NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 20: Vincenzo Iaquinta of Italy is tackled by Tommy Smith of New Zealand during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between Italy and New Zealand at the Mbombela Stadium on June 20, 2010 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
As you know, the World Cup is taking place as we speak. And let’s hear it for meaningful sports events taking place on a weekday morning! I’ve never been so pleased to not be working. They should hold the World Cup all year, every year. And many folks agree with me, given that ratings for the Cup this year have soared over 60% higher here in the U.S. than the 2006 World Cup: From Nellie Andreeva at Deadline:
Americans continue to warm up to soccer's biggest event, with ratings for the World Cup coverage on ABC and ESPN up 60% from the 2006 tournament (1.9 average rating through Friday vs. 1.2 four years ago, despite the fact that most of the matches this year air in the morning). The Friday match between U.S. and Slovenia on ESPN was the most watched soccer game in the history of the ESPN networks among households, 3.9 million. In total viewers, it was the third most watched ever with 5.2 million. Not bad for a game that started at 10AM EDT/7PDT…
Meanwhile, Mexico's Thursday match against France, which the Mexicans won 2-0, averaged 5.8 million viewers on Univision, the largest audience on the Spanish-language network so far this World Cup.
The World Cup always brings the inevitable cries of AMERICANS WILL NEVER LOVE SOCCER from people who were never asked to love soccer. It’s an odd phenomenon. There are some folks in America who like watching this stuff, and just because ESPN is airing it and covering it and promoting it doesn’t mean they want to seal you off in a room, tape open your eyes, and force you to adore Lionel Messi. I get people who don’t like soccer. I don’t really get people who feel like soccer is ATTACKING them.
Anyway, these ratings are high for a good number of reasons. First off, this year’s U.S. team is extremely likable and has played two thrilling draws thus far. Their Wednesday match with Algeria will decide whether they advance, and that game will deliver enormous ratings, bigger than what we’ve already seen.
Furthermore, ESPN recently acquired rights to the English Premier League and has covered EPL more extensively than they ever did before. Giving the EPL exposure is an important part of drawing more Americans into soccer, because we American folks know our own soccer league (MLS) is lousy. We don’t accept competition that’s anything less than the best in the world, and justifiably so. It’s much easier to get into soccer when you’re watching Manchester United, and not the KC Wizzzzz.
And these World Cup ratings bear proof that us Americans will happily take our soccer when we know it’s being played at a high level. It’s a fallacy to think this Cup will suddenly turn MLS into the NFL, or something crazy like that. But what you’re seeing is a slow build of support for the sport thanks to better distribution and, let’s face it, an ever-growing U.S. Hispanic population. Soccer will never take over America. No one is demanding for that to happen. But soon, more U.S. citizens may find themselves getting drunk, wearing scarves, and singing songs at the bar while watching Clint Dempsey sneak one past Robbie Green. And that’s not such a terrible thing.