REIMS, France — These days when Ali Krieger needs a cup of coffee, she doesn’t linger. She knows that throngs of supporters may stop her, even thousands of miles away from the U.S. in France. Although the support is appreciated, she wants to stay in her team bubble and hyper-focused on preparing to win the Women’s World Cup.
“That’s the tough part – you see a bunch of our fans and supporters, which has been incredible, but it’s a bit tough to move around freely and be normal,” Krieger says. “I haven’t walked around too much. If so, it’s just been to grab a cup of coffee and walk back – or sprint back.”
To be sure, that is not a problem that most teams in this World Cup have as the United States’ uncommon support continues to set the bar for the non-host countries competing in France.
The Americans have played to packed stadiums everywhere they’ve gone, and according to FIFA, Americans make up the largest contingent of fans visited from outside of France for the World Cup. As of this week, 130,905 of the tournament’s tickets have been allocated to Americans, which is the second-most behind France and more than the rest of the countries in the World Cup combined.
“I’ve actually been really surprised – I didn’t expect this many Americans to come over,” says Kelley O’Hara. “The stadiums have been jam-packed for us and just full of American support. Walking around the streets and seeing people in jerseys and in USA gear has been really cool.”
For some of those fans, it has been years in the making to get here to France and experience this World Cup.
Disappointed that they had missed the U.S. win the World Cup in Canada when the tournament was in their own backyard, Liisa Harkins, 32, and MacKenzie Hanna, 34, of Vail, Colorado had been saving up for years. They will be following the USWNT as far as they get through the World Cup and all the way to final.
While in Paris, the atmosphere around the tournament was subdued, they said, but in other cities, it has felt like Americans have taken over.
"We were surprised how in Paris it doesn’t seem like it knows what’s going on," Harkins said before the U.S. faced Chile.
“In Reims, they cared about it — it was everywhere and that felt incredible to be there and have the whole town support it,” Hanna added.
"It seemed like the whole town was flooded with Americans while we were there,” Harkins said.
Now the Americans are back in Reims and it has been a boost for local businesses.
Ahead of the USA’s opening match of the group stage in Reims, every hotel in the city was sold out with popular travel websites listing no rooms available. By Sunday night, the day before the USA’s round of 16 match against Spain, Reims was listed as being 97 percent booked on one popular travel website.
Although it’s harder for fans to come to France than it was to head north of the border in 2015 to Canada, where the drive was relatively inexpensive, American interest in this World Cup is booming.
FOX Sports, the English-language broadcaster of the tournament in the U.S., has seen ratings on a record pace. More Americans have tuned into this year’s group stage games for the U.S. than they did four years ago, despite the 2015 World Cup being in the same time zone as the American audience. FOX and FS1 averaged 916,000 viewers throughout this group stage, which is 6 percent higher than the 2015 Women’s World Cup and 73 percent above the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
For many fans who made the trip to France, it was a chance to make up for having missed the USA’s thrilling victory in Canada four years.
"The last World Cup in Canada we really wanted to go but we didn’t plan ahead,” said 20-year-old Michael Lee from Las Vegas. “But we made a deal that if this was in a place we wanted to go, we’d go.”
“The minute it was announced it would be France, we were like ‘OK, we’re going,’” said his mom, Wendy Lee, 47.
While the Americans are dominant and considered favorites to win, the players believe that their fan support gives them an extra edge.
“Fans are coming from all over the world just to see us,” Krieger says. “We run into our American fans on the streets when were out and they’re telling us where they’re from. And its just for one game – they’re flying all the way France to watch us play. It is so incredible and inspiring.”
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