The line stretched around the block, past the parking lot and down the street. Hundreds of soccer fans congregated and prayed that Brit’s Pub didn’t reach its fire marshal-approved capacity before they got inside the door.
The diehards, of course, had already secured their viewing spot. Some arrived raring to go when the doors opened seven hours before the U.S.-Portugal match in the World Cup on Sunday.
The downtown Minneapolis establishment anticipated a World Cup craze this summer so it built an additional fire exit in order to obtain a permit from the city that increased its capacity to 2,100. And people still get turned away.
The World Cup is no longer just a soccer tournament for soccer fans in this country. It’s become appointment viewing even for casual fans in a way that’s brought the sport more mass appeal.
The event is generating record ratings for ESPN. The network reported U.S.-Portugal averaged 18.2 million viewers and peaked at nearly 23 million, making it the “most-viewed soccer match in the United States ever.”
Our market needs more fútbol fever to match the passion around the country, where people are cramming into bars and filling city streets and parks to watch on theater-sized screens. The Twin Cities rank 48th among metered markets for all World Cup matches, according to ESPN.
Twitter recorded 8 million tweets sent during Sunday’s match, a healthy chunk of those likely fired off in disgust after a last-second brain cramp by Team USA resulted in a 2-2 draw.
We’re all soccer experts now.
Call it a hunch, but our nation’s workforce likely will experience a significant increase in sick days and/or extended lunch breaks for Thursday’s matinée between Team USA and Germany.
Note to bosses everywhere: Show some compassion. This happens only every four years, and soccer has captured our collective attention, even those of us who know nothing about the sport.
I’ve never played soccer, wasn’t exposed to it growing up and don’t watch soccer normally. I’m fascinated by the World Cup, though, and found myself glued to the Belgium-Russia match on Sunday.
How did this happen? For starters, patriotic pride is a seductive bond. We’d cheer for our country in tiddlywinks.
The World Cup also capitalizes on the big-event phenomenon. Like the Olympics, the tournament happens every four years, which gives it that added sense of anticipation and pressure. The buzz probably wouldn’t be the same if this were an annual event.
Major sporting events tend to draw outlier fans, too. Not everyone who watches the Super Bowl is an NFL fan. How many people will watch a swimming meet on TV? But put Michael Phelps in the water with a gold medal at stake and ratings soar. Do you arrange your day around the Belmont Stakes if there’s no shot at a Triple Crown?
Big events also create a social element that attracts crowds. The World Cup gives friends a reason to get together, drink a few beers and enjoy a festive party, even if soccer isn’t necessarily their thing.
Brazil’s time zone offers convenient start times so that American fans aren’t forced to awake in the middle of the night. That, as much as anything, has enabled cities nationwide to host massive viewing parties. Twitter serves as an electronic wildfire that spreads the excitement, or in the case of Sunday’s outcome, the misery.
“It’s a bigger deal now than it was four years ago,” said Nick Rogers, president of Minnesota United FC. “I think it’s going to be bigger still in four years.”
Soccer has grown exponentially in this country in terms of participation numbers and mainstream acceptance. Reasons include shifting demographics, higher quality TV presentation for Major League Soccer and English Premier League games and more kids being exposed to the game. The Twin Cities might land a Major League Soccer team in the foreseeable future, which would increase participation.
“There’s a generation in this country that grew up and their high schools didn’t even offer soccer as a sport,” Rogers said. “That is basically not true for anybody in high school anywhere in this country anymore.”
Soccer’s growth potential in this country seems robust. I’ve witnessed it in my own household recently. We’re not exactly a soccer family, but this weekend I heard my two sons debating who is better, Messi or Neymar.
My older son used his money to buy a soccer video game and has asked to play soccer this fall for the first time.
Can’t wait to watch him.