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Volume 25 No. 45
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U.S. Could See Popularity Of Soccer Jump Ahead of '26 World Cup

A recent poll showed soccer surpassing baseball in popularity among American 18-34-year-olds
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The North American bid winning the rights to host the '26 FIFA World Cup is a "game-changer" for soccer in the U.S., according to Steve Buckley of the BOSTON HERALD. Considering "how much soccer grew in the United States in the afterglow" of the '94 World Cup, it "doesn’t take a leap of faith to predict a true soccer explosion in the run-up" to '26 and beyond (BOSTON HERALD, 6/14). SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote millions of new soccer fans "will be created, potentially paving the way for fútbol to leap from its current growing state firmly into the realm of the U.S.’s most popular spectator sports" (SI.com, 6/13). In N.Y., Brian Lewis notes a Gallup poll in December showed soccer has "surpassed baseball and is just a shade behind basketball (but far behind football) in popularity among American 18-to-34-year-olds." If the game "plays its cards right," it will "take its place as America’s fifth 'major sport' by the time" the '26 World Cup rolls around. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said there is "no doubt" that the '26 World Cup will "elevate the sport of soccer to entirely new levels" (N.Y. POST, 6/14). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote the "awarding of the World Cup was hailed as a potential transformative event for soccer in America" but the country "doesn’t need to be introduced to the sport." Soccer is "big here" and it is "getting bigger, especially with young people" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/13).

NO FREE ENTRY? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joshua Robinson notes the "dream from the bid team was for each nation to have its own opening game featuring its home national team." However, FIFA has "not yet decided whether members of three-country bids will earn automatic berths, since it has never had to deal with one before." All three countries may "yet have to qualify through the normal route, which can prove tricky." However, it is "highly probable" that CONCACAF will "amend its rules to guarantee slots for all three hosts" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/14). With the U.S. failing to qualify for this year's tournament, USSF CEO & Secretary General Dan Flynn said the challenge for soccer in the U.S. is "our product on the field." Flynn: "We're not competing this year in Russia. That's a big negative. What we can do in eight years is capitalize on the plans that we have in place." Flynn: "We have a very strong league (in MLS). It's growing and getting better every year. This eight-year runway gives us a wonderful platform to build on many levels" ("Squawk Alley," CNBC, 6/13).

MONEY SPEAKS: SI.com's Wahl looked inside yesterday vote and noted the United bid promoted its projection of an $11B profit for FIFA, which "would shatter previous records." The fact is that "FIFA needs money." The joint bid winning also "makes it much more likely that FIFA will be able to add its first North American sponsors since before the FIFA scandal." There are "dangers, of course, in the U.S. being seen as little more than a giant soccer cash register." Part of the U.S. men’s failure to qualify for this World Cup "can be tied to the lack of balance between the financial side and the sporting side in U.S. Soccer." The sport has "become very good at making money but not nearly as accomplished at producing good men’s soccer players." That said, it "would have been foolish for the United Bid not to use its powder." USSF President Carlos Cordeiro "knew that the prospect of cold, hard cash would resonate in FIFA" (SI.com, 6/13).