According to FIFA and Kantar Media , over three billion people watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup TM, making soccer the most watched sport in the world. Despite the rivalry between loyal fans, the beautiful game in the wake of war and international disputes is also considered to be the “peacemaker” of the 21st century. So what is it that makes twenty two people kicking a round ball about that so compulsive viewing for millions?
According to a study published in the New Scientist, what holds our attention is, the excitement factor, or more simply put the idea anything can happen in the next 45 minutes. Other codes have their attractions but soccer takes the crown, according to the findings of New Mexican researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory. The research team analyzed results from more than 300,000 games over the last century from the US's national hockey, football, baseball and basketball leagues and the top English football league. Researchers looked for factors which attracted spectators to a specific sport. Their results showed the "upset frequency" was highest for soccer, followed by baseball, hockey, basketball and finally American football. Rugby and cricket were omitted because they do not have a big following in the US.
Seems it is the “Jack the Giant killer” prospect i.e. the underdog beating a favoured team, which is compelling. Something that has been witnessed many times in the earlier rounds of the FIFA World Cup TM tournaments.
By contrast, the researchers compared data from the past 10 years and found the “upset frequency” associated with English Football Premiership and US baseball, surprisingly, the data would suggest the popularity of soccer is beginning to fall behind. The authors concluded soccer might have peaked and become more predictable in recent years with increased emphasis on tactics and absence of game changing players, making soccer less exciting to watch.
When I was a schoolboy, my English teacher was convinced many fans followed sport they themselves had never participated in, other than to watch others play e.g. boxing. Football was the notable exception, since each member of the crowd could, with little provocation, join the players on the field and came dressed accordingly, just to prove the point.