Last Thursday, as I was out on my lunch break, I noticed a handful of people gathered outside every bar, restaurant, and cafe with a television along 7th Avenue. They were talking excitedly with one another and sharing big smiles — something that’s not exactly common on the streets of New York City. I witnessed a similar phenomenon the following Tuesday as I stood waiting for my train in Penn Station. People everywhere were streaming something live on their phones, with complete strangers approaching them to ask for an update. So what was everyone so excited about?
The US World Cup matches against Germany and Belgium, respectively.
Simply put, Americans have fallen in love with soccer over the past several months. From internet memes to players being mistakenly labeled as government officials to literally giving people heart attacks, the World Cup has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in the US. The ratings have reached all-new highs, with the 2-2 draw against Portugal drawing in more than 25 million viewers. To put that in perspective, the past World Series and NBA Finals had around 15 million each. The World Cup wasn’t even this popular when the US hosted it in 1994.
So what is it about this World Cup that’s different? Why are so many more Americans watching than ever before? Below are a few reasons why that might be.
Even if most of us don’t play it now, there are a ton of adults who look back on their childhoods with fond memories of the sport. To watch soccer now is to recall a major part of their youths. In this way, we now have millions of former little-leaguers who appreciate the game in ways their parents could not.
2) More often than not, the match is over in a short 90 minutes or so.
Unlike a football or baseball game, a soccer match is over in far less time, appealing to today’s fast-paced and low-attention-span world. The game is always on the move, just like us. We can dive in and out, quick and easy, and get right back to what we were previously doing.
3) International players appeal to us more now than ever.
Nearly 40 million people in American are foreign-born — that’s 13% of our population. As we become more culturally aware of the world around us, it could be that we actually prefer a game featuring athletes from around the globe.
We Americans are suckers for controversy. And amidst the frequent accusations that FIFA is corrupt, referees are bribed, and games are fixed, the World Cup is a great outlet for us to express sincere outrage. Plus, the more emotionally invested, the better.