When the U.S. men’s soccer team lines up in Brazil to play their first game of the soccer World Cup in June, their home support may be tepid at best.
Two in three Americans do not plan to follow this year’s tournament, according to an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos poll. Only 7 percent said they anticipated following it closely.
It’s been 20 years since the United States hosted the World Cup, an attempt at the time to bring soccer to a mass American audience. Two years later, a new professional league – Major League Soccer (MLS) – began. The league has grown from 10 to 19 teams.
The arrival of international stars such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry to play for MLS teams in recent years has boosted the sport’s popularity. The owners of successful English Premier League team Manchester City, in partnership with the New York Yankees, are due to debut the New York City Football Club for the 2015 MLS season.
A Beckham-backed Miami team is also in the process of being established in order to join the league.
But soccer still has a long way to go before its marquee event can stake a claim alongside football’s Super Bowl, the National Basketball Association finals, and baseball’s World Series in American minds, the poll shows.
Eighty-six percent of Americans said they either know nothing or only a little bit about the World Cup, and more than two-thirds did not know Brazil is the 2014 host nation.
Jose Vargas, 48, does plan on watching the World Cup in Houston, where he has lived since coming to the United States in 2003. But he will be supporting his birth nation: Colombia.
And while he says that soccer is popular among his Hispanic friends, he does not think a diversity of Americans is that enthused. “Soccer is really a sport that’s followed in Latin America and Europe,” he said.
ABC/ESPN paid $100 million in 2005 for the broadcast rights in English to FIFA events from 2007 to 2014, including this year’s World Cup, while Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.
The poll does show that one-third of Hispanic Americans will be following the tournament or some teams closely, double the percentage for respondents overall.
Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population in 2010, according to census data.
Kelli Cousineau, 33, and her family will not be watching the World Cup at home near Phoenix despite her having played soccer in junior high.
She switched to volleyball for a chance at a college scholarship and says that soccer still isn’t taken as seriously. “It’s just not a sport that has a lot of following,” she said. “The other sports like basketball, baseball and football are considered all-American.”
The results were taken from an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos online poll and include the responses of 1,416 adult Americans from April 7-11. The credibility interval, a measure of precision, is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
(Reporting By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Maurice Tamman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)