(Reuters) - The women’s World Cup final between the United States and Japan on Sunday may not rival the Super Bowl, but soccer fans, wild with excitement, will be at viewing parties in bars, museums and homes across America.
In Chicago, U.S. Soccer will host a Lincoln Park extravaganza on the shores of Lake Michigan, where soccer-mad revelers will watch the title match on a 19-by-33 foot, high-definition screen.
Last summer’s viewing party for the men’s World Cup drew 28,000 people to Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Sunday’s game, in Vancouver, Canada, will be a grudge match of sorts as the Americans lost the 2011 World Cup final to Japan on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw.
The World Cup has already become a bonanza for merchandisers and television broadcasters as the United States seeks its first championship since 1999, when the Americans defeated China.
Randy Vogt, the manager at Robson Sports in downtown Vancouver, said demand for USA gear has been hot. He sold out of jerseys ahead of the USA-Nigeria game and on Thursday received another batch on special order.
“By Sunday they’ll be gone,” he said. “Having the U.S. in the final is great for our business.”
Fox Sports said 8.4 million viewers on average tuned in for the team USA’s semi-final win against Germany this week, and at one point in the game about 12 million people were watching.
The six USA matches on the Fox networks have averaged 5.3 million viewers, more than twice the viewership on ESPN of the 2011 tournament through the semi-finals that year.
Overall viewership this year for all games on the Fox networks has averaged 1.3 million viewers per match, an increase of 45 percent over 2011, the network said.
Major League Soccer still lags in popularity to other pro sports, such as football, baseball and hockey, but it is making inroads, especially when the national teams perform well.
“We have definitely seen an uptick in ticket sales and attendance at Seattle Reign FC home matches since the beginning of the women’s World Cup,” said team spokesman Brandon Kolp, adding he has seen increased interest in the team’s “pro experience” camp for girls.
Fans in soccer-loving Portland, Oregon, have a long list of places to catch the World Cup final, from neighborhood bars to big screen theaters. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is hosting a “Match at the Museum,” a free screening of the game on its four-story screen in its Empirical Theater.
Seventeen-year-old Seattle area goalkeeper Britt Blomso has been watching the World Cup on television for several weeks and plans to watch Sunday’s final with family and friends at her home in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline.
“The U.S. has always been a kind of a powerhouse, at least for women,” said Blomso, who plans to play at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College after she graduates from high school.
“The fact that we’ve been so competitive is really encouraging, to see these players play my dream.”
Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, and Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Steve Orlofsky