By Kevin Mooney

In recent years, the popularity of the U.S. national soccer teams - both men and women - has surged. As television ratings from the World Cup suggest, the sport of football is continuing to make strides in the United States. In fact, three of the top-five rated games in U.S. history were from the 2010 World Cup.

But the World Cup has played well in the United States for a couple of decades. What happens in the four years between each tournament has been the problem. While there are more than enough fans to support a few channels dedicated to the sport - including FOX Soccer Channel and FOX Soccer Plus - many in America still perceive soccer is a ‘niche’ sport.

It is, however, a growing niche. Arsenal’s American fan group - Arsenal America - is growing rapidly, with branches in 40 cities across the nation. And with thousands of members converging on their local pubs to watch every game, Arsenal has built a significant and very loyal following.

And so a true test of soccer’s popularity in America would be how well a regular season match-up would rate with the U.S. audience. And more pointedly, seeing how sports fans in the U.S. would feel about watching ‘foreign teams’ that do not feature any of the U.S. national team’s established stars.

Apparently they feel pretty good about it. That was the message revealed by the TV ratings for the replay of Sunday’s North London derby on FOX. More than two million U.S. viewers tuned in to watch Arsenal in the North London derby last weekend. And more than 1.6 million of those watched the tape-delayed broadcast on FOX.

To put that in perspective, that’s just 1,000 less than the total number of viewers who tuned in to watch the live broadcast the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final.

More good news for Arsenal? According to figures released by Nielsen Media Research, the replay of the North London derby outperformed the similarly delayed broadcast of Manchester United v Chelsea match on September 18.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s game against Spurs did not have the result Arsenal supporters were hoping for. But it was a ratings victory nonetheless.

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 7 Oct 2011