December 15, 2011

Goal!!! US Women’s Soccer Team Best of 2011

The US Women’s Soccer Team may not have won the World Cup in 2011, but their win over world power Brazil did win the prize as the best single sports accomplishment of the year. That’s according a Marist Poll done in conjunction with the Marist College Center for Sports Communication. Of the 624 sports fans surveyed nationally, 32% chose the soccer performance, far ahead of the 18% who chose the Dallas Mavericks sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Playoffs. Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit finished third of five choices with 15%. Underdog TCU winning the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin finished last with only 11%.

A deeper look into the numbers reveals how important this performance was to a large number of Americans, but also some difference amongst generations. Millennials (18-30) were the only age group to choose the Dallas Mavericks first, with 28% picking Dallas. They also put Derek Jeter in a near dead heat with soccer, trailing 21% to 22%. But for every other generation, the Women’s Soccer Team reigned tops. That is a bit surprising, given the assumption that younger sports fans appreciate soccer more than older ones do in this country. But it also reflects the relative prominence of the NBA by young fans. It also shows that younger sports fans tend to gravitate to sports stars, like Derek Jeter, and individual accomplishments.

While there is a bit of a gender gap on the soccer pick (37% female vs. 29% male), it still ranked first for both groups. This reflects the universal popularity of this sporting moment in 2011. It also suggests some progress on the acceptance of women’s sports by a male audience.

However, the story of these poll results isn’t about soccer or gender. It’s a story about nationalism and the American public’s excitement over an American team taking on the world. While the world may be increasingly global, sport remains one of the few places we can still retain our sense of nationalism, of who were are as a nation. In a non-Olympic year, the US Women’s Soccer Team defeating a world power in Brazil gave us that nationalistic moment. This sense of pride was likely amplified given the current state of the American economy and our relative uncertainty as the world superpower amidst the rise of other emerging economies – including places like Brazil. So more than anything, this soccer performance on the world stage gave sports fans a chance to feel good about America. This may also reflect the younger generation’s relative disinterest with this accomplishment. Raised in a global society, they may find less need for a sense of nationalistic pride through sport.

For more analysis, visit the Center’s YouTube Channel for video commentary of the results. For complete results and methods, visit the Marist Poll.

About the Poll: Marist Poll National Adults: Interviews conducted November 8th through 10th, 2011, N=1026 MOE +/- 3%. National Sports Fans: N=624 MOE +/- 4%. Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding.