The World Cup has spurred the predictable and tired point counterpoints about soccer and its popularity in this country. While its supporters point to record TV ratings to bolster their claims that soccer is a sport on the come here, the nay sayers marshall their claims that its boring, that "real Americans" don't care, etc., etc.
I've found a tool which adds a new dimension to the argument. Google has been compiling data on total web searches on its engine since 2004 and provides the data at Google Insights. The search engine allows you to enter up to five different items and conduct searches on the numbers of web searches done on those subjects.
Following in the footsteps of the Financial Times' Simon Kuper, who pointed out the popularity of sport world wide by using Insights, I've done my own Insights searches to determine the popularity of teams in the United States, and found some incredible stats. Most amazing for this audience: the Cowboys are the most searched NFL team in the country since 2004, which lets them lay claim to "America's Team," if the term is limited to the NFL.
If all professional sports teams are included, the Cowboys come in third. In fact, they trail a team which isn't even American. Follow me over the jump to learn who's really "America's Team." lt;/p>
Insight only allows you to search five names at a time, so I started by entering the biggest names in each U.S. team sport. I then took the top two and began adding names from other sports, and through a process of elimination narrowed the list down to the most popular teams, by search, in pro football, basketball and baseball.
Then, as an experiment, I cycled in some of the bigger European soccer clubs -- Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid, and ran their numbers. Here's the top five, in all major sports, domestic and foreign, in terms of internet searches in the United States, since 2004:
- Cowboys 24
- Barcelona 16
- Lakers 14
- Chelsea 26
- Yankees 27
(The numbers don't represent percentages but relative numbers of searches; thus, they won't equal 100%)
The Yankees, the most successful American sports franchise, with the longest sustained winning history, can lay claim to being the most-searched "America's Team," but just barely. The runner up is Chelsea FC, an English club owned by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Your Cowboys rate a game, but real third overall.
What does this mean? For the Cowboys, not that much. The NFL, and American football in general, remain at the top of the U.S. online sporting-fix list. Here's what a search in the U.S. of "football, soccer, baseball, basketball and hockey teams" from '04 to the present returned:
- Football -- 36
- Soccer -- 17
- Baseball -- 19
- Basketball - 21
The Insight data shows that the soccer-slammers completely miss the boat. The European leagues begin their games in the early morning hours on weekend and in the early afternoon during the week if you're an American fan. That, and the relative weakness of MLS don't curb this countries increasing appetite for the other football. Fans have to follow it online much of the time, but they do it anyway.
These numbers help explain the major investments by American football owners into the English clubs in recent year. Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family, who also owns the Tampa Bay Bucs. Browns owner Randy Lerner makes frequent trips across the Atlantic to watch his Aston Villa squad play. The same is true for Rams owner Stan Kroenke, currently the majority owner of Arsenal. Rangers and Stars fans are aware that Tom Hicks is co-owner of Liverpool.
The owners what many fans here have known for some time, and which the American sports press is only beginning to realize: Americans love football -- both kinds.