Global Game In A Digital Era: The World Cup’s Billion Voices


In 1993, Tom Weir penned a column for USA Today stating his thoughts on this country and fútbol: “Hating soccer is more American than apple pie, driving a pickup, or spending Saturday afternoons channel surfing with the remote control.”

Things have changed in the last 17 years. For one thing, North America hosted a World Cup. In another, as with most things, soccer has become less maligned around the States because the home team has actually gotten competitive. The 2002 World Cup featured the best performance by the Americans ever; last year, the US squad almost pulled off the win of a lifetime before falling to Brazil in the finals of the confederation cup . Dave Eggers once tongue-in-cheekly noted that, “When children in the United States are very young, they believe that soccer is the most popular sport in the world.” For maybe the first time since the Cup has been in the U.S., though, there is a reason for everyone around here to get excited beyond the youngest among us.

I’m a soccer fan living in America, born in America (aside: even if I have cheered for England in World Cup’s past and potentially even have St. George’s Cross hanging in my workspace, I will be rooting for the right team come the opening game for Uncle Sam’s Army on June 12th). But even stateside, faithful fanatics like me have nothing on the global tenor surrounding the beautiful game. The good news, though, is that the global network of social, digital media may bring us all together in just three weeks time.

I kind of believed that we’d catch on to this game this year, but in the last few days, the excitement really feels like it’s catching on. For example, there’s this outstanding Nike commercial that’s gained nearly a million views in just a few days’ time:

From the minute I saw the first post of the video over on Yahoo!’s Dirty Tackle, I passed it to every soccer fan within my social networks I could. I promise that this entire column is more than an excuse to post the clip, though. I did some digging of how quickly the video reached the various parts of the Internet. As of 9:30 this morning, the stats have it at more than 15,000 clicks and 16,000 shares on Facebook – not shabby for one day at all. Here’s to American innovation and Nike!

But wait, of those 15,000 clicks? Our country of 300 million? We account for about 2,000. Our former colonial oppressors? Actually, a little bit more than that, and Brazil has as many, too. An American company’s three minute commercial spread throughout the world massively quickly – and relativelynone of us noticed.

Twitter and Facebook are going to play an amazing role in this year’s Cup – even if only has a fractional impact in America. The universality of Twitter is absolutely something new to this lap through the World Cup, and there’s an interesting viewpoint about its reach shared on Twitter’s Media blog:

Okay, so it’s uncontroversial to say the World Cup is a big deal.

It is, in fact, the biggest deal: the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world. In 2006, 700 million people watched the final match.

So it’s not surprising to suggest that the World Cup will be big on Twitter. Let’s take the Super Bowl as a data point. At peak moments, nearly half of all tweets created were about the game. And think about it: where the Super Bowl is U.S.-centric, the World Cup is global, and increasingly, so is Twitter. Then, mix in mobile use: people are going to be tweeting from bars, from movie theaters, and from stadiums in South Africa. Lots of people are going to be tweeting from their desks at work—but lots are also going to be tweeting from places in the world where phones, not PCs, are the primary internet connection. (Twitter sends about a billion tweets via SMS every month.)

I plan on watching every minute of this year’s matches that I humanly can – but I’ll also have one eye peeled to the billions of other voices chiming in about the World Cup. The global game is truly about to be that, and it is something we will luckily be able to share together wherever we may be. Regardless of what Tom Weir once said, I don’t have to hide my love of soccer anymore to be an American. In fact, I can broadcast it to every corner of the world in just 140 characters time and participate in the events more than any U.S. fútbol fan could before.

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Dave Levy spends most of his day working on Edelman’s Digital Public Affairs team in Washington, DC. A media researcher on the side and a self-proclaimed geek, he blogs often about how traditional media adapts – or tries to adapt – to the growing social media world at State of the Fourth Estate. You can follow Dave on Twitter for various updates about everything from sports from his previous home in Boston to eccentric and obscure pop culture references.