Soccer: America’s New Sport?
Soccer has always been regarded as an icon of numerous countries throughout the globe. An icon of Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Yet, other sports’ popularity have outperformed soccer in the United States. Football, basketball, and baseball have constantly garnered more views than that of soccer. Major League Soccer (MLS), the major soccer association in the U.S. affiliated with FIFA has shown significant growth over the last decade. From 2012 to 2019, MLS experience a staggering 27% rise in interest. Furthermore, it is not only the MLS that is growing within America — so is international football. American broadcaster giant NBC struck a 2.2 billion USD deal in December 2021 with the Premier League, the prominent English first-division professional league after an intense battle with fellow American broadcasters. NBC, within the deal, committed to streaming 380 games per every six seasons of the league. With growing interest of soccer in America, both the MLS and international soccer (most commonly referred as “football” abroad) associations have expanded their base of followers.
Most notably, new teams in America have continued the MLS’s and lower-division league’s expansion. Since 2015, 10 new teams have been formed in the MLS, with one more projected to debut in 2023. 11 new states, by the formation of St. Louis City SC in 2023 would have received a first, second, or third professional first division soccer club. In addition, from 2005–2012, 10 new soccer clubs were also established in the MLS. Pierre Maes, a sports media strategist explains how “today soccer is the fourth sport in the US in terms of popularity. [Soccer] is now just ahead of ice hockey. It follows a tremendous growth in popularity of soccer.” He then explains that NBC has been willing to pay such large sums due to the projected continued expansion of soccer in the states.
Nevertheless, it is not only the MLS that is expanding. The growth of soccer has also witnessed new lower division clubs to be created. In lower-tier divisions of American soccer, such as the USL (second tier in U.S. soccer), 27 teams have joined the league since its founding in 2010. 21 of those teams joined from 2015 on forward, and 14 of those were founded after 2018. Two more additional teams are also set to join the second division competition in 2023 and 2024. For USL League One (third division), the competition currently has 11 clubs, with three set to be joining in 2023. Lastly, USL League Two has also seen vast expansion. The league format is the largest amongst all, and it involves multiple conferences with sub-divisions. Since 2018, 70 out of the current 111 teams have debuted in the league.
The youth’s involvement in soccer has also drastically risen, primarily when it comes to HS students. Out of all sports, the number of high school athletes participating in soccer has been the one that has grown the most in the last decade, with the nearest competitor being track and field, which got 30,000 less students involved in the same time period. For girls, 14.4% more girls became involved with the sport. Once again, soccer was the sport that garnered the most involvement in such a time period for girls (others, such as basketball, suffered -14% in involvement). Soccer’s expansion is, by all means, being noticeable in its popularity with high school athletes. As a result of that, soccer continues to expand in the United States.
The MLS 2022 season just started, yet, it already began breaking records. In newcomer Charlotte F.C.’s season opener, they had the second highest worldwide attendance for a soccer match in 2022, only falling behind a Liverpool vs. Chelsea final. Charlotte F.C.’s match made them the highest attended MLS stadium in history, surpassing Atlanta F.C.’s record of 72,000 (Charlotte’s being 74k) in 2018. Charlotte’s record attendance demonstrates the ever-expanding interest in soccer held by American fans. In November 2021, the MLS was ranked as the sixth most watched soccer league in the world, beating other notable leagues including the Brasileiro Serie A (Brazil), Eredivisie (Dutch), and the Bundesliga (Germany). The analysis concluded that every MLS match rallied an approximate of 2 million viewers, with thousands more expected to be recorded in the 2022 season.
The rise in soccer’s popularity in America is a representation of the undergoing sports culture transformation. Soccer is spearheading a change in what sports Americans are involved with. Soccer, in other words, is the new generation of American sports, and soon it will be standing alongside the likes of basketball and football. While baseball, basketball, and football’s prestige decreases amongst the American people, soccer’s rises. Soccer, is America’s future.