In the run up to the World Cup, the American TV sports network ESPN, and its parent company ABC promoted the United States’ opening match against England with a zeal not usually seen in American markets. Unlike almost all other American sports, the World Cup schedule for the group stages are determined months in advance, so while American sports media outlets only have at most two weeks to promote the teams playing in other American sports finals, the timing of the World Cup allowed for a marketing frenzy. In Chicago, there were street-level advertisements for the World Cup, showing the logos of the various teams; on a bus stop outside of our offices on the North Side, there was an advertisement for the German national team featuring the names of their players.
The World Cup always sees a flurry of “we don’t care” op-eds and articles in major publications, blog entries, and comments on internet forums explaining why Americans don’t like soccer, why it’s not in our national character to like soccer, why it has never caught on here, and why it’s just an inferior game to football, baseball and basketball. Stephen Colbert, the “conservative” host of his satirical self-titled show on Comedy Central, devoted a large amount of air time to making fun of soccer, and featuring commentators to propone and defend the sport… but this year, a funny thing happened. The United States vs. England match drew higher TV ratings than the Stanley Cup Finals (hockey), and the NBA Finals (basketball), despite both series featuring teams from large urban areas (Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles, respectively).