The World Cup opens today, with host nation Russia taking on Saudi Arabia. If your response to that news is something like "Who cares?" or "Soccer is boring!" then let me offer you some tough love:
Pretend to care. Especially at work.
I don't care whether you're into soccer, you should care about what your colleagues and coworkers perceive to be your level of interest.
Here's the reason, in seven words: "In America, only old people hate soccer."
I'll offer you both anecdotal and statistical proof.
Anecdotal: Pay attention at your work. I'll bet the under-30s are rearranging their schedules this week to watch Portugal v. Spain at 2 p.m. ET on Friday. The over-30s are talking about baseball, and asking if that "Ronald O." guy still plays for Spain.
(It's Cristiano Ronaldo, by the way, and he plays for Portugal.)
Statistical: A Gallup poll earlier this year shows 7 percent of Americans say soccer is their favorite sport. Context:
- that's more than twice what it was four years ago, and
- statistically, soccer will be the #3 sport in America pretty soon.
It's already bigger than the NHL (4 percent said hockey was their favorite sport), and will overtake baseball soon (9 percent). And, the data is skewed even harder by age.
About 1 percent of people over 55 said soccer is their favorite sport; 11 percent of 18-34 year olds claim it. For 12 to 17 year olds, soccer already beats baseball.
Heck, even Baron Trump, the president's 12-year-old son, was recently spotted dressed head to toe in an Arsenal kit. But I've never seen him wearing a New York Yankees jersey. Have you?
Soccer and the ADEA
It's no fun getting older at work.
There's a federal law in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination in employment based on age over 40. But it happens anyway.
So, you need to embrace the harmless things that keep you from being marked as an Old.
It means having the requisite emotional intelligence to be able to interact with people about the things they care about.
Like, statistically, soccer--especially over the next 30 days when such a big percentage of America under 35 or 40 will be watching the World Cup.
The "sport of the future"
Soccer haters sometimes refer to soccer by saying it's "America's sport of the future ... and always will be."
Ha ha ha ha ha... nope.
The future is already here. If you want to trace its rise in the country, it's probably best to point to three things:
- the fact that the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, which lead to the creation of Major League Soccer.
- the popularity of EA Sports FIFA video game series, which has sold about $1 billion worth of games during its 22-year-history, and introduced millions who don't watch on TV.
- Internet streaming and TV deals. In short, you can watch or stream every big foreign game.
Compare that to 1990, just before the explosion, when Roger Bennet, an English-born American citizen who hosts the Men in Blazers soccer show worked at a summer camp in Maine. Short version: the World Cup was going on, and Bennet couldn't watch a key game, because none of the local bars would turn any of its of its TVs to see it.
"With no Internet back then," Bennet wrote, "I had to wait for the next day's Boston Globe to find out that England had predictably lost... But what scarred me most was the bar owners: Not only did they refuse to change the channel for two desperate English soccer fans, but they took a perverse, sadistic delight in doing so."
This is now
A quarter of the teams in England's Barclay's Premier League are now owned by Americans. And the United States, in a joint bid with Canada and Mexico, was just awarded the World Cup for 2026.
Maybe you can see what I'm doing here: dropping some mini-facts for you to use in your conversations with under-35, soccer-mad colleagues over the next few days.
Also: Iceland, a nation of fewer than 400,000 people that managed to put together a winning team and reach the Finals. And Italy and the Netherlands, which like the U.S.A. aren't even in the tournament this year. (Also: Ghana and Chile).
There, I hope that will get you started. (You can also read my colleague Chris Matyszczyk's analysis). Just don't be a hater.
Or at least, you know: Fake it.