Red state, blue state; soccer state, NASCAR state

Have you noticed the befuddlement of North America’s sports broadcasting establishment over the huge audiences tuning in to the World Cup? It began with CBC honchos scratching their heads over the vast outpouring of interest in… soccer? Thirty million Canadians have tuned in since mid-June. The top rated soccer match drew barely 500,000 fewer fans than the Stanley Cup final.

“I don’t know why the CBC is so surprised,” an annoyed soccer fan complained  to me two weeks ago. “For the last 25 years, more Canadian children have played soccer than any other sport. Those kids are grown-ups now.  What does the CBC think they want to watch?”

Then there was the bizarre, cringe inducing attack on soccer popularity by the American right’s favourite Kewpie Doll provocateur, Ann Coulter, who denounced soccer’s rising popularity as “a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”

[In soccer], there are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised… Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.

I don’t believe I have ever recommended an Ann Coulter column, but if you haven’t read this one, you really should experience its breathtaking, gobsmacking awfulness.

So it’s not just Canadians, those closet socialists north of the 49th, who are tuning in to what the rest of the world calls “football.” Americans are doing so in record numbers. Some 18.22 million tuned in to the United States’ 2-2 tie against Portugal, easily outdrawing the 2013 World Series or the NBA finals.

All this caused ESPN to wonder out loud whether “America’s love of soccer [was] real or a fad?”

[T]ides roll in and tides roll out. Has the United States truly fallen in love with football or just the World Cup in a friendlier time slot? Is the unprecedented exuberance we have witnessed around our game long-lasting or, like that for pogo sticks and hula hoops, is it a mere fad?

To find out whether their countrymen were really serious about this foreign soccer stuff, the sports network turned to its pollster, who produced a heat map showing the level of soccer fandom in the lower 48 states.


Now I don’t know about you, but I looked at that map and thought, “Where have I seen that before?” And indeed I had, in a heat map of Red States vs. Blue States, depicting Americans who identify themselves as liberal vs. those who call themselves conservative:


The colours are inverted, of course, but otherwise, the maps are strikingly similar. Oregon, California, Vermont, and Massachusetts love soccer, and they love liberal Democrats too. Alabama, Mississippi, and the Badlands of North Dakota will have no truck or trade with foreign football, but they’re happy to break bread with the Tea Party.

In a fascinating essay in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that Coulter is both closer to the truth than we might imagine, and right to fear the rising popularity of soccer.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that young Americans disproportionately like soccer. The average age of Americans who call baseball their favorite sport is 53. Among Americans who like football best, it’s 46. Among Americans who prefer soccer, by contrast, the average age is only 37.

Beside Hispanics and the young, the third major pro-soccer constituency is liberals. They’re willing to embrace a European sport for the same reason they’re willing to embrace a European-style health care system: because they see no inherent value in America being an exception to the global rule.

In a week when five aging male Catholics on the US Supreme Court sought to limit women’s access to contraceptives, citing the religious beliefs of corporations, the rise of soccer—er, football—is a hopeful development, even for this unreconstructed, sexagenarian baseball fan.