You don’t see many foreign fans here in Johannesburg, but the largest single group of them are Americans. People in the US bought more tickets for this World Cup than any other visiting country. “In the public sale, it’s more than the next two countries combined,” notes a proud Sunil Gulati, president of the US Soccer Federation.
The figure is more or less 164,000 tickets.
This article, and other commentary on the web sees this as evidence that U.S. soccer is gaining popularity. The New Republic blog even proclaims that the Soccer Wars are over And I do not dispute that as the numbers from the U.S. England match on ABC/Univision show - a total viewing audience of 17 million, several times bigger than the Indy 500 to use an example..
Now what I am curious about is finding out how many of those 164,000 tickets were from from U.S residents of .Mexican, Argentinian, Chilean, Brazilian, Honduran, South Korean, Nigerian, et. al. birth or origin, who travelled to South Africa to cheer on a specific national team. Or for that matter European expats. Univision seems to have no problem finding them in the crowds at many matches.
The FT blogger himself talks about the constituency that soccer has in the United States
Since then, the US has globalised fast. Significantly, it’s the two most globalised groups of Americans who follow soccer most keenly. The first group consists of immigrants: about 45m Hispanics now live in the US, mostly from soccer-mad Mexico. The second group is the educated elite. David Downs, executive director of the US bid committee to host the World Cup in 2018 or (more likely) 2022, says of America’s soccer hotbeds: “It’s not necessarily the dusty farms of the heartland, as it is the suburbs of Washington DC or San Francisco.”And no doubt many of those ticket-buyers from the U.S. fall into either categories (or even both). But it is many immigrants in the U.S. who have the means to spend the high dollar amounts needed to get to South Africa and watch Argentina, Mexico,. or Nigeria play. They might go root for the U.S. with their children - again something you see in Univision.
In the end the U.S. ticket buyers and U.S. viewing public on TV is important to the World Cup whoever they are rooting for. It is the sheer numbers of people watching, in what the New Republic correctly notes is a fragmented media market of different "niches". And that weight already shows worldwide.
All these folks will be watching the World Cup. American TV companies shelled out $425m for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, then the biggest such deal done in any country. The US was only the 13th biggest TV market for the tournament in 2002, in absolute numbers of viewers. By 2006, it had jumped to eighth, notes Kevin Alavy of futures sport + entertainment, the agency that monitors these things. This year the US should rank higher still.