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Why Soccer's Popularity is On The Rise in the US

Tanner Dennie | May 24, 2019
Soccer's Growing Popularity In the US

International Friendly Scores

Jun. 5 – United States vs Jamaica: 0-1

Jul. 16 – ACF Fiorentina vs Chivas Guadalajara: 2-1

Jul. 17 – Arsenal FC vs FC Bayern: 2-1

Jul. 20 – Arsenal FC vs ACF Fiorentina: 3-0

FC Bayern vs Real Madrid CF: 3-1

SL Benfica vs Chivas Guadalajara: 3-0

Jul. 23 – Chicago Fire vs Cruz Azul: 0-2

Chivas Guadalajara vs Atletico De Madrid: 0-0

FC Bayern vs AC Milan: 1-0

LA Galaxy vs Club Tijuana: 2-2

Real Madrid CF vs Arsenal FC: 2-2

Jul. 24 – ACF Fiorentina vs SL Benfica: 1-2

Houston Dynamo vs Club America: 1-1

Real Salt Lake vs Tigres UANL: 0-1

Jul. 26 – Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid: 3-7

Jul. 28 – AC Milan vs. Benfica: 0-1

Soccer On The Rise

There’s no doubt that the interest and performance of soccer is growing at a rapid pace in the United States, but how does soccer really square up against other watched sports in America?

According to a 2018 GallUp poll, 7% of Americans stated that soccer was their favorite sport to watch, ranking 4th behind football, basketball, and baseball, which doesn’t seem so surprising.

The quality of play and development of player talent in other professional sports leagues like the National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball have been key reasons why football, basketball, and baseball are the three most popular sports to watch in the United States over top domestic soccer league, Major League Soccer.

However, according to Neilson, the MLS has seen a 27% interest in viewership in America since 2012. With initial hopes of bringing 28 teams into MLS within the coming years, the MLS Board of Governors voted to expand to 30 teams in April 2019.

With 30 teams coming into fruition within the coming years, will the increase in quality of play and player development on the pitch for MLS teams be enough to lure top talent from abroad and help keep Americans engaged in the sport?

History says yes.

The David Beckham Affect

For the longest time, Major League Soccer couldn’t pull world-class talent from abroad until the LA Galaxy signed England legend and international superstar David Beckham in 2007. The popularity of Beckham helped kickstart the soccer interest stateside and brought more of a technical side of play to American fans immediately.

While legendary European players like Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Kaka, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba and others have graced the league with their talents over a 12-year period, former Manchester United superstars Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are two pivotal reasons why American fans are tuning into MLS games on weekends in 2019.

Rising to the Challenge: Berhalter & the USMNT

From an international perspective, the United States Men’s National Team has been on a roller coaster ride over the last five years. From making a run and respectably losing to Belgium in the Round of Sixteen of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and new USMNT Manager Gregg Berhalter having his hands full with getting the national team back on track.

Though the product on the pitch hasn’t been much to desire over the last couple of years, Berhalter is investing in youth to help bring the USMNT back to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, which is resonating well with the American fan base. Four of the best players from the United States Men’s National Team play in two of the top leagues in Europe, helping with the players development and competition within the United States camp.

View Counts Continue to Rise

Pre-season tournaments like the International Champions Cup are also big contributors to Americans’ growing interest in soccer. American fans that love watching their favorite European teams on television every week might not be able to travel from one country to another to see their favorite team play, so the accessibility to watching their teams play a pre-season friendly against another top European team in the United States is more feasible.

Two of the best European clubs played the most intense rivalry in world football, giving the American fans the quality of talent and football known across the globe. Known as El Clásico, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s annual clásico was played for the first time stateside in Miami during the 2017 International Champions Cup. With more than 1.7 million viewers, and shattering ESPN’s ratings, El Clásico became the most watched non-United States international friendly ever.

The MLS is a healthy league that is growing from its own reputation. With the help of international clubs and players expanding into the sports market in America, as well as a youthful national team with hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the popularity of soccer in the United States is rising and can only continue to grow in America.

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