The 2010 World Cup in South Africa has been a huge success in the United States! The U.S. national team caught the attention of the soccer fan and the non-soccer fan as they advanced to the Round of 16 in dramatic style. And the 32 team tournament generated the best ever T.V. ratings for soccer for ABC and ESPN.
But this has not always been the case and Gary Hopkins looks at the rise of soccer in the U.S. over the past 20 years in his new book Star-Spangled Soccer: the Selling, Marketing, and Management of Soccer in the USA.
Hopkins points to July 4, 1988 as the date that changed the course of soccer in the U.S. This was the day when FIFA announced that the U.S. would host the 1994 World Cup.
“I am not sure anyone involved in soccer in the late 80s and had any understanding of just how important the staging of World Cup 94 would be,” Hopkins told Soccer 365. “There was a lot of hope, and fear (that it might fail) but most of all it was a complete focus on working out how to execute the event and build the US National Team program.”
It is hard to imagine today with a solid bid submitted to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups but in 1988 U.S. Soccer was a small poorly organized group trying to make big impressions on borrowed money, there was no top flight domestic league, the national team had not qualified for a World Cup since 1950, youth soccer was far from the phenomenon it is today and arguably most importantly the U.S. was not seen as a soccer nation to the other countries around the world.
“There were few sponsors, no media coverage and in truth little interest from the general population,” Hopkins went on to say. “It took soccer evangelists and a lot of solid business smarts to actually pull it all off. Everyone hoped it would be a launch pad and in fairness it was. While World Cup 94 ended up being a phenomenal success with record crowds and profits, it was actually off the field that the real impact was felt. Investors, sponsors and television networks being convinced that soccer had a future in America and backing it with their cash. Without a successful 94 it is highly doubtful many of the investors that today underpin soccer in the USA would be here.”
From this starting point, Hopkins tells a captivating story on how earn the right to host the World Cup in 1994 and all that was required to make it a success from selling soccer to a skeptical audience, to hiring a foreign coach, to building a team that could win the hearts – and some games in the process - of the American sports fan changed the course of the game’s history.
With the most successful World Cup in terms of attendance and revenues in the books, Hopkins turns his attention to the growth and struggles of Major League Soccer, the success of the women’s national team, the business of youth soccer, the importance of Mexican soccer in the growth of the game in the U.S., increase in television importance and more.
In each of these aspects the game in the U.S. there are connections that deserve credit back to the 1994 event and how it changed the game.
But for the game to continue to grow and thrive the soccer fan in the U.S. has to have a love for the game and not just the big tournaments or top teams and no telling what could happen if the U.S. is awarded the opportunity to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
“So many factors are at play here but I truly believe that the next 10 years will see exponential growth. MLS will grow, and change, new teams will come into the league, some existing might not make it, but the league will ‘kick on.’ It still has much to do to convince core fans it is deserves their support, but my sense is it will.”
“American soccer fans must get behind MLS its clubs and its players. Everyone in soccer in the USA benefits from a successful Division One professional team. I also actually believe much in soccer will also be driven by FIFA granting the rights to the USA to host the 2018, but realistically 2022 World Cup. I saw what the event did in 94 and the legacy it left. If in December 2010 FIFA give the World Cup back to the USA it will signal the start of a 12 year soccer boom across all areas of soccer that will dwarf what took place previously and truly cement the sport in the USA.”
The 2010 World Cup gained the attention of millions in the U.S. and with the quadrennial event over it is a perfect time to settle in to read the book and realize this was not always the case. And Hopkins is one of the best people to tell the story with his 20 years of experience with the game in the U.S. and his relationships with many of the main people involved makes Star-Spangled Soccer: the Selling, Marketing, and Management of Soccer in the USA suitable reading for the passionate lifelong fan of soccer or the still skeptical sports fan who might have watched their first soccer game this summer.
What's being said!
A fabulous book…well researched, thoughtful and analytical. It is also a highly entertaining read. If you want to understand how soccer was built in America read Gary's book
Alan Rothenberg: CEO World Cup 94 / President US Soccer 1990-1998
This is an essential read for anyone who wants to know how the US Soccer business developed in a crowded sports landscape. Gary Hopkins had a ringside seat for the key years in that development and his narrative is a lively and informative read.
Sunil Gulati: President United States Soccer Federation
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