Hands down, soccer is the most popular sport on this planet today. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population (4 billion out of 7.7 billion) consider themselves to be soccer fans. But soccer in the USA is still far behind being the most popular sport. Americans are more into baseball, basketball, and NASCAR. But, with international soccer legends like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney gracing the Major League Soccer stage, the popularity of the beautiful game – both in participation and interest – is increasing in the United States. And there’s no doubting that. Also, how can one forget the US National Women’s teams record fourth success lifting the World Cup?
Did women just help boost soccer in the USA?
It is safe to say YES! The USWNT’s have won the World Cup in 1991, 1999, 2015 and now again in 2019 – a record four times. Having never trailed in a match and claiming their well deserved moment of glory, the USA women’s national soccer team defeated the Netherlands 2-0, in France in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in front of 57,900 spectators. The USA won all seven matches during the World Cup. As reported by FOX Sports, the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 final delivered 14,271,000 viewers, peaking at nearly 20 million, across FOX and streaming services, making it the most-watched match on English television in the United States since the FIFA Women’s World Cup final – 2015. It was also a record day for FOX Sports social media, which measured 17.8 million views across platforms for the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, out-pacing the 2018 men’s final by 18% with both Twitter and YouTube setting new daily records for the tournament. Throughout the tournament, FOX Sports accumulated almost one billion minutes of FIFA Women’s World Cup digital content consumed across FOX platforms. That’s a lot, for a country who isn’t particularly into soccer, compared to other (more) popular sports like American football, baseball, and basketball.
The popularity is increasing and here’s why
7% of Americans cited soccer as their favorite sport to watch according to a 2018 Gallup report, while 9% preferred baseball. Soccer in the USA is the third-most played team sport, behind only basketball and American football. Major League Soccer, has experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012, according to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink. Here’s why it is gaining traction.
The MLS impact
Major League Soccer, the top domestic league began in 1996 with 10 teams and has grown to 24 teams, with further expansion planned to 30 teams by 2020. Its average attendance of 21,358 from 2013-18 ranks No. 8 in the world, trailing Ligue 1 in France (21,556) and Italy’s Serie A (22,967), according to a study conducted by the CIES Football. Expanding the league will establish a national presence and further help to secure television rights that will aid in the growth of the sport’s popularity. The MLS must be given credit for the influx of soccer fans in the U.S.A.
The MLS has been televised in the U.S. nationally since the league’s inception in 1996. Games not broadcasted nationally are broadcasted by local sports networks or regional broadcast TV stations. There is also an abundance of options to watch soccer from around the world, not just the MLS but international game and leagues as well. The ability to see your favorite clubs, leagues and tournaments helps spark interest in the game, fueling the MLS and other forms of the sport. ESPN and Fox Sports pay a combined $75 million per season, while Univision pays $15 million per-season as television rights.
The influx of foreign players in the MLS
The MLS attracted the likes of David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (both LA Galaxy), Thierry Henry (NY Red Bulls), Wayne Rooney (DC United), Kaka (Orlando City), Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard (NYCFC) to name just a few. These players have been recognized legends for club (European) and country and have helped attract many soccer fans to the stadiums. Some of the main reasons for players getting attracted towards the MLS are the lifestyle (where stars are not mobbed by fans everywhere they go), the increasing level of play in the league, and the increasing amount of money available (where the top players in the league get salaries that are similar to European leagues).
United States players abroad
Not only has the US attracted foreign stars, but has also ‘exported’ some great talents overseas. There are 36 American players currently playing in the top leagues around the world – especially in Europe. Most notably, Christian Pulisic has recently been purchased by Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund for $73 million. This transfer fee is more than three times the previous record for a U.S. player in 2017 held by John Brooks. This is a major milestone for United States soccer and a move that will surely keep more people in the United States watching games.
There may be no comparison in the atmosphere that you get from some of the major soccer clubs in the world, from the “noisy stands” at Anfield to the breathtaking views at the Allianz Arena. But there has been a major improvement over the past several years to recreate these atmospheres. Some of the most notable clubs to make a difference are the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, FC Cincinnati, and Atlanta United. From the expansion to soccer-hungry cities in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, to the building of soccer stadiums, the progress has boosted MLS to become a popular league both internationally and domestically.