By ANNE DELANEY
Michelle Kaufman, a sports reporter and columnist at the Miami Herald, covered the World Cup for the sixth time last month in Brazil. But before Kaufman, a sports reporter and a columnist for the Miami Herald, watched Germany’s 1-0 extra-time final win over Argentina, she had doubts if she’d be able to file stories.
The wi-fi connection at the venue in Rio de Janeiro went out 2 1/2 hours before kickoff, sending thousands of journalists to the brink of insanity.
“We were very grumpy,” said Kaufman, who has been a sports reporter for 29 years. “I couldn’t get my hotspot to work. I still don’t know what happened. The entire area around the stadium had a blackout.”
The wireless internet connection was restored, but the evolution of information technology at the World Cup isn’t the only change Kaufman, a 25-year member of the Association for Women in Sports Media, has seen since she covered the tournament for the first time 20 years ago while at the Detroit Free Press.
“The biggest difference is the growing interest in the U.S.,” said Kaufman, 49. “The national fervor for soccer, the numbers are ridiculous and off the charts and everything I write is read by more people. There is such a hunger for soccer in our country.”
The Brazil tournament was the most watched World Cup ever in the United States. According to The Washington Post, an average of more than 4.5 million viewers watched the month-long tournament on ESPN and ABC.
The Germany-Argentina final drew 26.5 million viewers – the most ever for a soccer game in the U.S.
Yet of the 7,000 credentialed media, Kaufman estimated there were approximately 100 women in the press ranks. She said female sports reporters are a rare sight in international soccer. Kaufman said she and USA Today’s Nancy Armour counted eight women in the expansive room at one press center.
“It’s almost exclusively a male sport and when you’re a woman covering it, it can be lonely,” Kaufman said. “It’s taken for granted in [the United States] that women play sports or cover sports. In other countries, it’s unheard of. It really stands out for me when I go to the World Cup.”
Kaufman’s coverage included stories, columns, blogs (http://miamiherald.typepad.com/total_futbol/), video, polls and tweets. She met two Argentine men who went to Brazil with the promise of marrying their girlfriends if Argentina won. Kaufman reported the protest movement didn’t live up to the pre-tournament hype; some Brazilians questioned the practicality of spending reportedly billions on the World Cup, but embraced the event once it began.
“Even in the poorest shacks, there were giant flags waving and people were wearing Neymar shirts,” Kaufman said. “It’s not like the nation was against the World Cup the way the media thought it would be.”
The tournament also smashed social-media records and Kaufman saw a spike of 400 followers on her Twitter account, @kaufsports.
While Kaufman said she doesn’t know if her new followers have staying power, she believes soccer has found a foothold in the U.S.
“In 1994, ’98 and even 2002, there were still a lot of American journalists writing the ‘Soccer is boring’ column,” Kaufman said. “Now any columnist who writes that today looks really stupid and old-fashioned and not current.
“Hockey is similar to soccer in that it’s difficult to score. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the tension.”