My 15-year-old son called last night from Costa Rica where he is spending two weeks. Lucky for him, his visit coincided with Costa Rica beating Greece in the World Cup. He described how everyone was glued to the set, shaking, crying and ultimately exploding in joy as the last penalty kick confirmed the Costa Rican victory. Speaking several days after the event, it was clear that the experience was deeply emotional for him, let alone his Costa Rican hosts. Watching the U.S. vs. Belgium was certainly captivating, with perhaps the highest degree of interest for a U.S. audience ever throughout this World Cup, but will it reach the heights (and depths) of a country like Costa Rica anytime soon? Let's see how the tea leaves are reading...
The no argument = the U.S. won't anytime embrace soccer to the depth of other countries.
1.) "I believe that we will win (or at least go 1-2-1)". Americans were certainly captivated by a U.S. team that had low expectations, furthered by their coach's own pronouncements. But there is something that doesn't resonate with American sports fans in winning 1 out of four games. Playing for a tie? Celebrating because you lost by only one goal? This will require much cultural adjustment for a team that has higher expectations in subsequent World Cups.
2.) There is no substitute to the "big three" -- football, baseball and basketball. Look at hockey, which has tried to break through for years, and remains on a second tier. When baseball plays the World Series with all American teams save one, we announce our self satisfaction in global sports interests.
The yes argument = the U.S. has turned the corner for soccer popularity.
1.) Demographics will drive the phenomenon. Hispanics are 15 percent of the U.S. population, and accounted for 80+ percent of population growth in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census. Hispanics love soccer, and when one out of four births are Hispanic, it is inevitable that soccer will grow. That growth can already be seen, as an estimated 400,000 high school kids play organized soccer in the U.S. today.
2.) Money will make it happen. With recent deals with both Fox and ESPN, MLS is on the path to greater viewership and certainly more money. MLS has grown from 10 teams to 19 since 1996, and from unprofitable to profitable in the process. Perhaps more to the point, live sports are one of the only genres left where live viewership is essential to the experience. With Netflix. Hulu and a host of others shifting audience viewing and impacting advertising, live sports grows in it value. Record prices have been paid for broadcast rights to all the major U.S. sports and the Olympics. Content providers are on the hunt for more and soccer is in their sights. More money will bring more marketing for soccer, which will bring more interest.
Where will it go? Will my future grandson be glued to the set with his fellow citizens in a deep and passionate connection? Next check in point will be in four years.