CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Surprised the United States is the world's second-largest market for World Cup tickets, behind only host Brazil? Experts say you shouldn't be.
FIFA, soccer's global governing body, says about 200,000 tickets were sold in the United States, many through an online lottery months ago.
Insurance agent Zach Rambach of Springfield, Illinois, and five buddies spent about $5,000 each on their "bucket list" trip to the tournament. They'll see four games, including U.S. vs. Germany on Thursday.
"You can't relive this. To go to the mecca of soccer, Brazil, just the excitement, the atmosphere and how unbelievably excited they are about their team," Rambach, 31, said. "I would have paid triple for it, I really would have."
FIFA reported about 20,000 American fans attended the country's opening game against Ghana, or about half the crowd. Nishant Tella, a vice president at the New York City investment bank Inner Circle Sports, was among them.
"The fervor was there, everyone was fired up," said Tella, 31.
Here are some factors that make the U.S. a primary market for soccer's biggest event:
PEOPLE AND MONEY, AND LOTS OF BOTH:
The U.S. is the world's third-largest country by population, with more than 318.9 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That dwarfs many of the world's soccer powers. If only 10 percent of Americans follow soccer — roughly 30 million people — that's three times the population of a soccer hotbed such as Belgium (population 10.5 million). The United Kingdom, the sport's birthplace, has a population of about 63.7 million, about a fifth of the size of the U.S.
The United States also is among the world's most affluent countries. Only a handful have higher per capita incomes, according to The World Bank, and they tend to be small countries like Kuwait, Australia, Switzerland and Sweden.
The combination of size and money is "the primary factor" behind the sales, according to Laurence DeGaris, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Indianapolis who regularly works in sports business.
More than 24 million people in the U.S. watched the 2010 World Cup final — that's 10 million more than the World Series averaged per game last fall and triple the best-ever audience for the Stanley Cup final.
While it's tough to say exactly how popular soccer is as a spectator sport, television viewership suggests World Cup interest isn't something entirely new.
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