World Cup Digest: Postscript

UPDATE: Just got the final TV numbers from Nielsen. An estimated 24.3 million people watched the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands on ABC and Univision, making it the most watched soccer game in this nation’s history.

The broadcast drew more viewers than any World Series game since 2004. By comparison, the NBA Finals Game 7 drew an estimated 28.4 million viewers.

But this was a soccer game, without the U.S. playing, on a Saturday afternoon. It’s an impressive number. Read on for more discussion of soccer and U.S. following.

I made my feelings about the World Cup final known in my column this morning, but there are a few loose ends to tie up.

Once again, the World Cup was a hit on U.S. television. While people keep raving about how many people watched LeBron James’ self-aggrandizing “Decision” program last week (about 10 million), it’s heartening to hear that even more watched Spain and the Netherlands play in the World Cup final — 15.5 million, not counting whatever number watched the Spanish-language broadcast on Univision, which was probably significant.

In other words, even with the U.S. not involved and a team not from our continent or even hemisphere competing, more people, when the final viewership is tallied, will have watched the World Cup final than watched the Kentucky Derby, Daytona 500, all but three games of the NBA Finals, either NCAA men’s basketball quarterfinals and every college football bowl game except the Rose and BCS title game.

In The C-J forum this past weekend, the question was asked, “Will soccer ever become one of America’s favorite sports?” That’s ridiculous. It already is. From a participation standpoint, and from a television ratings standpoint of its biggest event, it has arrived in this nation.

Where it has not arrived — and where I don’t think it will — is as a major league sport in this country. The game’s biggest stars are all abroad, most of them playing in the top leagues in Europe. In fact, the very best players in this nation are playing in the best European leagues. And those leagues, while gaining in popularity in this country, probably aren’t going to become the kind of TV hits that big-league sports over here already are, for some obvious reasons (time zones, marketing opportunities, ability to see games in person).

It should be noted, more than 1 million unique visitors watched the U.S. lose to Ghana on ESPN3, a record for any game on that network’s online service.

More than 50,000 fans showed up when A.C. Milan played an exhibition in the Georgia Dome last year, and a larger number will probably show up when Manchester City plays one there in a couple of weeks.

So the question, frankly, is ridiculous. Soccer ratings — even MLS Ratings — are on a par with professional hockey in this nation. Yet we don’t hear the question, “Will hockey ever catch on?” No Stanley Cup game in 36 years has averaged even half of what the U.S.-Ghana drew in viewership.

All right, I’ll step down off that soapbox.

A few more items:

Zonalmarking.net provides a tactical recap of what happened in Spain v. Holland.

— A fan tried to put a hat on the World Cup trophy, as this YouTube video shows. He failed.

— The New Republic provides this great round-up of opinion on the final.

— Grahame Jones writes this profile of Andres Iniesta and his Barcelona buddies as if he’d been waiting for a Spain victory like a change-up headed toward the plate. With writing like the following excerpt, Jones knocked it out of the park (if he’ll forgive the baseball terminology):

[Iniesta] earned undying fame for himself and also for six comrades-in-feet, each of whom celebrated with him in unrestrained joy long after the fireworks had faded from the African night sky.

This was what they had dreamed of on those uncertain childhood nights when they called a centuries-old farmhouse in Barcelona home while their real homes and families were far, far away.

This was what they had imagined on those twilight evenings when long shadows already lay across the playing fields but they stayed to train just the little bit longer, to perfect this move or that, to build the friendships of a lifetime.

Their story would be improbable if it were not true.

You can read the rest of it here.

I have one more World Cup blog to come, with some suggestions on books about the World Cup and soccer in general for anyone who took a liking to the sport over the past month and would like to take a closer look.

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