When Americans say they’re going to the big game, it’s safe to assume they don’t mean a soccer match – or is it? Soccer (or football, as it’s referred to in Europe) is steadily increasing its viewership in the United States; just as an example, the ratings for the 2012 European Championship rose 63 percent compared with ratings from four years prior. Many analysts agree that within a generation, soccer could begin to rival football and baseball as a prominent sport in America. Several factors are contributing to this rise in popularity, one of the biggest being that the sport is becoming favored with the younger generation.
Rich Luker, the social scientist who created the ESPN Sports Poll, has uncovered a few interesting facts about soccer’s popularity – namely, that soccer is now the second most popular sport with the 12-24 age group. As this group matures, their demand as consumers should be met with more access to the sport, including widespread viewing outlets for European leagues and greater funding for Major League Soccer (MLS). Luker also found that three soccer players wildly popular in Europe (Messi, Beckham, and Ronaldo) are among the 50 most popular athletes in the United States.
Athletes such as Beckham and Messi can thank the Internet for their popularity boost in a traditionally soccer-indifferent country. Although game times can be inconvenient (often starting at 7:45 a.m. EST), Americans are flocking to their computers and smartphones to stream Europe’s most exciting matches. This viewership hasn’t gone unnoticed by TV networks. Fox Sports may have killed the Fox Soccer Channel, but this was largely because as of 2013, NBC owns the rights to both MLS and the English Premier League. With games being shown on a national television network, United States soccer fans are now seeing easier access to the best matches.
Follow the Cash
This extra viewership and popularity generates one of the main ingredients necessary in a coming soccer boom – money. Soccer players in both the U.S. and Europe don’t earn what a professional football or baseball player can earn, even as top tier players. In 2009-2010, the five highest-paid NFL players had an average salary of $20.32 million, compared with an average of $14.67 million for the highest-paid soccer players. With this salary gap, which is evident at all levels of the sport, attracting up-and-coming athletes is often more difficult. There is, however, evidence that money follows interest, and American companies are beginning to sponsor soccer clubs – such as Delta, who is the official airline partner of Premier League soccer club Chelsea as of 2012. American soccer clubs might reasonably expect the same treatment in the future, thus allowing them to raise salaries and win over the highest-caliber athletes.
With rising popularity, increased access to matches, and the promise of more money, soccer in America is poised to come into its own in a big way. Soccer fans can rejoice, although they’ll still need some patience since analysts tend to agree that a large soccer boom isn’t coming overnight, but rather as the next generation of sports fans matures. Perhaps names such as Drogba and Neymar will become household words in the U.S., although it remains to be seen whether Americans will adopt the terms ‘football’ and ‘American football’ as is the practice in Europe. Whatever Americans choose to call it, though, analysts agree that soccer is on the brink.
This piece was composed by Jonathan Mopes, a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia. Mopes has an interest in sports, sports clothing and apparel, the Olympics, outdoor activities, hiking & camping and other related subjects. To view an excellent assortment of sports clothing visit Lupo Sports.