For followers of American soccer/football,1 the last two years have brought a wide range of emotions: despair in 2018 because the men’s team missed the Men’s World Cup for the first time in over thirty years, then joy in 2019 because the women’s team won their second consecutive Women’s World Cup.
Amid the despair of 2018 and the joy of 2019, there remains one big question: Does America care about football?
While a supposed lack of national passion for the sport is used as an excuse for the struggles of the men’s team, the United States of America is into football more than many people, both within and outside of the States, quite realize. Here are a few of the reasons I think that:
TV Ratings For Football Matches Are Quite Strong
A lot of the top football matches—matches from England, Germany, and Spain, for example—are on Americans’ televisions at less-than-optimal times. Matches displayed for the English Premier League, one of the best leagues in the world, often come on at either 7:30 AM, 10:00 AM, or 12:30 PM on Saturday,2 New York City time (4:30 AM, 7:00 AM, and 9:30 AM, Los Angeles time). Most people might agree that 10:00 AM is not an optimal viewer time for high viewership and that 4:30 AM on a Saturday morning is a particularly awful time if one wants high viewership. In spite of this, NBC, which televises Premier League matches in the United States, averaged 457,000 viewers per match window in the 2018-19 season.3 That’s a number higher than the total population of Iceland, a country that made the 2018 Men’s World Cup and drew with an Argentina side that had Lionel Messi, arguably one of the greatest players of all time.
Even more impressive was the TV viewership for the Women’s World Cup Final in 2019, which the United States won. Total viewership for that game peaked at around 20 million.4 This is higher than the entire population of Holland (the defending European Women’s Champions, and multi-time World Cup finalists on the men’s side), as well as higher than the population of Belgium and Croatia (countries that made the Men’s World Cup semifinals; Croatia made the finals), combined. Lots of Americans are into watching football.
Attendance For Football Matches In The United States Is Comparable To That Of Many Major Football Leagues Internationally
In no particular order, the strongest football leagues in the world are often considered to be England’s Premier League, France’s Ligue 1, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Holland’s Eredivisie, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Brazil’s Série A. The attendance for the major football league in the United States (and Canada), Major League Soccer (MLS), compares favorably to many of these top leagues—while the Bundesliga and the Premier League are in a league of their own when it comes to attendance, MLS attendance is higher than that of the Dutch Eredivisie and Brazilian Série A, while approaching attendance figures of France’s Ligue 1 and Italy’s Serie A.5 More impressively, two of the top thirty clubs in the world (in terms of average attendance) are from the MLS; only three leagues had more than two clubs from their leagues in the top thirty.6 These are marks of a country that is passionate about its football.
Football In The United States Has Played A Role in Discourse On Important Issues
A sport does not play a central role in the discourse on important issues unless it is a relevant sport.
And football has played a central role in the discourse on important issues in the United States.
The most noteworthy example is the equal pay movement, spearheaded by the U.S. Women’s Team. In fact, the women’s team has arguably become the most prominent advocate/group of advocates for equal pay for equal work by gender. But it’s not the only issue—U.S. Women’s star Megan Rapinoe, for example, is also an advocate for multiple social justice issues, an advocate in ways that she couldn’t be if it weren’t for the fame football now has in the States.
Tons Of Americans Play Football
Over 24 million Americans play football at some level in the United States, second only to China (another country whose men’s team is underachieving).7 To put this into perspective, England’s Football Association boasted that there are 11 million footballers in the country—less than half the number of footballers in America.8 While I understand the counter-argument that the United States is a much larger country than England (and therefore has more people who could potentially play football than England), it’s still an impressive number of footballers. The fact that the United States couldn’t find 11 American men capable of taking the men’s team to the World Cup is not because of a lack of passion for football, but because of the United States Soccer Federation—I’m not convinced that out of a population of 24 million footballers, you couldn’t find 11 men capable of beating Trinidad and Tobago9 to make it to the Men’s World Cup.
In spite of the large television audiences, large match audiences, the large role football plays in the national discourse, and the number of Americans who play football, some insist that Americans don’t care about football. A lot of people—more than many quite realize—do care. The problem is not with apathy for football, but the poor ability of the men’s team in spite of how passionate the country is for the game.
1. From here on out, I will call it “football” and not “soccer.”
2. There can be matches on other days of the week, but usually, Saturday is the biggest day for football.
9. There are 24 million footballers in the United States, and a little under 1.4 million people total in Trinidad and Tobago. Granted, Trinidad and Tobago (the home country of Renard, the owner of this blog) has a rich history of football that includes becoming the smallest country to qualify for the World Cup (a record Iceland would later break), but it says something about the U.S. Men’s inability to find talent when the country with 1.4 million people total plays better than a country with 24 million footballers.
About the guest author:
Brendan is a young adult living in New York City. He usually blogs about different forms of discrimination and injustice at his blog, Blind Injustice.
Some of Brendan’s other passions include serving his home church, tracking major snowstorms and hurricanes, following multiple sports (including football, as evidenced by this post), and making lots of puns.