Like most Europeans, I’m a big soccer fan.
In fact, soccer is one of the things that I have missed the most since my move to the United States. In Europe there’s no hiding from it. It’s everywhere. For some, it’s the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink. Quite a difference from the U.S.
However, this ongoing World Cup has given me a little bit of hope for the future of soccer in this country. Not just because of the impressive performance of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, making it from the ‘group of death’ to the round of 16, but also thanks to social media. In just the first week of games in Brazil, Facebook had seen more World Cup related action than anything that the 2014 Super Bowl, Oscars and Winter Olympics combined ever created. And the U.S. has been number two, right after the host and soccer-crazy nation Brazil, in social media engagement for the World Cup (!!).
And that’s not the end of the world’s social media frenzy for the tournament:
- The start of the knock-out games over the weekend of June 28 and 29 shot World Cup interactions on Facebook over the 1 billion mark. No other event in history – Facebook history, that is – has inspired that many interactions.
- The World Cup has also been one of the most talked about events on Twitter with more than 300 million related tweets.
- If you’ve been curious at all about the World Cup so far, you’ve probably turned to the source we all have come to entrust with all of our important life questions and problems – also known as Google. For the World Cup, Google created a webpage that reports on World Cup related search trends. Take a look. As I’m writing this, with 60 matches played so far, Google has recorded more than 1.8 billion such searches.
FIFA, the controversial governing body of international soccer, has its own tracking system for World Cup related tweets. Here’s a screenshot from their fifa.com/worldcup/social page:
Exactly how FIFA’s tracking system works is not really made clear on the site. Interesting nonetheless.
It all adds up to this: it’s a record shattering year for the World Cup on social media. Which leads to the question, why? Why now and not four years ago, during the last World Cup in South Africa?
Let’s get the most obvious answer out of the way first:
1. Technology has changed pretty drastically since 2010. The online statistics portal Statista puts U.S. smartphone users in 2010 at 62.6 million. The forecast for 2014? 163.9 million. More than double. According to eMarketer earlier this year, “the global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014.” With the continued adaptation of smartphone technology, it gets easier and easier for users to post, like, tweet, retweet, and speak their opinion on pretty much anything instantaneously. Including the World Cup. News outlets and organizations do the same, which leads to instant updates and articles for users to comment on, like and share/retweet.
And it spirals on…
2. Social Networks have grown since 2010. Not only have they grown – they have bettered their abilities to track anything and everything said, done and liked through their platforms. But for the sake of keeping this relatively short, they have grown. According to Facebook, they had 1.28 billion monthly active users as of March 31 of this year, and 1.01 billion of them were also mobile monthly active users. Compare that to the “humble” 608 million Facebook users of December, 2010. Similarly, Twitter reports having 255 million monthly active users right now, about 155 million more than in 2010.
3. Ease of access to live games. There’s no denying that it’s easier to follow any sporting, or non-sporting, event these days. Thanks to smartphones, tablets and apps like WatchESPN, the World Cup can be followed pretty much anywhere. At work, in bed, while on a walk, etc. You get it. And if you can’t watch the actual game, you can ask to get notified of major events during games, or follow live news updates. This easy access to the World Cup, along with the curiosity sparked from friends’ social media accounts, have probably led a few otherwise reluctant soccer viewers to be more involved in the Cup in 2014.
4. Brazil. This is a huge year for Brazil. Despite the demonstrations and riots that ruled the news before the World Cup, Brazilians love their soccer, and hosting the World Cup is huge. It’s their time to shine. The fact that this is where the World Cup is held may have affected the “explosion” of social media engagement, for a couple of different reasons. For example, check out the growth in smartphone users in Brazil for the past few years, according to Statista:
2010: 6.5% of cell phone users
2014: 46% of cell phone users (expected)
Even though Brazil was just as soccer-crazy in 2010, instant access to social media was not as widespread. It’s a different world today, and the center of its attention is in Brazil. The host nation has contributed more to the social media World Cup conversation than any other country. And the world knows how important a win would be for the hosts. Maybe more important than for any other host nation (here’s one reason). Maybe that knowledge makes this year’s soccer drama just a little bit more interesting to follow? Maybe?
What do you think? Are there more/different reasons for the social media records of this year’s World Cup? Am I way off track? Feel free to let me know your thoughts, nicely.
(PS. Back to my big hope for the growth of soccer in the U.S. – here are a couple of news articles to take a look at: