The 2014 World Cup has been garnering phenomenal television ratings. 18.2 million viewers watched the U.S.-Portugal matchup last Thursday according to Nielsen ratings. 10.7 million tuned in for the U.S.-Germany matchup on Sunday.
In comparison, the 2013 World Series averaged 14.9 million viewers with 19.2 million tuning in for the Game 6 clincher by the Boston Red Sox according to Fox Business News. The World Series overall has had lower television ratings compared to the past, but soccer can hardly be considered the reason for that.
Baseball is America’s Pastime, although many people would argue that football has taking over that reign. The NFL is definitely a moneymaking machine, but time will tell if the league can sustain its popularity and continue to trend upwards. Basketball has some superstar power in LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but the league ultimately is not typically in discussions as the most popular American sport.
One thing that Americans love is country pride. The Olympics are popular and have larger viewership on television. The other event that happens every four years, the World Cup, also brings together fans from all over the country. The key part is every four years. Soccer is not at a point where the following would be as big if the World Cup happened every year. It would definitely gain attention due to the few number of matches.
There are three guaranteed World Cup games in comparison to 162 regular-season Major League Baseball games and four guaranteed World Series games. The United States can play up to seven games if it advances to the finals or 3rd place game. That is seven games every four years. Of course it is a bigger deal than one game of a World Series or even an entire World Series to some fans.
Here is how I know that soccer is not close to taking over baseball in terms of popularity in the United States: I would rather pay to watch a baseball game than watch a soccer game for free. I am referring to television and the ability to buy an MLB.TV season pass (or other baseball subscription) to watch most live games. Major League Soccer is aired on television, but I couldn’t tell you when the games are without looking up the information. Football is Sundays at 1 and 4 PM. Baseball is everyday at either 1 or 7 PM. Basketball is at night. I really don’t know when soccer matches are played for MLS.
Maybe that is just me being a lifelong baseball advocate and very new to the soccer fandom. I am definitely intrigued to get into Major League Soccer after seeing the popularity of the World Cup. I even went to watch the last U.S friendly match before the team left for Brazil.
Baseball has tried to get a multinational following with the World Baseball Classic that it holds every four years just like the World Cup. However, it is held during spring training and not every country has its best players. The country pride is not equal among all teams, as it is especially lacking for the U.S., and the concept is not even close in comparison to soccer’s World Cup. After attending the WBC in Miami, it was apparent that the Dominican Republic and Cuba had much more pride on the line as seen by both their players and fans. The American players treated it as spring training and really didn’t care about winning or losing.
Soccer more popular than baseball?
Could soccer overtake baseball in terms of popularity in the United States? Not anytime soon. There is too much history and money in baseball. MLS is in its infancy and will hopefully grow and succeed, but it is nothing compared to Major League Baseball in terms of firepower. The other big factor is getting top talent to play in America whether it is signing players from other countries in their prime or grooming American-born soccer players. Soccer has to compete with other sports for athletes, which is probably the biggest obstacle it faces.
If there was more money to be paid to professional soccer players in MLS, do you think that would attract more kids to practice soccer over football or baseball? Probably. The prospect of getting paid intrigues every young athlete. The problem is that every kid wants the salaries of LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, and Peyton Manning.
Baseball and soccer are more different than they are alike, but it isn’t entirely fair to compare the two as equals. Soccer is played in virtually every country in the world. Baseball is widespread but is less popular in places like Europe and Africa. Each succeeds on its biggest stage. The difference is that baseball’s biggest stage occurs in America every year and soccer’s biggest stage changes location every four years. There needs to be a monumental event in U.S. soccer to get people’s attention and hold them over the three years there isn’t a World Cup.