suck it, soccer fans. The United States is immune to your colossally boring sport, and always will be. That was the case 100 years ago, and it will be the case 100 years from now. Actually, let me call it a “sport,” since I don’t even believe soccer qualifies as a real sport anyway.

  5. I fixed the error in your article title. “Can The World Cup Create New American Football Fans?”

  6. I think World Cup is a good opportunity to introduce soccer to the non-fans as long as they have open minds about soccer.

    I certainly didn’t expect this kind of growth of soccer in the last 4-5 years. But I can see soccer becoming mainstream in the future.

    1. It’s probably one of the most egalitarian sports: everyone can play. If you’re not fast, tall, big, you can still play it, unlike football and basketball.
    2. It’s cheap compared to football and hockey.
    3. It still has a good reputation (at least for now). You don’t see steroid issues like in baseball or substance abuse issues at football. At least it’s relatively clean (although I’m not really sure what actions have been taken to protect soccer from this issue).
    4. It’s relatively “safe” especially considering a lot has been covered regarding concussions and other brain-related impacts due to football (and baseball).

    One thing I am afraid of is the overexposure. Let soccer grow naturally. Also, I hope the right owners are not greedy by charging tons of money to fans. That’s one of the problems with boxing: it’s almost unaffordable because almost everything is on PPV and these PPVs cost tons of money

    1. Soccer’s issue is match fixing which is almost not heard of in most US sports these days. I think the most recent match fixing incident was that NBA ref influencing the point spread.

      1. I agree with the match fixing issue but US fans are not affected by match fixing in the minor leagues around the world. If it happens in the major league, then the sports is going to be in big trouble.

    2. Soccer is a sport for privileged, white hipster douchebags. It will never catch on within the United States, thank god.

  7. It must certainly can. I was not a soccer fan before the 2010 World cup even though I played soccer as a kid. Now I am nuts about the game.

  8. if the USMNT do poorly, no.

    can the world cup create new american soccer fans? maybe in 2018 or 2022.

  9. MLS popularity is not a measure of soccer popularity in America. There are more fans of soccer in America than MLS fans as proven by the fact EPL games get far higher ratings in the US than MLS because their is a large amount American soccer fans who ignore the the domestic league because it is of a lower standard compared to the elite league.

    I think it will be the number 2 sport in America once the generations of Americans that never saw soccer on TV or in media die out. A large reason why soccer isn’t as big as the major sports in American is because it got nowhere near the coverage and exposure in the US media. The internet has forced US media outlets to give soccer more coverage as they chase ratings when more young people use the internet for entertainment instead of TV.

    Americans are bigger patriots than sports fans. I think what it will take for soccer to explode in the USA is either the US team reach the final or semi-final of the world cup or the USA produces a world class player the big clubs around the world would want. That first US world class player would probably be the most valuable player in the world. Cycling a very minor sport became really popular just because Lance Armstong was the best at it. Imagine how big soccer would be already with a large support base, if the US was one of the top teams or had one of the best players in the world.

    1. You must be delusional. For over a century, soccer-loving losers like you have been saying that the U.S. would eventually adopt soccer. It’s never happened. And guess what – it never will. Soccer = communist kickball. It’s as un-American a sport as you can find. And all those young people you’re counting on to become soccer fans? When they grow up, they’ll become football, basketball, baseball, and hockey fans. Just like every other generation of Americans has. And you soccer-loving losers will be left out in the cold, as always. Then what will you do? ROFL!

      1. Jeez QuileTown! You sound like you’re fixated on hating football. Even if it doesn’t catch on in the US so what? But I rather think it will. As for MLS, here’s a little secret. People like me who live outside the US have actually started following the MLS. There are some decent teams and players in it now. As for it not being a sport, here’s where I’ll task you. Go and play football for 45 minutes even at a local level. If you can last that long… come back here and vituperate… blowhard

  10. Correct Jordan. You make good points. I too believe this world cup will be a massive trigger for young American soccer players and my reasons are below:

    1. They will see that US is, well, far behind the level that will be needed to compete with teams of the likes of Germany and Portugal.

    2. Most of the kids and young folks I coach have massive egos. They hate to lose. That’s just in their blood. They will do anything to win and for that I commend them. After seeing gloom faces of US players, I can absolutely sense that there will be a young American “Messi” brewing somewhere.

    3. After the thrashing that they are going to receive from Portugal and Germany, US soccer federation will know that it’s the solid foundation that is necessary for the future to build a very strong side competing with the best team in the world, and US is no where near it at the moment.

    I would like to add few more but I think these are mostly my reasons that a massive change in US will curtail following this world cup.

    1. Yeah that will never happen. Soccer blows, Americans know it, and soccer will never catch on in the United States. It will fail here like it always does. Suck it, soccer fans.

      1. Hey buddy it seems you have too much time on your hands. how about you go back to playing Xbox in your mom’s basement.

  11. Having followed football since 1959, I have seen the sport grow slowly since fox started broadcasting matches. I cannot see the sport truly catching on in America until we have a world class training system as the Europeans have. Coaches need to know the game, have played the game and are passionate about it. It cannot be the Dad who drew the short straw. On the positive side, we seem to be able to produce a world class keeper,and decent central defenders. Now when we can produce central attacking mids and strikers, we’ll be on to something.

  12. Soccer is a way of identifying as somehow un-American. It’s how professional class whites show they have risen above the provincial sports of Americans and how Hispanics show that they still identify with their home countries. It’s a way to be un-American without saying so.

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