More than 3.2 billion [PDF] people tuned in to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Nearly one billion people watched the final match between Spain and the Netherlands.

For a single-sport tournament with only 32 participating countries, those are some impressive numbers. But considering the beautiful game happens to be the most popular sport on earth, it makes sense that viewership would be so high. But all of those eyeballs didn’t originate exclusively from the countries of the qualifying teams. And that raises the question: What team do you cheer for if yours didn’t make the cut?

Enter the weird and wonderful world of sports branding.

Inspired by the design podcast 99% Invisible, we embarked on an investigative journey to find out, once and for all, whether there’s any truth to the claim that when it comes to sports teams, it’s the brand that counts and little else.

To do so, we collected a wealth of data – from past World Cup appearances, to popularity on social networks, to salaries of the countries’ most popular players (yes, that one’s a touch more subjective) – which collectively, we used to measure each team’s brand performance. We then compared that number to each team’s official FIFA rank to get a sense of whether the team’s brand is stronger than the team’s performance on the pitch.

The results aren’t perfect. You might notice, for example, that we included Landon Donovan, who didn’t make the U.S. team, or that we omitted broadcasting data (2010 numbers would skew the results). But the trend itself is clear: You don’t have to be the best team to have a winning brand, but it sure helps if you’re good.

Let us know what you think in the comments – and may the best brand win.

2014 FIFA World Cup Infographic