Is Soccer Growing in the USA?

Posted: July 29, 2011 in Major League Soccer, US Soccer
Tags: , ,

The following article was published in our local newspaper (Soccer Won’t Catch on in US) , and I have to be proud that this was even a point of interest in a paper for a small town like ours.  Mitchell, SD has traditionally been a very “Big Three” sports town (basketball, football, and baseball) and I’m excited that soccer is even drawing the eye of the paper.  However I think there are a few facts that the editor is missing out on.  Below is my response to the editorial (we’ll see if it get’s printed in the paper, but here it is anyways).

To the Editor,

First off I have to say how much I’ve appreciated the Daily Republic’s coverage of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and I hope soccer will continue to get attention like this in our sports section.  I just wanted to make a few points about the editorial written on July 21, 2011 concerning the “myth” that soccer is not a growing sport in the USA market.

Sports Media Watch reported that the ratings for the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game (7.4 U.S. rating and 13.458 million viewers ) between the USA and Japan put it as the “fourth-most viewed non-NFL program in ESPN history, behind the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, the 2011 Rose Bowl , and the 2011 Sugar Bowl.”  The game was also the second-most viewed daytime program on cable television behind the aforementioned 2011 Rose Bowl.

In comparison the 2010 Men’s World Cup final drew 24 million viewers across two networks; ABC (15.905M) and Univision (8.821M).  The 2010 World Cup saw a 68% increase in viewers here in the USA compared to the 2006 World Cup held in Germany (which means games were at an easier time for a US audience to watch live than the 2010 World Cup in South Africa) for the first three US Men’s games.

Probably the best indicator of the sport’s growing popularity is shown through our own domestic league, the MLS.  Average attendance at games has increased gradually over the leagues 16 year existence.  In 2000, the league’s fifth season, the average attendance over 192 MLS matches was 13,756 compared to this season currently averaging 17,410 fans.  This could break the record for the highest average in league history with more than an additional 60 league games.  According to Fox News the MLS could overtake the NBA and the NHL as the third most attended sport in the US by the end of the season if these numbers continue to hold.

The MLS All-Star game was the second most attended all-star event in the US compared to the other professional leagues.  In 2010 the MLS All-Star game had a total attendance of 70,728 fans, more than the NFL’s 70,697 or the MLB’s 45,408.

The other factor to look at is stadium capacity for domestic games.  MLS teams are filling their stadiums more now than they have ever before (due in large part to higher attendance in soccer specific stadiums) at a rate of 73% compared to the leagues opening season in 1996 when most teams averaged around 30% capacity.

And finally TV ratings for domestic league games are way up this year compared to last year as well.  The 2011 First Kick (opening day) games showed an increase of 112% in viewers for the opening round compared to 2010.

Two comments about the rise in popularity of this sport in the US; First, the sport is becoming more accessible at the high school and collegiate levels, which translates into more dedicated fans as they grow older and can invest financially in their love of the game.  And second, the demographics of the US are changing.  The most supported team in the USA is the Mexican National team.  In June at the Gold Cup final 94,000 people showed up to watch the US Men’s National Team compete against the Mexican National Team.  The demographics of the US citizen and resident are changing, and this directly impacts the popularity of soccer as well in our country.

I believe soccer is on its way up in the USA.  It’s a slower process than soccer fans would like it to be, but I really believe that soccer is going to become a major part of our sport culture.  We’ve only had our professional league in place for 16 years to date, so there is still a lot of catching up to do, but we can wait for the most popular sport in the world to grow here in the USA.

  1. ponchat says:

    I wish the article wasn’t archived by the Daily Republic…I wanted to read it. I think we know that they have a strong sense of soccer… :/

    I think your letter back is good. People who are not “soccer people” do not understand how popular it is. There are many rural areas where soccer hasn’t caught on, and Mitchell isn’t necessarily classified there…but it used to be. While soccer is still growing in Mitchell, there are many places where it’s extremely popular.

    People can either choose to be “casual” fans, “soccer people,” or no soccer association at all. I think people are usually lumped in those 3 groups. Either you sort of like soccer, you LOVE soccer, or you despise it and don’t want anything to do with it. Those that don’t want anything to do with it have NO idea how popular soccer is in the US. Those “casual” fans understand the game and they may know how popular it is in the US.

    The simple stat that says the MLS is probably going to break it’s own attendance record is proof enough that soccer is here. Another one is that the MLS has a better attendance than the Brazilian professional league! And you said it right to them, the attendance figures are putting the MLS above the NBA and NHL.

    It will be interesting to read any rebuttal someone may spit out. Good stuff!

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