Justice Department Scores Goal With Latino Soccer Fandom

American fans watch the U.S. take on Belgium at a watch party in Chicago's Soldier Field in 2014. American fans watch the U.S. take on Belgium at a watch party in Chicago's Soldier Field in 2014. Stacy Thacker/AP

 The target of Justice Department indictments last week may have been FIFA, but U.S. Latinos heavily influenced its aim.

If you want a good look at growing soccer fandom in the United States, look at the television ratings of Univision during the last World Cup. In the final match alone, 9.2 million people tuned in, making it the most-viewed World Cup final in U.S. Spanish-language television history.

Univision outperformed ABC—who also showed World Cup games in 2014 along with ESPN—in the Miami and Houston markets during that final broadcast, this all according to Nielsen. In total, Univision had 80.9 million total viewers in the entire tournament, surpassing the last World Cup viewership by nearly 30 million viewers. That sort of growth is astronomical.

(NBC Universal's Spanish-language station, Telemundo, outbid Univision for the 2018, 2022, and 2026 World Cups and will likely share similar ratings success among a largely Latino audience.)

The Justice Department's actions against FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, are not coincidental. Americans are starting to care about soccer. The United States is still miffed about losing the 2022 World Cup bid to Qatar. With last week's arrests, and subsequent downfall of FIFA head Sepp Blatter, the United States is showing leadership in the world of soccer.

As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern writes:

The Justice Department says it isn't trying to bring down FIFA; it's trying to save it. And it has decided to do so by arresting, prosecuting, and (with luck) imprisoning a stunning array of the organization's most powerful leaders.

In its actions last week, the Justice Department firmly introduced itself to Latinos, the fastest-growing demographic in the country and one of the major sources of increased soccer fandom in the nation. Doing so shows millions of ardent soccer fans that this administration—or Attorney General Loretta Lynch at least—cares about an issue they care about.

Before the 2014 final, a Pew poll found that 23 percent of Latinos were following the World Cup closely and another 32 percent were following the games fairly closely. Together, that translates to more than half of Latinos following the World Cup, vastly greater than the number of white and black poll participants.

No substantial (or scientific) polling on how Americans view the recent FIFA arrests and the future of soccer exists yet, but judging by the massive interest in the World Cup last year, it's safe to assume those Justice Department actions were popular. Presidential candidates take note.

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