Grant Wahl / PHOTO: theoriginalwinger.com

Grant Wahl, author of Sports Illustrated’s exposé on FC Barcelona that hit the stands last week, sat down with fcbarcelona.com to talk about Barça’s growing popularity in the United States.

While football is by no means foreign to the magazine, content has historically focused on sports that are popular in North America like american football, basketball, baseball and hockey, among others, which makes Wahl’s nine-page article on Barça all the more interesting. The author explains that “Sports Illustrated has shown a growing interest in soccer over the last 10 years, and we were hoping to give our readers an inside look at perhaps the most successful team in any sport globally over the past five years.” Wahl adds: “Barça has a fascinating story, both historically and in recent years, and it’s clear that the club is a part of the U.S. sports culture now. You see Barça shirts everywhere in New York City these days.”

La Masia, a perplexing and intriguing concept for the American public

FC Barcelona’s commitment to its famed youth program hasn’t gone unnoticed on the other side of the Atlantic either. “Most top European clubs—Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea—are lucky to have even one homegrown player in their starting lineups. But La Masia's track record of developing champions is unprecedented, the evidence visible every time FC Barcelona takes the field,” writes Wahl in his Sports Illustrated piece. When asked about what he thinks will surprise the American public the most about his article, Wahl says “the success of La Masia and the idea that so many players on Barça’s senior team started at La Masia in their early teenaged years. It’s hard for us to imagine players on the New York Yankees or Miami Heat or New England Patriots being part of the club since they were 12 years old—mainly because that would never happen.”

It’s not just La Masia that’s making waves in the U.S. but one of its most accomplished and talented graduates is as well: “Messi has gotten big in North America. One survey has shown that Messi is more popular in the U.S. than NBA star Dwyane Wade and all but two baseball players.” Wahl also notes that "Iniesta isn’t as big as Messi here, but soccer fans know Iniesta well, and general sports fans know him as the guy who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup."

Football’s growth in the U.S.

While the MLS, the professional football league in the U.S., plays a large part in the continuing growth of the sport in North America, Wahl notes that “television has played a major role” in bringing European football to American shores. He adds: "You can now see up to 80 live broadcasts of soccer games every week on television in the United States. Ten years ago there might have been four or five live games on television every week. All of Barça’s games are on TV in the States, so we can see this amazing team just as much or more than any other country.”

Even though it’s a bit more difficult for football-loving Americans to watch La Liga after beIN Sports scooped up the rights to broadcast the league in the country, Wahl says that the situation "will change as the channel gets more providers. Fewer people watch the Spanish league here than the English league, but there are still a good number of viewers for Barça games, especially those against top Spanish league opponents and in Champions League.”

You can read Grant Wahl’s The World’s Team article in its entirety here.