With the NHL season drawing to a close this week, and the NBA season to follow shortly, the 19th FIFA World Cup will be at the center of our sporting universe for the next few weeks.
The 32-team tournament kicks off on Friday, June 11 with Spain and Brazil, two favorites to win the title. The United States’ team plays England on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The Americans went 0-2-1 in the 2006 Cup.
It’s around this time that we start hearing talk about soccer in the United States, and whether or not it will ever become popular with “mainstream” fans. Frankly, there are smarter people than me who can debate that endlessly.
What isn’t up for debate is that, from June 11 to July 11, soccer will likely be at the forefront of the American sport landscape. Why? It’s soccer’s Big Event.
In the era of 24/7 media, with hundreds of teams and thousands of games occurring every day of the week, one of the things any sport has to contend with is just the sheer number of options out there. And those options can make it harder to draw the average fan in to a random game.
That’s where the “Big Event” comes into play. The Super Bowl isn’t the top-rated program in the U.S annually because people really like football. The Super Bowl is about commercials and parties and food and halftime shows and then in the middle of that fanfare comes a game. The Super Bowl is an event.
One of the reasons why college football clings to the Bowl system is because the Bowl games become events for schools and fans.
The NHL’s Winter Classic is another great example. The league’s annual outdoor game is really their signature event.
The World Cup is soccer’s big event. According to FIFA, the 2006 Cup was watched by a cumulative worldwide audience of more than 26 billion people and had over 73,000 hours of television coverage. You can’t get much bigger then that.
So what does it all mean for soccer in the United States? Who knows? The U.S. hosted the Cup in 1994 and the men made a deep (for them) run at the 2002 tournament. Neither of those provided the sport with a mainstream foothold.
What is known is that sports next Big Event is upon us. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.