Monday, June 14, 2010

Soccer Nerds

I'm currently sitting in Vancouver International Airport, enjoying the free Wi-Fi and a delicious breakfast of Canadian bacon, home fries, cantaloupe and thick wheat toast slathered with strawberry jam.

An interesting (and perhaps surprising) column in this weekend’s FT:

The Growing Tribe of Soccer Nerds Following America
(Simon Kuper)
« You don’t see many foreign fans here in Johannesburg, but the largest single group of them are Americans. People in the US bought more tickets for this World Cup than any other visiting country. “In the public sale, it’s more than the next two countries combined,” notes a proud Sunil Gulati, president of the US Soccer Federation.

Contrary to foreign belief, the US is now a proper soccer nation. When their team takes on England in Rustenburg today, millions of Americans will be watching, even if they won’t all be supporting the US. Since about 2005, globalisation has spread the game through this country like never before.

Significantly, it’s the two most globalised groups of Americans who follow soccer most keenly. The first group consists of immigrants: about 45m Hispanics now live in the US, mostly from soccer-mad Mexico. The second group is the educated elite.

There’s a growing American tribe of “soccer nerds”, who insist on calling the game “football” and can knock you out with long analyses of Manchester City’s defensive issues.

All these folks will be watching the World Cup. American TV companies shelled out $425m for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, then the biggest such deal done in any country. The US was only the 13th biggest TV market for the tournament in 2002, in absolute numbers of viewers. By 2006, it had jumped to eighth. This year the US should rank higher still. »