Cindy Hoedel: FIFA World Cup winners: Germany and … Kansas City

07/16/2014 11:11 AM

07/19/2014 6:37 PM

Germany carried off the 18-karat gold trophy, but Kansas City was the other big winner of the 2014 World Cup.

An inland sea of red-white-and-blue-clad fans roiling in the KC Live plaza in the Power & Light District during U.S. matches became the face of American soccer as images of the jubilant crowds were beamed and streamed around the world.

With a terrific showing by the U.S. team, which advanced to the Round of 16, and record-setting TV and Internet audiences, this year’s Cup made clear that Americans have indeed embraced the world’s game.

And Kansas City, home to reigning MLS champions Sporting Kansas City and high-tech, award-winning Sporting Park, can add soccer to the short list of things we are internationally famous for, along with jazz and barbecue.

Friends from England and Germany whom I hadn’t heard from in years called and wrote to ask if I was in the rollicking P&L crowd that became the darling of ESPN and Univision during broadcasts of U.S. matches.

I was not. I watched the games on TV in my tiny hometown of Matfield Green in the Kansas Flint Hills with my neighbors, who are originally from the Netherlands. They have lived in the United States for more than 20 years and say they have never seen so many Americans following the World Cup — or even knowing it was going on — as this year.

The couple, Ton Haak and Antonia Zoutenbier, run an art gallery north of town. Throughout the 31-day tournament, when visitors to the gallery, many from Kansas City, learned where they were from, they would comment on how well the Netherlands was playing or say, “Go, Orange!” (The Dutch team wears bright orange uniforms.)

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Zoutenbier said.

She wasn’t the only one surprised by American interest in the World Cup. Business Week reported that TV viewership on ABC/ESPN and Univision was up 42 percent and 38 percent respectively over 2010, but the networks failed to cash in big on the huge audiences because they pre-sold 70 percent of their advertising at prices pegged to lower ratings.

I was one of 24.7 million U.S. viewers who watched the U.S.-Portugal match on TV. The New York Times said that number smashed the average viewership of this year’s NBA finals (15.5 million) and last year’s World Series (14.9 million). It nearly matched the audience for the BCS championship game in January (25.7 million).

In addition, FIFA, international soccer’s governing body headquartered in Switzerland, said 5.3 million U.S. viewers streamed the U.S.-Portugal match.

The World Cup also lit up social media like a bonfire. The Guardian reported that Facebook tallied a record 280 million interactions by 88 million global users during the final alone, easily surpassing the previous record of 245 million interactions during the 2013 Super Bowl. And, in a development sure to irritate Ann Coulter, the country that supplied the most traffic was the United States. The World Cup was also the biggest sporting event ever on Twitter, with 32.1 million tweets sent during the match.

With soccer’s popularity rocketing, Kansas City is sitting pretty with its newfound image as the American epicenter of what has long been called “the beautiful game.”

To reach Cindy Hoedel, call 816-234-4304 or send email to choedel@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter, @CindyHoedel, and at Facebook.com/cindy.hoedel.

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