By Ernie Williamson
I couldn’t believe what I was watching!
There were football and basketball games on TV that I had been looking forward to.
And what was I doing? I was watching soccer, of all things.
I had never before paid much attention to soccer. It ranked right up there with axe- throwing on my sports radar.
But I decided to see what all the World Cup hubbub was about. I figured it couldn’t be worse than watching the foundering Texans or Rockets.
I started out just switching over to soccer action on Fox during commercials of football games. But to my surprise, I gradually started watching more soccer than football.
Critics, and I was one until this World Cup, say nothing happens in soccer and there isn’t enough scoring.
I now feel the scarcity of goals is what makes the sport so exciting. It’s like watching an edge-of-your-seat pitching duel during an Astros World Series game. Goals, like runs, are precious.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only newcomer taken in by soccer. The USA-England match drew 15.4 million viewers, making it - for a short time - the most watched men’s soccer match ever on American English- language television.
That record was short-lived, however. A few days later the thrilling final between Argentina and France drew 16.8 million English- language viewers.
That is 13 percent higher than the final four years ago between France and Croatia.
Fox executives must have been happy since the network was charging $600,000 for a 30-second commercial spot, double the normal charge.
Telemundo also set records for its Spanish-language coverage.
Soccer is especially appealing as a live TV property due to its upscale audience. Fox says the median household income is $115,000, well above that for other major team sports.
Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president for Fox Sports, told the Los Angeles Times: “ The U.S. is the only country in the world, at least among the English-speaking population, where soccer is the sport of the elite.”
All this begs a question that seems to be debated after every World Cup: Will soccer ever become as popular in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world?
There is always a touch of American soccer fever during the World Cup, but the fever subsides when the competition ends.
But there are reasons to think that won’t happen this time and the U.S. might become more of a soccer nation.
First, the 2026 World Cup will be played in Houston and 16 other cities in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. It will bring a lot of new fans to the sport.
“The World Cup is a full 35 days and we’ll have five or six matches, and being the global sport that it is, it will draw a lot of attention to our wonderful destination,” Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County Sports Authority, told KHOU.
Also, barring unforeseen circumstances, the 2026 U.S. team will be led by Christian Pulisic, the most prolific and decorated male player in U.S. soccer history.
He helped the team live up to its pre-tournament hype this year and starred in ad campaigns. Fans will want to follow his career.
Lastly, a growing Hispanic population in the United States that plays and follows soccer in significant numbers, and high participation levels at the youth level have boosted the sport’s popularity.
A Gallup poll has found that an all-time high of 31 percent of Americans say they are soccer fans.
Count me as one of them.
(Contact Ernie at email@example.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)