Even though the United States National Soccer Team was eliminated from the 2014 World Cup competition after reaching the round of 16 teams, the fervor for soccer in the USA has exceeded projections by a huge margin. Television ratings have also exceeded expectations along with the sale of USA National Team merchandise.
The seeds for success of soccer in the US were planted with the hosting of the 1994 World Cup which was held in multiple cities in the US. Brazil won the 1994 World Cup by beating Italy on penalty kicks but the attendance and television ratings primed the audience for the success the sport is enjoying in the US today.
ESPN has reported that television ratings are up at least 16 percent for the month long set of matches including matches that did not include the US Team. On Sunday, 13 July Germany played Argentina for the coveted 2014 World Cup trophy. 26.5 million American tuned in to watch the live broadcast making it the most watched soccer match in American television history.
Additional factors are fueling the success of the sport. Millions of boys and girls grow up with well-populated youth soccer leagues and tournaments across the USA. Many parents who did not grow up playing or watching the sport have been exposed to the sport through their kids. However, a new generation of parents who did grow up playing youth soccer, are now watching a sport they understand.
In addition, there is more soccer programming on cable television. For example, people can now watch the English Premier League on NBC where ratings have remained ahead of projections.
Another factor to consider is the ethnic diversity in the USA. While some would suggest that immigration to the US has fueled the growth of soccer I would say that is not necessarily true. The US remains a melting pot for foreign nationals and newly naturalized citizens who love the sport of soccer and grew up with it. Coupled with the broad exposure of the sport on cable television in homes and sports bars citizens across the US are tuning in and watching the matches.
Additionally, as more American players like Tim Howard, the American goalkeeper, play in the English Premier League, it has generated more interest in the international sport. And we should not ignore the fact that the MLS has enjoyed success in both attendance and television ratings.
Overall, the sport of soccer is enjoying the highest interest levels ever in the United States. With Jurgen Klinsmann, former German National Team coach, as the US National Team coach, the US team is expected to continue its rise to the upper echelons of the international soccer rankings. And while it may take several more years for the US to truly compete for the FIFA Trophy, the interest in the sport continues at its highest levels ever in the USA.
The 2018 World Cup will be hosted by Russia and Fox and Telemundo have outbid ESPN and Univision for the television rights. One might expect substantial promotion for the broadcast of the games and broad coverage of the matches leading up to the 2018 event, which should push interest to even greater levels.
Soccer will likely never replace college football as the number one sport in the US however; soccer is finally taking its rightful place in US fan consciousness. It is the number one sport in the world and gaining ground in the United States.