There is no doubt that over the last 25 years, soccer’s popularity has drastically improved in the United States. It seems as if the U.S. is finally catching up to the rest of the world. The U.S. hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup and since then, more and more Americans are developing and interest in the sport. That interest is especially popular among teenagers; a 2014 ESPN poll reported that professional soccer was ranked #2 after the NFL among kids 12 to 17 years old. Furthermore, ESPN reported that MLS has become just as popular as MLB, a feat which would have been unthinkable three decades ago.
2. TV Revenue
There was a time not too long ago when not much was put into soccer in America. Those times are no more, nowadays companies are investing into the sport more than ever. The U.S. women’s national team is one of the best in the world and won the last women’s World Cup in 2015. The ratings for that World Cup were up 45% from the last one in 2011. The World Cup was broadcast on Fox, who earned $40 million in ad revenue, compared to just $6 million their counterpart ESPN made in 2011. The MLS has expanded to 20 teams now and is growing in popularity. That is evidenced by the new television deals put in place last year. Fox, ESPN and Univision are currently paying a combined $90 million for rights to broadcast games, some $62 million more than ESPN, NBC and Univision were paying just two years ago.
If soccer ever becomes the most popular sport in America, the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup can be viewed as major checkpoints. Both summers the country was thrown into a soccer fever, marked by the relative success of their national teams. When compared to viewership of other 2015 summer sports events, the Women’s World Cup drew a larger audience than the NBA finals and the Stanley Cup. A huge step for the future.
While both men and women national team games always drew a lot of fans, the same was not the case about the domestic league, the MLS. That is until last year, when the league set a record for average attendance. The league recorded 21,574 fans per match, with the Seattle Sounders bringing over 44,000 per game in their terrific CenturyLink Field (see picture below).
5. European leagues popularity
While the MLS have made huge strides in the last few years, it is still no where close to the big European leagues in terms of prestige and quality. However, despite those leagues being the best in the world, it could still be hard to find a game on TV not too long ago. That has changed however. The top 5 leagues in Europe are now available exclusively in the U.S.; NBC Sports broadcasts the Premier League, beIN Sports takes care of La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 and Fox Sports does the Bundesliga and the Champions League. Recently, some of the biggest clubs in the world have expressed an interest in playing pre-season games on American soil as well. Last summer, an exhibition between Real Madrid and Manchester United drew 109,318 fans at Michigan Stadium, the largest ever for any soccer match in the United States.