Knoxville has low-grade World Cup fever; bandwagon grows

(WBIR - Knoxville) The country has gone crazy for the World Cup. More than 11 million people watched Monday night's thrilling match between the U.S. and Ghana on ESPN.

American ratings are up across the board compared to previous World Cup audiences. However, some cities are more pumped about soccer than others.

Dead last on the list of World Cup ratings for 56 major television markets is Knoxville. USA Today reports the four markets with the worst rating were Dallas/Fort Worth (4.4), Louisville (4.3), San Antonio (3.8) and Knoxville (3.7).

"They love college football here. We run into a lot of skeptics when it comes to soccer. Soccer is not very big here in Knoxville," said Kyle Clark, a founding member of the American Outlaws chapter in Knoxville. "The American Outlaws are a grassroots organization that is devoted to pulling for the United States National Team in soccer. Countrywide, we have more than 18,000 members. We just started in Knoxville about a year and a half ago and have grown to 130 members. It has been phenomenal."

LINK: American Outlaws Knoxville Chapter on Facebook

The Outlaws proudly carry the badge of the boisterous and loud minority of die-hard soccer fans in Knoxville. But they want as many people on the U.S. bandwagon as possible. A big part of that involves organizing watch-parties at The Crown and Goose restaurant and pub in the Old City of downtown Knoxville.

"For Monday's game against Ghana, we had around 500 people in here. It was just awesome," said Outlaws member Drew Whorley. "Interest has continuously spiked and it hasn't slowed down."

Nielsen measured Knoxville's rating at 3.7 for the United States against Ghana. To be clear, that is a larger audience than in the past during the World Cup group stage. Monday's game was also a weekday match that kicked off at 6:00 p.m. and was only available on cable. Yet, the Knoxville rating pales in comparison to the top market on the list, Washington, DC, where the audience posted an 11.8 rating for the Ghana game.

It seems Knoxville still heavily prefers the homegrown American classics. At least, that is the case for farmer Tony Davis at the Market Square Farmer's Market.

"We're selling summer squash and beans," said Davis. "You should have been here earlier when we were selling blueberries. They were great."

When asked whether he was following the U.S. National team, Davis asked, "The World Cup? What do you mean? No. We watch 'big orange' football. College football. High school football. It is 'real' football."

When told there is no "real" American football on television until the fall season, Davis offered a solidly southern rebuttal.

"Well, we've got NASCAR," said Davis.

Two vendors at the opposite end of Market Square set up beside each other, but had very different World Cup viewing habits.

"I haven't watched a single game of it because I don't really like soccer and I've been real busy," said farmer Charlie Zavels. "I've never really liked watching soccer. I love football and baseball is also one my favorites. Right now it is all about the Atlanta Braves for me."

Beekeeper Doug Slocum sold jars of honey in the tent next to Zavels. Slocum had a much different take on "the beautiful game."

"I absolutely watched the U.S. game, which was quite incredible," said Slocum. "Both of my sons are deeply involved in the World Cup and all of their friends are. The World Cup comes along every four years and we just need to support our team."

Perhaps Knoxville is not as interested in the golden World Cup trophy because the city already has a giant golden ball with the Sunsphere at World's Fair Park. But the Outlaws say there is plenty of room on the growing soccer bandwagon. Furthermore, they want Knoxville's sports fans to understand American football and soccer are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to choose between the "big orange" and the "red, white, and blue."

"It's not one sport versus another. You can love football and soccer the same way you can love football and basketball. I love Tennessee football more than anyone," said Whorley. "But the camaraderie and the level of patriotism that was shown on that day [during Monday's soccer match], it was special. It was awesome to hear U.S.A. chanted that loud. It's something I'll never forget. It's a sporting memory I'll always have."


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