Evan Soltas
Mar 14, 2015

Searching for Soccer

After the success of the United States team in the 2014 World Cup, many predicted that soccer would finally break through into the American athletic mainstream.

The New York Times said "this time is different." "America is embracing soccer," The Atlantic insisted. "Is this soccer's moment in America?" asked The Wall Street Journal. "Is soccer ready to take off in the U.S.?" NBC News quiered. And the BBC wondered whether 2014 would be the "defining moment for football in the U.S."

And today, with the help of data from Google Trends, I can answer these questions definitively: No. Soccer did not break through. The 2014 World Cup did not change Americans' well-known lack of interest in soccer. In America, soccer did not, as one might say, achieve its gooooools. (Sorry.)

Now, it's true that, every time a World Cup happens, Americans become interested in soccer. But that was an entirely temporary display of interest in 2014, as in 2006 and 2010.

By the first week of August 2014, less than a month after the World Cup ended, Google searches in the U.S. for the term "soccer" were no higher than the average search volume for the first week of August in the years between 2004 and 2015 without a World Cup. Since then, searches for soccer have been right in line with the historical average.

It's possible that Americans are more interested in soccer but are finding other ways to express that newfound enthusiasm. But that seems unlikely. As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has shown time and time again, if Americans are interested in it, they search for it on Google: sex, racism, child abuse, and more.

Another way to look at this is to figure out the "abnormal" search volume for soccer by subtracting the seasonal average search volume in that week from the actual week's search volume. What we see is that, every time a World Cup happens, Americans search for soccer. And then, once the World Cup ends, they stop searching for soccer.

2014 was a bigger year for soccer searches than 2006 or 2010 -- twice as big, in fact. But there's just no evidence that any of that enthusiasm was persistent. Sorry, soccer fans: Americans are back to being bored with your sport.