Sports

Jul 28, 2014 1:58 AM by Richie Melby (rmelby@kvoa.com)

Soccer popularity appears to be on the rise in America

FC Tucson's season came to a close nearly four weeks after the U.S. Men's National team bowed out of the World Cup. Support for each was at an all-time high so we set out to learn where soccer ranks in the heart of the American sports fan.

"Ever since Major League Soccer started, it was born out of the World Cup when America hosted it in 1994," explained FC Tucson Chief Business Officer Chris Keeney. "What it did, that tournament captured the heart of a lot of people."

Every four years an argument rises between soccer fanatics and the opposition: does the United States care about soccer? At first glance, the answer now appears to be yes.

"Now we've seen an incredible following for the U.S. National Team, an incredible following for the Mexican National Team, but even after they dropped out of the tournament the fun continued," explained Keeney. "People picked a second team to watch or they were just involved in the way the competition was playing out."

Consider this: the group stage match between the U.S. and Portugal was the most-watched soccer game in American history with 24.7 million viewers. Numbers dipped when the U.S. fell out of the tourney, but the World Cup finale between Germany and Argentina set a new record at 26.5 million. Compare that to the NBA Finals 15.5 or the Final Four's 16.3 million and soccer clearly holds the advantage. Yet it's a far cry from American football. Super Bowl XLVIII was the most-watched program in U.S. history with 111.5 million people tuned in. Still, soccer appears to have found a place in the heart of American sports fans. But is it fandom or is it patriotism?

"A World Cup is a World Cup. It's a special thing and a lot of people get on the so-called bandwagon during those times," Keeney explained. "The question is, how many people will stay on after they have experienced it? It's the social nature and the party nature of the sport that I think will transcend and we will continue to see growth, absolutely."

That growth comes at a perfect time for clubs like FC Tucson, which saw interest and attendance rise throughout the season.

"The sport is finally begun its climb up the charts here in Tucson as well. On the heels of the groundswell of American interest in the sport for the national team, it has definitely translated," Keeney said.

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