The 2018 FIFA World Cup is a mere three weeks away.
Wait, why aren’t you celebrating the start of the only sporting event larger than the Super Bowl?
If you’re uninterested in the massive soccer (or football or futbol) spectacle, it’s easy to understand why.
The U.S. men’s soccer team failed to qualify, leaving many fans to turn to Twitter to revolt and rage, feeling a deep sting to our national pride.
We know this because, according to Jay Bavishi, partner manager for FIFA at Twitter, the United States is still the second most tweeted-about team (@ussoccer), right behind Japan (@JFA).
Chile (@LaRoja) didn’t qualify either. Yet like the United States, they also made the “most tweeted about teams” list.
“As you can see, despite the United States and Chile not qualifying for the tournament, excitement for this summer’s event has not waned as both teams are still among the most discussed on Twitter,” Bavishi said.
So, even after the United States was ousted from Cup contention months ago, we’re still talking about @ussoccer on Twitter. Why?
When you look back at those tweets about @ussoccer, they’re not pretty. I tend to shy away from the negative, but there was something very telling about our growing interest in soccer among those posts.
It’s no secret that the United States lags behind other countries in soccer appeal. But over the last decade, there has been a groundswell of interest based in cultural shifts – oh, and social media.
The shifts are clear: the introduction of youth soccer leagues; an influx of immigrants who brought with them a love for soccer; the introduction of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996.
Sure, the MLS can’t touch the other major sports in ratings and revenues, but the fan base is just as fervent. MLS fans let their passion shine social media, in particular on Twitter, where they rally support for teams, communities and causes.
I noticed this first-hand while attending the International Association for Communication and Sport’s Summit at Indiana University a few weeks ago.
During one presentation, researcher Stephen Andon (Nova Southeastern University) discussed fan reaction to the Columbus Crew owner’s plan to move the team from Ohio.
Using the hashtag #SaveTheCrew, the rallying cry for Crew fans on Twitter and around the world set on keeping the team in Columbus, I tweeted a message of support for Andon’s research and for Ohio’s lone MLS team.
Within minutes, Crew fans were sharing that post, and interacting with Andon and other fans.
One fan even invited me to a tailgate party in Columbus.
It’s clear that soccer in the United States doesn’t have the power of other major league sports. But what it lacks in money and media exposure it more than makes up for in a passionate fan base on social media.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.