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World Cup America

WASHINGTON, DC – Something changed – or perhaps was revealed – in the United States during the last month. Many millions more Americans watched the World Cup soccer tournament in English and Spanish than ever before. True, with the World Cup’s end, many are arguing, as usual, that Americans pay attention only every four years – and only when the US is playing. But this time something was different: Americans continued to watch even after the US team was eliminated.

Indeed, on a weekday afternoon in the middle of summer, nearly 15 million Americans tuned in to the Brazil-Germany match in the semifinal. That is more than the usual viewership for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, the biggest regular television draw for fans of American football.

Almost every young person at my organization, New America, found ways to watch the US games in the early rounds. My apartment mate explained that everyone in her office, in the US Department of Education, had used the excuse of a birthday party to watch the US-Germany match. On the Tuesday afternoon when the US played Belgium in the knockout round, every bar in Aspen, Colorado, was packed.

Of course, Aspen is one of the country’s wealthiest communities, and perhaps not representative of the US as a whole. But US television showed an enormous crowd of fans in Kansas City following the US-Belgium match on a large outdoor screen. It was not quite the equivalent of the final match between Italy and France in 2006, when virtually every small Italian town turned out to watch on the main square; but Americans all over the country spent the month ducking out of work and into sports bars.