As much as many Americans hate to admit it, soccer is becoming increasingly popular in the US. Every four years, United States soccer drags in more and more fans to watch the magic that is the World Cup. Even people that usually don’t find themselves interested in soccer will enjoy their time as fanatical and patriotic US soccer fans during the World Cup. This last World Cup had the highest US viewership ever recorded on ESPN’s network. Never before has the US seen so much support for its national soccer team. Unfortunately, US soccer support dropped off significantly after the US men’s team was eliminated from the last World Cup in Brazil.
However, it is even more surprising to notice that after the US patriotic luster subsided following the 2014 World Cup, we have continued to see an increased US interest in other areas of soccer. Premier League support has seen a continued increase in viewership from the US since 2007. NBC bought up the rights to air every single Premier League game for a whopping $80 million a year. The amount of Google hits for Premier League soccer has skyrocketed in the US over the last couple of years. With more access to recognizable star talent, more US soccer fans are taking to watching Premier League games. The Premier League is drawing in more and more these new US fans.
Other major sports networks like ESPN and Univision pay a total of $30 million to air MLS games. MLS game attendance has also seen major spikes even with an increase in the number of MLS teams. Attendance has topped six million per season for MLS games in the last couple of seasons. Although there isn’t much national support for MLS soccer, support at the local level includes tight groups of incredibly devout fans. Soccer in the US has some positive signs to point towards increased support for the game as a whole.
I think soccer trends in the future will continue to surprise the other American sports. In the next couple decades, there will be less talent in the NFL. Awareness about concussion concerns will lead to the slight decline of American football. As more and more evidence comes out about the dangers of concussions, we will see less and less of our youth getting involved in football. Soccer has already become ingrained as something that our youth play. Youth soccer has become the most popular US youth sport to play with an annual membership of about three million currently. If our young are playing soccer, it’s likely that we will see more and more of these kids playing soccer when they are older. This increased youth participation and awareness of concussion threats in football will drive more of our athletic talent and support to soccer.
The other key trend to recognize is that soccer is the world’s sport. There is simply more money in soccer. Messi and Ronaldo are estimated by Forbes to be paid higher than any football or basketball player in the US. The average Premier League player receives more money than the average NFL player right now. Soccer sponsorships and TV rights for games exist as huge sources of revenue for soccer leagues. As the US athletes realize that there is more money in soccer, we will continue to see a trend of US talent moving to the sport.
Another huge trend that will help contribute to the rise of soccer is the fact that soccer is very easy to play in pick-up and recreational environments. We already hear of kids in Brazil that play with duck tape balls if they are unable to afford equipment. A huge part of drawing in more of our youth is the ability of urban populations to have easy access to the sport. In an urban setting, basketball is hugely popular in the US because it is so easy to get a couple kids together and bring a basketball to play at any public court. Soccer is similar in this sense that as long as field space is provided in urban areas through parks and rec centers, kids can play soccer at anytime. If there is increased viewership for soccer and more overall national support, our youth will follow suit and we will see more and more soccer in urban centers. By targeting the largest sources of US population, it increases the odds that athletic talent finds its way to soccer in the US. With all recent trends and influences considered, it is a great time to be US soccer fan.