BY PAMELA LONDON
My first love was sport.
I have seen its ability to foster joy and community, a trait that drew me – and continues to draw me – to sport as a passion. I have seen strangers embracing, grown men crying, babies wearing headphones bigger than their faces, all in the name of sport.
Sport also has the power of fandom. There are the diehard fans and the “bandwagon” fans, and then there is everyone between these two extremes. For some, the lines are explicitly drawn in the sand: You are either with us, against us, or choose not to care.
Yet there are also some who see the spectrum and embrace it, embrace everyone at every level of fandom. Who cares if people only tune in to ESPN during the month of March? Check baseball box scores in October? Come out of hibernation every year or every two or four, for the Olympics or the World Cup? Though not everyone sees it, all of these people are fans. I count myself in the camp that does.
My point is that the pool of sports fans, like the success of their teams, can and will vary. The inevitable ebb and flow of sports means that there will be periods of triumph and periods of failure. People will be constantly jumping on and off the bandwagon. Yet all of these people are still fans, no matter their intensity.
The 2014 World Cup has demonstrated the spectrum of fandom not just in the United States but all over the globe. The supporters have come not by the hundreds or thousands, but by the millions: The Los Angeles Times reported that nearly 30 million people watched the tournament’s final match between Germany and Argentina on television. The Spanish-language network Univision revealed that its total viewership for the 2014 tournament was up 30 percent from 2010. The accessibility provided to Americans – and people around the world – for consuming matches reached unprecedented levels, due arguably in part to the prominence of alternative viewing platforms, most notably the WatchESPN app. Further advances in viewing technology should lead to an even wider audience for 2018 in Russia. The easier it is for people to tune in to a game the more likely they are likely to become a fan.
The continued growth of soccer in the United States is undeniable. Soccer is not one of the four “major sports” (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) in the United States yet, but it is heading that way. Major League Soccer (MLS) will add franchises in New York and Orlando in 2015, bringing the total number of teams to 21. Players are coming over from top European leagues to play in North America. Many of them are not past their prime looking for a cushy place to slide into retirement, but rather players at the top of their game. Players like Michael Bradley, who moved from AS Roma in the Italian Serie A to Toronto FC, or like Sounders FC’s own Clint Dempsey, who came over last year from Tottenham of the English Premier League. Both are world-class players, veterans of multiple World Cups and now headliners in MLS.
Fans are increasingly hooked by the product on the pitch. MLS teams are gaining thousands of new season-ticket holders every year. Since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders’ average attendance would rank the top clubs in the world. Go to a Sounders match, watch the U.S. national team in a bar or a party with friends. Feel the passion, energy and excitement that permeate the stadium and engulf each and every fan. Give soccer fandom, crazy as it may seem, a chance to pull you in, too.
This World Cup, nations full of fans have celebrated and commiserated along with their teams. See the Colombian players’ reception upon arriving home that turned into one big dance party, or the Costa Ricans, who were greeted with a huge ceremony. See the countless dignitaries in attendance at matches. See the friends and family members and supporters who walked, drove, flew thousands of miles to watch their teams in action. See the explosive reactions to matches on social media, the names that were trending or the players getting “likes,” “re-tweets” and more followers with each passing day.
See the support that the World Cup has generated this time around. Then think about how much it will grow just four years from now.
The World Cup has helped to demonstrate that soccer is sustainable in the United States, in North America and all over the world. These fans are here already, in growing numbers, their passions on full display. If you are a supporter, keep supporting. And if you are not a supporter, support those who are: people you love, people you don’t know, people who you think are crazy. They are crazy, but just because they are supporters. And that is what we do.
My message to not just soccer fans but fans of sport worldwide: never stop supporting. No matter your level of fandom, always keep it going. If someone calls your pom-poms and face paint and decked out game-day attire insane, bring them to a game just once or watch one on TV. If you are not such a serious fan yet, hop on for the ride, if not just for a moment.
Dare to be different. Dare to support. You won’t be sorry.
Pamela London is a graduate of Shorewood High School in Shoreline and Whitman College who played on the women’s soccer team for the Division III Missionaries. She also is an aspiring journalist who worked as a sports writer, sports editor and managing editor for The Pioneer, Whitman’s student newspaper.
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