Here in America most traditional sports fans consider Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey as the 4 major sports. In Philadelphia especially this traditional sentiment rings true as we have the Eagles, Flyers, 76ers, and Phillies, all which capture the attention of everyone in town on a regular basis. For most of the traditional sports fans the game of soccer, or football as it’s known globally, is just an afterthought. Even with an MLS franchise here in Philadelphia, the Union, they rarely make headway into any sports conversation when out at the local watering holes around the Delaware Valley. But once every 4 years the 4 major sports are pushed aside for the global phenomenon known as the World Cup.
The World Cup on a global scale is the most watched sporting event on the planet. No matter if you’re a die hard soccer fan or an average Joe that rarely watches the game you tune in once every 4 years because it’s a phenomenon like no other. Countries from all over the planet form a team made up of some of the best athletes they have to compete against teams from other countries for the World Cup. No matter if you’re a fan of the game or not it’s easy for individuals to get into the spirit of the World Cup by cheering on their fellow countrymen and celebrating victory with others.
I listen to a good amount of sports talk radio and most of the traditional sports fans calling in or even the hosts themselves can’t seem to figure out why people are so into the World Cup. They continue to use the same argument over and over again about the lack of scoring/offense soccer has to offer compared to the 4 major sports. But clearly they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. The game itself is only one component of the World Cup. They fail to realize the game brings a sense of camaraderie to fans as they embrace their heritage and spend time with fellow countrymen cheering on the same team. Most of the sports fans in my circle of friends are Philadelphia fans but I do have some friends that cheer for teams from other cities such as New York or Baltimore. For us, this is a chance to come together and cheer on the same team whether it’s cheering on the Greek team or the American team.
The clearest evidence that the World Cup is sweeping the nation comes from the television ratings. ESPN announced the game between USA and Ghana scored 11.093 million viewers, making it the most watched men’s soccer game in the company history. It was also the second-most-watched live sporting event on ESPN in 2014 only trailing the college football national title game back in January which had 25.572 million viewers. The game also drew an additional 1.4 million viewers who watched online using the WatchESPN app along with another 4.8 million viewers who watched the Univision broadcast. The only other higher rated soccer game came back in 2011 during the Women’s World Cup final when ESPN drew 13.5 million viewers. The most watched English language U.S mens soccer broadcast still remains the 2010 World Cup match which drew 15.1 million viewers on ABC between USA and Ghana.
Some additional ratings below show Soccer fans in the states have been embracing the sport in recent years. The World Cup Final in 2010 between Netherlands vs Spain drew 15,905,000 viewers on ABC. Italy vs Brazil World Cup final on ABC back in 1994 drew 14,510,000. Italy vs France 2006 World Cup final on ABC drew 11,961,000. In comparison game 5 of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals between LA and NY drew only 6 million viewers and this was a series that featured the two largest metro areas in the country.
Here in Philly with the Phillies having a lackluster season and the NBA/NHL playoffs both officially over the World Cup is really the only game in town right now. Bars around the city have been packed on a daily basis with soccer viewers eager to spend time with fellow countrymen to cheer on teams from their respective countries. Many fans have actually revised their work schedules in order to gather to watch the game they want.
The question is always asked if the momentum generated from the World Cup can carry over to the local Philadelphia Union of the MLS. Most soccer fans I’ve talked to believe the brand of soccer being played in the MLS is of no comparison to the World Cup or the European leagues. The talent just isn’t there to get people interested to watch on a regular basis. Most fans looking to satisfy their World Cup quench after its over will look towards the English Premier league or another European league. Most games from these leagues are now televised on a regular basis on channels such as the NBC sports network which has embraced the English League.
So has World Cup fever swept America? I’d say it depends who you ask. The traditional American sports fan will continue to deny it. But if you look at the television ratings and look at the business that bars around the area have generated because of it I’d have to say Yes, America is being swept up by the World Cup which is a great thing. Who says we only have room for 4 major sports in this country? Let’s have 5 major sports and let’s embrace the game of soccer on a regular basis instead of every 4 years. Sports is about more than just watching a game it’s also about the camaraderie and relationships you form with other fans and the bonding and discussions that bring us all together. So I say for those of you on the fence about embracing the World Cup I say stop being hesitant and join in on the fun because the World Cup truly is sweeping America as it already has done to everyone else around the globe.