American sports is mostly associated with basketball and baseball. Football has been repeatedly overlooked, despite the numerous leagues formed, the American team’s impressive 3rd the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay, and its constant presence in the school system and in middle-class suburbia. It is good to know that this indifference is slowly disappearing.

At long last, football is gaining the attention that it had always merited. While it does not have the visibility other ballgames have, kids, college students and adults are playing the sport in pitches across the United States. The search volumes for the game and its many players, like goalkeeper Tim Howard, have risen in the last few years. And more are tuning in to the matches. In light of these recent events, one wonders how this European export became so popular.

kids all across America are playing football

In a very enlightening article published in Quartz, John McDuling traces the development of this sport and reveals how it previously failed to capture the attention of the nation and how it later succeeded.

America’s relationship with football is fascinating. The game had an audience as far back as 1800, but it only gained traction around 1920 when the American Soccer League (ASL) was formed. It was the talk of the town for years. The US even placed third during the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay. But bickering within the league eventually forced its closure.

Football fell off the radar over the next few decades until the 1960’s when the National American Soccer League (NASL) was established. This league ultimately lost steam after Pelé, who was the reason for drawing the crowds, retired.

In 1994, football’s big break finally arrived. FIFA chose the US to host the World Cup, reigniting interest. The matches made a strong impression on the American psyche, which has kept football on the rise since. It helped that the US was chosen to host the women’s World Cup in 1999, as did the men’s team reaching the quarterfinals during the 2002 World Cup Tournament.

a scene from the much-anticipated world cup

This year’s coverage of the World Cup is undeniable proof of football’s popularity. ESPN and ABC broadcasted the World Cup, which totaled to 290 hours of programming. Both companies predicted wide viewership, a strong demand to watch the show live, and heavy social media discussions. According to the networks, the coverage was:

“The most comprehensive to date and the most complex production we have ever done at this company, bar none. It is expected to be record-breaking.”

It did not come as a shock that the recent World Cup coverage scored massive ratings. According to data from the Los Angeles Times, the final match between Germany and Argentina attracted 17.3 million viewers. This doesn’t include the millions who watched the game via ESPN’s online streaming service.

It is interesting to note that America’s history with football shares similarities with the game’s relationship with the Philippines. Like the US, football has been around the country since the early 1900’s, but it’s been overshadowed by basketball. There have been several attempts to start clubs and host tournaments. It has even been offered as a sporting option in a number of private schools. Similar to America, it only garnered attention in the last few years.

At present, there’s a huge interest in football. The national team, the Azkals, has thousands of supporters and their matches are eagerly awaited by enthusiasts. High school and college students across the country are playing the sport. Quite recently, talk of the game invaded social media as the World Cup became the hottest trending topic in Facebook and Twitter. Football’s recognition as a legitimate national sport is just around the corner, similar to what’s happening in the US. Check out John McDuling’s comprehensive article to learn more about football’s fascinating history with the United States.

Photo Credits
Photo by Guss Estrella via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Photo by Brent Flanders via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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