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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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  1. David ilo

    July 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Soccer is big in poor nations like Argentina and brazil and Nigeria where people have soccer as a means to survive. Saying that uneducated Americans brush off soccer means you do not like Americans because of Americans economics and industrial power. You sound very English and your data is wrong. Superbowl final between steelers and seahawk brought in 1.059b viewers arround the world. You forgot that Chinese people love American lifestyle because on Americas success in manufacturing and world peace.
    FIFA is curropt like most things organised in Europe. Triesman reported the massive bribery and match fixing and predicted that Spain will win and he was told to resign. As curropt as Europeans are, people like you should not use uneducated Americans again. If you are jealous of Americans economic, manufacturing and political success then keep it to yourself and feel miserable like you English guys do. A small 1 bedroI’m flat is rented for 4000 dollars for a man earning an average salary of 4200 dollars and later you pay tv licence on top. I can see why you English never smiles

    • Realist

      April 4, 2014 at 3:32 am

      I think you are citing “potential” audience when talking about the Super Bowl ratings! But I can guarantee that outside of North America, it’s only got a cult following at best! And certainly most people don’t stop what they’re doing in much of the world because the Super Bowl is on, but MANY millions will stop for the World Cup – hell not even the Olympics can derail people’s plans so well! Mind you, I’m a Philly Eagles fan when it comes to NFL teams…

      Ask random people in Latin America, Europe, Africa, or Asia who is Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady and chances are you’ll get a blank look from most people’s faces. On the other hand ask them who David Beckham, Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo is, and most will have heard of them!

  2. kniteli

    June 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Its also a factor that concacaf really isn’t a very competitive area. U.S. and Mexico are the only true contenders in the region.

    One thing that is obvious though is that soccer is growing here, and growing fast. MLS is becoming popular in its own right with regularly sold out stadiums (in most areas…specifically NOT texas). Although the stadiums are smallish its still invigorating going to a brand new stadium that is fully packed.

    It’s also apparent that there is money being poured into the game with new teams coming almost every year nowadays.

    It’s also terrific that Canada and the U.S. created a joint league similar to hockey.

    Needless to say, I enjoy MLS and I’m happy to enjoy it while I wait for it to grow into one of the most popular sports here.

    As for those who say there is too much competition for the sport (football, baseball, basketball, etc.), it’s pretty much agreed that there is plenty of room for more teams and more sports. Cities like Los Angeles have been shown to be able to support up to 5(!) more teams of any sport pretty easily, and there are many cities that simply have no teams that are jumping onto soccer (Seattle and Portland come to mind).

    Things look good, things look very good indeed.

  3. gogorgol

    June 13, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Send our youth to Europe? Why not Argentina or Brazil? Some our Euro players just can’t trap a hard or high pass.

  4. Izzy

    June 3, 2010 at 1:56 am

    There will always be soccer naysayers here in the US. I admit I use to take it personally and try to defend my stance. Now I just let it go, as I always hear the same argument i.e. not enough scoring etc etc. I’ve come to realize that these ppl r just ignorant and its really their loss that they’re missing out on something special. For now i’ll enjoy our cult following 🙂 and for any casual fans who do show an open mind for the game, i always make sure to welcome them with open arms.

    this sport will grow. slowly but surely, is that gonna stop any of us from loving it as passionately as we do? hellz naah, lets just keep doing what were doing and educating those that want to learn more about it… as fans i don’t see what else more we can do to help grow the game here.

  5. Rob Donnelly

    June 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I moved to the states 6 years ago and now have a step son who is 7 and knew nothing about football until i came on the scene. After watching me ranting at the TV every Saturday morning he became more and more interested and we spent hours watching the premier league. Then we started going into yard kicking a ball around. The understanding he has of the game has come from watching top class matches on TV and a willingness to learn and practice over and over what he see’s Rooney, Lampard, Messi do. He just won player of the year for his team. I just hope i can get him English citizenship!!!

  6. bluemoonUSA

    June 2, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I work in physical therapy and the clinic I work at has plenty of footballers (soccer) that come in during the season. It’s really sad (and frustrating) when I try to strike up a conversation about a big game coming up in the EPL, La Liga , CL or the national team and it turns into a one way conversation with myself. These kids have no clue. No one watches. The common response is they are either busy with their team, school work or sleeping when game is on, or don’t even know about it. I have always believed that watching games is a great form of education, the same as going to training. Not to mention how exciting the games can be. I feel until kids start watching the games and get just as excited about watching “their sport” as opposed to a NFL game etc. things will remain the same as they’ve always been. At least I’ll be watching and I can have my own conversations!

    • This One Guy in Detroit

      June 2, 2010 at 11:13 pm

      God, that is so seriously depressing.

  7. Eious

    June 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Fact is, soccer may be played by more kids (due to our high population) but we do not have our BEST playing soccer. Our best are playing baseball, basketball, and football and it shows dearly.

    In most other countries, EVERYONE plays soccer #1 and here, it isn’t even close to that

    That is just a fact

  8. Tyson

    June 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    The best way to measure the viewing figures is to add up the total viewership over the entire tournament.

    The problem is its not a one day thing like the Superbowl its spread over a month and most people follow their own country only.

    When you consider the total viewing figures for the entire tournament the figures are staggering.

  9. tonyspeed

    June 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    i don’t fully believe USA will ever be a football world power because there are too many distractions: baseball, am football, basketball. When you look at the current footballing powers, football is the only real, widespread professional sport. the rise of football in America would have to come with a change in culture and a decline of baseball and am football, which drain the football ranks in highschool years.

    • vi

      July 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm

      i live in argentina do you thiink that here people don’t paly others sports?? Football is the more popular but Rugby tennis basketball voley hockey etc. are popular too.

  10. Scott Alexander

    June 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    a couple of points,

    Viewership is certainly growing, but I’d be careful comparing 2002 and 2006 numbers because of the time zone difference. Most of the matches were in the middle of the night (for a U.S.A. resident) in 2002. A German time zone is much more convenient than a Korean one.

    Also, there are signs that a system is starting to be put in place. Look at the moneyed infrastructure that Milan is pouring into youth academies in the U.S.A.

  11. DaveG

    June 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Agree with OvalBall…been in the states 20 years, came over on a football scholarship, been coaching here at top club, high school and NCAA levels…and those levels right there are the biggest problem with US soccer…
    Clubs usually play 4 or 5 games over a weekend in tournaments, 2-4 games a weekend for league schedules, High schools play up to 30 games in a 3 month season…NCAA play the same and then are not permitted to play again until the spring schedule which is a joke….there is no consistent season for the vast majority of players
    Add to this mix a very poor overall level of coaching at the youth levels, coupled with marginal exposure to the real passionate side of the game and you get…Athletes on a pitch that are one dimensional, playing a sport that they tend to “burn out” on when they reach their middle teens.
    Its just not ingrained in most American kids to watch football at the important formative years of 10-14…they have a passing interest in watching some EPL games and the bigger world cup games, but they tire easily of watching it unless there is a hype or bigger interest in the game. HAS TO BE A NBC OLYMPIC STYLE STORY OR ELSE WHY BOTHER WATCHING?
    They don’t read about it on a daily basis because the mainstream media don’t write about it…they don’t dream about it on a daily basis because they dont see football as a “way out” or a “career” (actually their PARENTS don’t see it and that’s the real issue)
    One final thing…The parents of most american players are fairly well educated and in positions of authority in their workplace…and when little Johnny or Susan don’t get to play enough time on the pitch, the parents revert to type and decide that they will go in and fix it for them…whereas throughout the rest of the world parents tend to force their kids to find a solution in practice and with the coach….way too much parental involvement in the USA and it stems a lot of the time from the fact that the sport is so expensive, so parents want value for money=playing time/winning seasons
    American kids are very athletic, fast and intelligent…they just lack the passion that you need to take the leap from a good player to a player that can play at the professional level…the US soccer environment or lack thereof is what constricts this development
    The one thing that will change it?
    Winning or losing a World Cup final

    • ranndino

      June 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

      Excellent points all around. Perfect example of this is my wife’s cousin. It frustrates me to no end that someone who absolutely loves to play the game (she always asks me to bring her along to pickup games & has played through high school) couldn’t give a hoot about watching it & knows next to nothing about it. I’ve tried to get her to watch some of the biggest games like the CL final to no avail. She did jump on the Italy bandwagon (she is an Italian American on her mother’s side) during the last WC, but only to be part of the party atmosphere in Boston’s Little Italy. Even spending a semester in Italy recently did not make her passionate about watching the game. She’d much rather watch the Red Sox, Celtics & Patriots.

  12. Tony

    June 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Uneducated Americans, really, what’s the difference betwen know and now?

    • The Gaffer

      June 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      Tony, it’s a simple typo which has now been fixed. Thanks for pointing it out. But it’s got nothing to do with whether the writer is American or not. The British newspapers have a ton of typos. Don’t get me started on that.

      The Gaffer

    • ovalball

      June 2, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      If you have nothing better to do than correct typos and other mistakes on blog sites your life has no meaning.

    • LP

      June 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

      Hey Tony,

      1. Learn to spell “Between”
      2. Learn the proper way to use commas and construct sentences.

      Otherwise, stop being a wanker and getting your panties in a twist over a typo.

      • Gaz Hunt

        June 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

        Glad you pointed that out Tony. Saved me from getting all English teacher on his lack of comma understanding.

        • tonyspeed

          June 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

          as long as you realise there probably are different grammar rules for usage of commas in britain. the rules are fairly abitrary and change often.

  13. ovalball

    June 2, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    *sigh* Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. I will not bore readers again with my whole “When I was a middle school coach…” mantra (I hear the clapping), but youth league enthusiasm and numbers never translate to the scholastic fields where the U.S. grooms its professional athletes.

    Soccer will never be more than 4th or 5th in the consciousness of the U.S. sports fan, if that high. Personally, I am fine with that. Our culture is what it is. I am content to enjoy the sport and let others wallow in their ignorance. It does not effect me.

    As you posted elsewhere, it’s just sport, right? So, no, I’m not going to go knock on doors…or heads…trying to convert the non-believers. I do not need to convince anyone that soccer is “important”. It is to me and that’s enough.

    • Gaz Hunt

      June 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      Pretty much how I feel, mate.

      • ovalball

        June 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm

        So, Gaz, does your new avatar mean you’ve finally given up on ‘Pool?

        Might I suggest Fulham?

    • Jesse Chula

      June 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      OB,…SSSShhhhhhh (don’t tell anyone else this, I agree) SSSHHHH

    • Phil McThomas

      June 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      Everyone said soccer was about to take off after ’94. It was the most popular sport for kids then too. It was the fastest rising sport then too.

      The professionals at their prime now – say 28 years old – were 12 in 1994. They’ve grown up in the post-USA World Cup, in the MLS era.

      And the sad fact is that the USA national team is no better now – compared to the rest of the world – than it was in ’94.

      • MOUF

        June 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm

        Weird how the US just finish the top of their group for the first time sense the 30’s if that is actually true. You are absolutely clueless if you dont think the national team is better now, absolutely clueless.

  14. Mizzy

    June 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    27 Billion? Really? How many people does this planet hold? I thought we only had 8 billion.

    • ianm

      June 2, 2010 at 12:26 pm

      Mizzy: Thats 27 Billion over 63 matches beamed worldwide. The FIFA blurb tells us that over 1 Billion watched the 2006 World Cup Final alone although more conservative estimates put it at 500 million plus.

      It is, after all, the single biggest game in the worlds biggest sport.

    • ranndino

      June 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

      Mizzy, what part of “total cumulative audience” didn’t you understand?

    • David

      June 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      And for the record, we don’t even have 7 billion people on this planet yet.

  15. Martin

    June 2, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I agree that the talent pool potential in the U.S. is great for soccer. Problem is, our best athletes do not play soccer or do not ultimately choose it as a career. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in most other countries, it is the exact opposite – the “best of the best” young athletes are the ones playing soccer.

    Your article points out some of the problem – you have to send the players to Europe to get properly trained/developed. We just don’t have the best system in place. And it would take a serious commitment from the parents and a kid who shows potential to up and leave for Europe when they’re, let’s say, 13 years old, in order to get serious about soccer.

    Other sports here do not have that problem. Kids can play football (American), basketball, baseball, golf, etc., all for their school teams and get noticed by colleges and become professional prospects without having to uproot and leave the country, or even their local community, to do so.

    The talent pool is there, but our country’s best athletes will not turn to soccer until it becomes a realistic option/career choice, or more importantly, becomes the BEST option/career choice for them, which it is not for the most young athletes in the U.S. Just imagine what it would be like if we had the system in place here, along with the passion for soccer that other countries have. Imagine if LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr., or other freakishly talented American athletes had grown up in an environment that allowed them to develop the passion and love for soccer that most other places have, and they put all their focus into becoming the best soccer player they could be, instead of the best basketball/football/baseball/etc. player. We would have a dominant team.

    • ranndino

      June 2, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Couldn’t have it better myself. One of the biggest problems with American soccer is that many of the most talented child athletes quit the game once they reach the age of 14 to focus on other sports.

      • vi

        July 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

        But The skill you need to play Basketball, baseball and american football are very different that the ones you need in football. In fact the very same guys that are good in those sports will suck in socccer

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