Concerns continue to grow among FIFA officials about whether Brazil will be ready to host the 2014 World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped soccer fans from opening their wallets to buy tickets to the tournament. And despite grim predictions for the U.S. squad and the sport’s relative lack of popularity back home, it seems Americans are more eager than most for a trip to Rio de Janeiro in June.
According to a news release by FIFA on Tuesday, 1,591,435 tickets have already been sold through general public sales, with 65 percent (1,041,418 tickets) allocated to fans from the host country. Of the remaining tickets, the majority have been sold to fans from the U.S. (154,412 tickets), followed by Australia (40,681), the U.K. (38,043) and Colombia (33,126).
This may be surprising to anyone who knows anything about soccer, America and soccer in America. Although the sport is certainly growing in the U.S., it’s still nowhere near the popularity of major sports like football and basketball or even the more niche auto racing events. Meanwhile, soccer is by far the most popular sport in the rest of the world. For the U.S. to outpace all other countries in World Cup ticket sales means at least one of three things:Americans are surprisingly optimistic about their team’s World Cup chances -- whichever team that may be.
When World Cup draws were announced in December, everyone immediately predicted gloom when the U.S. was placed in the so-called “Group of Death,” having to face Germany, Portugal and Ghana in the early rounds. Even U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann described the draw as “the worst of the worst,” which doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the national fan base.
At the time, however, a few, calmer voices emerged to reassure fans that it might not be that bad. As I noted then, the Americans were going to be the underdogs no matter what -- and, hey, at least they don’t have to face Brazil just yet. Nate Silver gave the U.S. a 39.3 percent chance of advancing out of the preliminary rounds, the same as fifth-ranked, Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal. So, perhaps, American fans are uncharacteristically shunning the initial impulse to freak out in favor of some cautious optimism.
That said, fans from the U.S. also turned out in droves to attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. At the time, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati postulated that the high ticket sales were a sign both of the sport’s growth in the country as well as the diverse countries of origin among the population. Fans who live in the U.S. may be hopeful about the U.S.’s chances, but they’re also likely rooting for Mexico, Colombia or any 29 other nations from which they might hail.Americans have more disposable income to spend on international sporting events.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks first among 36 nations surveyed in terms of household net-adjusted disposable income – that is, the amount of money after taxes that a household has to spend on goods and services.
Futhermore, the U.S. boasts by far the largest population of any of the tournament’s participating nations. So while the OECD warns of the dire income inequality among Americans, the sheer size of the population and the amount of wealth at the top means a lot of people have a lot of money to book flights to Brazil, stay in hotels and buy World Cup tickets. According to the Associated Press, that last one is no small feat: Ticket prices range from $90 to $175 in the first round, other than the opener, and increase to between $440 and $990 for the final in Rio.Americans are really, really into sex tourism.
I think we’ve found our answer.
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