World Cup piques soccer interest in United States
by Jason Greenberg
Jul 06, 2014 | 1256 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tuesday’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the United States and Belgium drew 16.49 million viewers on ESPN. The U.S.’s group stage game against Portugal drew 18.22 million viewers. Both games were watched in the United States more than the average NBA finals or MLB World Series games. The Atlanta-metro area was the seventh-highest metered market in the country for the Belgium game.

The World Cup ratings may portend to a trend of increased interest in the sport, even in an area noted for its interest in football and baseball.

“It’s fun to watch what the environment that is here in the United States. World Cup fever has really picked up,” Shorter men’s head soccer coach Paulo Neto, who moved to the United States from Brazil 15 years ago, said on the overwhelming rise of interest in the World Cup. “There’s no question about it — Americans love the game.

“Just look at the ratings. There’s no going back. Soccer will get more and more popular.”

According to FIFA, more than 200,000 World Cup tickets were purchased by U.S. residents. The only country responsible for more ticket sales is the host nation, Brazil.

World Cup watch parties were numerous around the United States. As a result, it is estimated that the number of people who watched the U.S. World Cup games was roughly 25 percent higher than the ratings indicated.

ESPN’s sister online streaming service, WatchESPN, attracted an average per minute audience of 1.1 million viewers. The network averaged 3.5 million unique viewers across the broadcast.ESPN has seen household ratings jump by 44 percent over the same point in the 2010 World Cup. The network is averaging four million viewers through the 56 combined telecasts on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

One person involved in the local soccer community is Bartow County resident and professional soccer player Martyn Lancaster, who currently plays for the Georgia Revolution of the NPSL. He first debuted for Chester City in the English Football League. He then went on to play for the Wilmington Hammerheads, the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

With the Silverbacks, he served as team captain and was named to the NASL’s best XI last season.

Lancaster moved from England to the United States eight years ago and has already seen an increase in the popularity of soccer in the U.S.

“Soccer, in general, is the fastest-growing sport in the United states. With the run [the U.S. national team] just had, they did great to just get out of the group of death, it created this new excitement around the U.S.,” Lancaster said. “I’m surprised people are taking days off work to watch the World Cup. You see that all across Europe, but this is the first time that I saw, since I’ve been here, that the whole country has come together to support the national team.”

Lancaster also runs a travel soccer program out of Cartersville, the Georgia Knights FC.

He expects an increase in interest at the youth level due to the excitement the World Cup created and the rise of interest in the sport across the United States.

“I think there’s a huge excitement now across the whole soccer community,” he said. “People are saying, ‘Hey, I want to go out there and play. I want to play some recreation.’ I think the numbers are going to improve.”

— Shorter University contributed to this report