Many football fans around the world will be glad to hear that after years of dominance the sport is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. More and more people are tuning in to watch their favorite clubs play, and for the first time in decades, there are signs that the game’s popularity may be equaling or even exceeding that of the Premier League.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia was yet another example of how football has been brought to the forefront of people’s minds. The tournament was attended by a record-breaking 94.4 million viewers across the world, helping the tournament set a new world record for the most-watched annual sporting event. The previous record holder, the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, drew an audience of 88.4 million viewers.
What does the 2018 World Cup outcome prove? Football is back, and it’s here to stay! For decades, the most popular football competitions were European tournaments such as the European Champions League (known as the CL) or the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Cup. The World Cup, however, has largely nullified these traditional winners’ cups, as the largest countries in Europe don’t necessarily have the best footballing infrastructure. For instance, Germany ranks 9th in the world in terms of footballing development, while Portugal ranks 23rd. This is in part thanks to the confluence of the World Cup and the European Championships, as well as the increased exposure that both tournaments afford the game in comparison to the past. It also hints at the growing importance of UEFA Nations League in establishing which teams are truly the best in Europe.
The Importance of Developing Home-Field Advantage
One of the biggest factors contributing to football’s popularity resurgence is that in comparison to other sports (with the possible exception of rugby, actually), it tends to fare much better at being a truly global game. This is largely thanks to the fact that European teams have historically dominated the sport, with the World Cup trophy being a prime example of this. The last time a non-European team took home the coveted gold was in 1994, when Argentina’s Boca Juniors beat Brazil’s Santos in the play-offs for the right to challenge Germany’s Bayern Munich for the World Cup.
Bayern’s home stadium, the Allianz Arena, was literally rammed all evening and into the early hours of the morning as Brazilians and Argentinians from all walks of life and distant lands packed the stadium to catch a glimpse of their teams.
It’s a similar story for international matches, with most games ending before the fans have even had a chance to settle down a bit. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why many consider the World Cup to be the pinnacle of club football.
The point is that football can be a truly world game because the sport is accessible to all. From grassroots level to the top tiers, the game is available for everyone to play. This is in stark contrast to many other sports, where either you’re born with the necessary talent, or you have to train hard to acquire it. With football, no talent is needed, just a desire to play the game.
It’s well known that the majority of the world’s best footballers play in the Premier League, with France’s Lyon boasting a roster boasting dozens of international stars. Yet even here, outside of the glamorous lights of the UEFA Champions League, the story is quite different. With a population of nearly 500 million and an economy valued at around £13.8 billion, the United Kingdom is one of the most-populated countries in Europe and, therefore, provides a unique habitat for football. Few could argue that the country doesn’t love the game, with around 150 clubs registered with English Football Association, and a community that supports the sport akin to that of any major European city. All of this adds up to the fact that England is home to some of the most famous and successful football clubs in Europe. It’s even been said that the total market value of the clubs in the Premier League alone is around £25 billion.
Increased Interest From All Areas Of Society
One of the other big reasons behind the resurgence in popularity of football can be found in the game’s increasing representation across all areas of society. Interest from all areas of society is something that’s been evident for some time now, with young people drawn to the glamour and excitement of the sport. It’s now being reflected in older generations, too, with a recent survey revealing that 55% of Gen Z and 42% of millennials play the game. This compares to only 25% of those aged between 55 and 64 and 23% of baby boomers having an interest in the sport. For those looking to become influencers in society, football offers a vehicle to do so, with numerous platforms such as YouTube and Twitch covering the game and its stars.
More People Watching Than Ever Before
If you’ve ever been to a football match, particularly one at a high-profile event such as a World Cup or European Championship, you’ll most likely have seen thousands of people in the stands. This is mainly because of the way football is structured, with games lasting for quite some time and frequent stoppages, often resulting in fans getting up and walking about to stretch their legs and get some air – or to use the restrooms, of course.
The problem for those in charge of organizing football games is that once the spectacle of the match has finished, the fans have nothing more to do. This is where the creation of the Fan Lounges comes in. These are areas of seating reserved for fans at an athletic event, with the intention being that after the game has finished, the fans can stay and have some fun. With more than 100 million Twitter users, the platform provides an ideal venue for those organizing sporting events to promote their games, with the #WorldCupFanLounge being a trending topic on the platform during and after the Russia 2018 cup final. The trend continued after the final whistle, with fans gathering in huge numbers to continue socializing and having some fun during the trophy presentation. This is clearly a case of a platform catering to the needs of those organizing large sporting events and showcasing the games and their stars, with the likes of TikTok and Twitter acting as a digital live-streaming platform and digital scrapbook for fans, respectively.
The Future Of Football
It’s quite a feat to bring football to the forefront of people’s minds, let alone see it become popular worldwide, but that’s exactly what’s happened. The game is back, and it’s here to stay. The question is, will it remain a niche sport, or will it permeate every aspect of our culture, from the grassroots level to the top tiers?
The answer is up to us. As a society, we need to decide whether we want to embrace football as a whole, or will we continue down the path of other sports and ignore the game altogether? In many ways, it’s a similar story to that of the NBA, which went through a similar popularity surge after the 3-point shot was first implemented and made the game more attractive to spectators. For decades, the majority of people had thought of the NBA as a sport for men only, and while women’s interest in the sport has increased, it still lags behind that of men. However, the tide seems to be shifting, as today, more and more people are seeing the game not just as a vehicle for entertainment but as a genuine test of athletic ability, with many women’s football teams breaking down gender barriers and outperforming their male counterparts. Much like with the NBA, football could see a rise in appeal and inclusivity as a result of increased globalization and social media penetration.