Why I refuse to read into World Cup TV ratings

I’m sure anybody who has managed to stumble upon this site has gotten word of the record American audience for the World Cup Final Sunday afternoon. Nielsen is reporting that 24.3 million Americans tuned in on either ABC or Univision, but I’m not going to use this as a gauge for the growing importance of the sport in the American landscape, at least not yet.

I’m just as annoyed by soccer haters as I’m sure most fans are, but the argument that we like finality is a valid one. Consider our infatuation with a game seven. We love it, eat it up. Even people who don’t watch the NBA, MLB or NHL have their interests piqued in that scenario. One of the biggest draws of the ever-so-popular NCAA tournament? Win or go home. One of the teams in the World Cup was going home as conquering champions and the other is going to be thinking “what if” for the rest of their life. That kind of drama can draw anyone in, at least for a little bit.

On top of that, what exactly were the TV options yesterday afternoon? I imagine like most summer Sunday afternoons, your options were Independence Day, Remember the Titans and baseball. I’d expect big numbers for the World Cup against that schedule.

Another thing that worries me is the type of match that these casual soccer watchers were subject to. I think everyone is in universal agreement that the match was far from enjoyable. An inordinate amount of cards, fouls, diving and arguing turns off the average viewer. Combined with the fact that it wasn’t exactly a scoring showcase only worsens that effect. I’d be far more optimistic going forward if the match unfolded much in the same way as the fantastic third-place game between Germany and Uruguay.

I will say, however, that it’s clear that more people have cared this World Cup than in others in the past, I’m not trying to argue against that. Proof enough is in the fact that the symphony of soccer hate has only gotten louder as the pantheon of sports pontificators slip even further into denial. But I think the true test of American feelings toward the sport could be measured more with the interest of the country in a decidedly lesser competition like next year’s Gold Cup. Anyone can care about the World Cup, it’s the apex of the sport. When people care about the Gold Cup, that’s significant progress.

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