Soccer ratings soar to record highs, but what does that mean?

Prepare for the "America really, really loves soccer" memes to take hold in the coming days. The reason? Record, stratospheric ratings for the FIFA Women's World Cup finals. How high were they? Fox Sports executives have to be grinning like a fox...

Prepare for the “America really, really loves soccer” memes to take hold in the coming days.
The reason? Record, stratospheric ratings for the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals. How high were they? Fox Sports executives have to be grinning like a fox in the hen house.
The 5-2 victory by the U.S. women’s team over Japan - keyed by Carli Lloyd’s first finals hat trick - earned a 27 share in overnight ratings, meaning of all the households with a television on Sunday night, 27 percent were tuned in to the game. That translates into a huge number of peepers -
25.9 million viewers, according to Fox via Nielsen.
It is the highest-rated soccer game broadcast on a single network, according to Fox Sports, beating even the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that the U.S. women also won. It topped ratings for the U.S. team’s last finals appearance in 2011 by a whopping 77 percent, according to Fox.
So we’re good, right? Soccer’s on the ascension, right?
Sure. Maybe. America soon will realize that the most popular game on the planet is cool at last, right?
We shall see.
Soccer’s come a long way in this country. There are cities like Columbus with dedicated soccer venues and more are coming as the MLS is looking at expansion in markets such as St. Louis, Miami and Minneapolis. The league plans to expand from 20 to 24 teams by the 2018 season.
Ratings are up significantly for the league on Fox Sports 1 and ESPN. FS1 averages 219,000 viewers for its games, a 54 percent increase over when they aired on NBCSN. They’re up 18 percent on ESPN2.
When you add in the fact that the MLS is enjoying record attendance of 20,873 fans per game in 2015, there’s reason to believe the sport has caught on with all of those 5-year-olds whose first exposure to any participatory sport was rec league soccer on weekend mornings.
That doesn’t, however, explain Team USA’s World Cup numbers.
The way I see it is Americans love them some America, especially on Independence Day weekend. In this case, it’s a pride thing, a patriotism thing. Nothing wrong with that if it’s your thing.
However, I’m not foolish enough to be an absolutist on this particular subject. Perhaps something is going on with soccer’s acceptance because of the clouds that hover over other American sports such as baseball (too slow), football (too many concussions, making it too dangerous) and basketball (welp, could be more of a team game, but that would be asking a wee bit too much).
Progress has been slow, however, for the world’s sport in America. The ascension and thus progress will likely remain slow. Until that changes, enjoy the temporarily enhanced glow of America’s exceptionalism.
Ch ... ch ... changes
In what should be of no surprise to anyone after the local Fox Sports cable entities cut free some talented Web-based writers (Zac Jackson, Joe Reedy), the trend has hit the sports network at the national level. Fox Sports 1 announced changes in strategies (less travel, less coverage of events for which they don’t hold the rights) and personnel - so say goodbye to more talented folks on the sports news side, according to reports.
What’s the deal? Just as it was not difficult to predict that rights fees for sporting events would increase significantly (think the NBA’s $2.66 billion deal with its broadcast partners) with multiple entities having interest in them, it’s just as easy to predict that eventually sports cable outlets would have to do something when the bills came due.
Even the Worldwide Leader isn’t immune to increased scrutiny because of costs. While its parent - Walt Disney Co. - basked in the glow of second quarter earnings that beat expectations, a couple of reports singled out ESPN for draining just a wee bit of that financial mojo.
No one is going to grieve for the Mouse House. Its bottom line for this year is secured because it was able to pry the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises away from George Lucas’ warm, open hand. A new film for the former arrives just in time for Christmas as an early present for the geeks (of which I am one).
But ESPN has a subscriber-fee based business model, and there’s finally blowback from cable companies (think skinny bundles) and consumers (cord cutting). Things are going to get seriously interesting in the coming months in this realm.

George M. Thomas is a sports writer for the Akron Beacon Journal.

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