Seeing large crowds of people in places such as Brooklyn and Chicago in cutaways from the U.S. soccer team's televised match with Ghana made me think back to a conversation I had with a friend some 20 years ago. He predicted that it was a matter of when, not if, soccer (he called it football) would become one of the most popular live sporting events in the U.S. The record-breaking television audience that watched the U.S. prevail against Ghana has me thinking that the future may prove him right.
My friend based his prediction on the combination of changing demographics within the U.S. along with several generations of kids who were raised playing the game. Ultimately, he said, soccer would pass professional hockey on the list of popular American sports. Even baseball and basketball could be given a run for their money by the middle of the century.
A ratings comparison between audiences for the U.S./Ghana World Cup game to the recently completed finals of the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association give credence to his prediction.
According to Nielsen, the U.S./Ghana match attracted an audience of 15.9 million viewers. The game was televised by ESPN and Univision in the U.S. The final game of the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers series drew six million television viewers while the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat final had 17.9 million people tune in.
Speaking to the demographic issue, The Wall Street Journal reported that Univision's World Cup audience to date is up 48 percent over 2010.
One event that could push soccer into the American mainstream is the country hosting a World Cup. A report by ESPN that FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, has approached the United States Soccer Federation about possibly hosting the 2022 World Cup has been denied by the domestic body. There are currently investigations into acts of corruption regarding the 2010 World Cup in South Africa along with bids by Qatar and other nations to host the sporting event in 2022.
How likely is soccer to become widely popular among the American public over the next 20 years?