According to the South African organizing committee and FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, more than 130,000 of the 2.8 million tickets were purchased by U.S. residents, the highest total by any country other than South Africa. Donald Gips, U.S. ambassador to South Africa, estimated that between 25,000 and 40,000 Americans would attend some of the 64 matches.
They are not necessarily coming to see the U.S. team, however. Although there’s no way to determine, through ticket purchases, a fan’s rooting interest, the United States’ broad ethnic makeup suggests that many will support Mexico, Honduras and other Latin American nations.
Nonetheless, the massive ticket-buying effort “says a lot about the growth of the game in the U.S.,” said Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. “It also says something about the size of our country, the wealth of our country and the diversity of our country.”
Of the three first-round matches involving the U.S. team, Saturday’s meeting against Group C favorite England was the most appealing to American supporters. The USSF sold its entire allotment of tickets: about 5,200 at 44,530-seat Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. Other U.S. fans purchased tickets through FIFA’s distribution program and tour packages. Vice President Biden is scheduled to attend.
“There is a perception that, in the States, it is mainly Spanish-speaking Americans, it’s their game,” said Danny Jordaan, chief executive of South Africa’s World Cup organizing committee. “What we found is that it has become more of a sport than to just Spanish-speaking Americans. It’s good for the sport in the country.”
Airfare to South Africa from the United States ranged from $1,500 to $4,000 in recent months and quality hotels were initially difficult to secure. Visitors also had to take into account logistical issues in an emerging country and South Africa’s security concerns.