U.S. World Cup fans a vocal minority

Most people surveyed have only mild interest or none at all

People who care about the World Cup really, really care about it -- and their enthusiasm can create the impression that even the U.S. has been swept up in Cup mania. The Economist/YouGov polling offers a useful corrective to that notion.

Conducted June 19-22 (i.e., when the U.S. team was still in the midst of group play), it asked respondents to say how closely they're following the tournament. Only 7% said "very closely," with another 14% saying "somewhat closely." Twenty-four percent said they were following the World Cup "not very closely" and 55% "not at all."

TV ratings have indicated a growth in the World Cup audience since 2006. But it's worth bearing in mind that the growth comes from a pretty low base. And that's in sync with the findings gleaned by another question in this survey. Asked whether they're more interested or less interested in the current World Cup than they were in 2006, 6% said "much more" and 15% "somewhat more." Fifty-three percent said their level of interest (or lack of interest) is "about the same" this time as it was then. And a bold 27% declared themselves to be less interested -- 6% "somewhat" and 21% "much less" so.

To the extent there is interest in the World Cup among Americans, it skews young. Among the 18- to 29-year-olds in the Economist/YouGov polling, 12% said they're following the tournament very closely, and 21% somewhat closely.

As you might guess, a breakdown of the data by ethnicity finds Latino respondents more likely than their black or white counterparts to be World Cup fans. But the findings also rebut the stereotype of U.S. Latinos as uniformly avid followers of the sport. Twenty-one percent of Latino respondents said they're following the World Cup very closely, and 26% said they're following it somewhat closely. But they were slightly outnumbered by those following it not very closely (29%) or not at all (24%).

Elsewhere on the World Cup data front, Meltwater Buzz has been tracking social media mention of brands that are official sponsors of the tournament or heavy advertisers on media surrounding it. In part, it gauged the nature of the buzz about the brands, characterizing mentions as positive, neutral or negative. While some brands have seen an increase in positive buzz (and a corresponding decrease in the negative variety) since the tournament began, others have seen just the opposite happen.

Hyundai is an official sponsor whose buzz has improved in the past month. On May 24 -- i.e., a couple weeks before the World Cup got under way -- Meltwater Buzz measured 8% of social-media mentions of it as positive, 75% as neutral and 17% as negative. By June 24, as group play in the tournament was winding down, the positive portion of mentions had risen to 12% and the negative had fallen to 7%. (See also: "Hyundai Passes Nike in World Cup Buzz")

The pattern has been similar for Visa (another official sponsor), with the positive portion of its buzz rising from 6% to 10% while its negative component dipped from 14% to 8%.

McDonald's has had a more mixed performance. The positive portion of buzz about it jumped from 2% on May 24 to 12% on June 24. But the negative portion of its buzz also rose significantly, from 5% to 14%.

You might expect a rise in both positive and negative mentions (at the expense of neutral ones) as the tournament focuses more attention on sponsors. In the first half of the World Cup, though, that hasn't been a reliable pattern. In the case of Adidas, for instance, the positive portion of its buzz has fallen from 22% to 9% and the negative component has declined from 6% to 5%, while the proportion of mentions that are neutral has climbed from 72% to 86%.

This parallels the pattern for Nike -- not an official sponsor, but a conspicuous advertiser in Cup-related media. On May 24, 20% of its buzz was positive and 16% negative, with 64% neutral. A month later, "positive" had tumbled to 6% and "negative" to 5%, while "neutral" had ballooned to 88%. (Some totals don't equal 100% due to rounding.)

Still, that's better than the trend line for a few other sponsors during that month. For example, Budweiser had more positive than negative buzz (15% vs. 10%) on May 24. A month later, the "negative" number was unchanged, but the "positive" had fallen to 6%.

Finally, yet another study has taken a look at social media chatter about prominent World Cup players. Conducted by Networked Insights, it examined English-language posts from anywhere in the world. In a round of monitoring that spanned June 16-23 -- i.e., ending just before the knockout round that sent the U.S. and some other countries packing -- it found Wayne Rooney generating the most buzz. In second place was England teammate Frank Lampard, who went on to score the famous goal-that-wasn't-a-goal in the loss to Germany.

Filling out the top 10 were Clint Dempsey (U.S.), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Steven Gerrard (England), Kaka (Brazil), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Nemanja Vidic (Serbia) and Landon Donovan (U.S.).
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