Soccer’s US fan base is growing, especially among young people:
Soccer (in the form of U.S. Major League Soccer) has caught up to Major League Baseball among young sports aficionados—both sports have captured 18 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds as fans—according to the 2014 ESPN Sports Poll, which tracks interest in major league sports. The rise of soccer coincides with a surprising fall in the popularity of baseball, which had a 25 percent avid interest rate among that same audience just two years ago. (Football and basketball come in higher at 39 and 30 percent respectively, and hockey is the worst bet at just eight percent and falling.)
Andrés Martinez sees this as good news for Americans’ engagement with the world and a sign that our sports chauvinism may be on the wane:
It’s hard to exaggerate how much soccer’s incursion into American life threatens to erode American exceptionalism, not to mention our traditional geographic illiteracy. American kids now routinely wear the jerseys of teams in places like Barcelona and Munich, much like their counterparts in the rest of the world. Soccer offers American sports fans a sense of global, not just national, connectedness.
For most of the 20th century, even when so much of our culture was being adopted by others, Americans were adamant about not reciprocating by adopting the world’s sport. The prevailing culture was suspicious of the game, which at times could seem futile. Imagine going an entire match without scoring! Or, worse, tying! It seemed the duty of patriotic Americans was to avoid soccer, and even ridicule it, as much as it was to refuse measuring in centigrade or meters. We compensated for our sports provincialism by calling the champions of our domestic sports leagues “world champions.”
But all that is changing. With the World Cup in the Americas for the first time in 20 years, the United States will experience this year’s tournament in a big way, and the exciting narratives that spin out of it will help bind young American fans to cheese-eating kids in Normandy, and elsewhere.