Soccer, or commonly known to the rest of the world as “football”, was voted the #1 most popular sport in the world as of March 2022 by sports browser. With an estimated 3.5 billion fans, which is half the global population, it’s safe to say that the sport has earned its title. While it’s seen mass popularity in most parts of the world, soccer is just beginning to gain prominent notoriety in the U.S. In previous years, the four most popular sports according to Americans were football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. As of 2021, the conversation is changing, with soccer earning the fourth spot behind baseball surpassing hockey, according to Gallup. This development can be attributed to the increased globalization of American culture leading to the expansion of the U.S major league soccer teams.
The demographics of the American population are continually changing and so is the culture. Hispanic Americans are one of fastest growing minorities in the U.S, making up the largest percentage of people of color today. In Hispanic culture, “futbol'' is king, with 84% of hispanic individuals following the sport in some capacity. It is a sport that means so much to them, and as their traditions blend with that of the average American, soccer will likely continue to be on the rise. American culture is rapidly evolving and with that comes a change in core values. The sport is growing at such a rapid rate it is predicted to surpass baseball in popularity within the next few years. No longer will baseball be thought of as “America’s favorite pastime” or football be used to refer to the ball with pigskin.
Soccer is unlike traditional American sports in its structure as the game goes on without cessation, with the exception of a 15 minute half-time. There are no time-outs and the clock does not stop amassing a 90 minute game runtime. This is a change of pace from athletics such as football or basketball which both have ample breaks throughout the game which allows for commercial airtime. The lack of commercial opportunity within the game itself is in part why its popularity growth has been so slow in this country. American culture perpetuates capitalism in all its facets, including professional sports, and soccer does not fall within this agenda.
As it grows within this country, it will be interesting to see if it in itself becomes more commercialized or if pro-sports start to move away from their capitalistic structure. If other countries are any indication, it is likely that the rise of soccer could be representative of a new era of pro-sports in the U.S. The money leagues lose out on ad revenue, they make up for in high viewership. Along with that, there are other avenues in which leagues make the bulk their money, a big one being through jersey product placements. Unlike in other American sports, it is common for pro-soccer clubs to have a brand such as “jeep” on a jersey. Due to the sport reaching such a wide international audience companies will usually pay top dollar to do just that. Making money is a large aspect of professional sports, but there is more than one way in which to go about it.
You cannot discuss soccer as a sport without acknowledging the sheer size of its pro-soccer leagues. The European soccer league, most notably, is responsible for 7 out of the voted 10 best football leagues in the world right now, with countries dominating in the field such as England, Spain, France, etc. North America has one soccer league, titled “major soccer league” or MLS for short. The league is far less established than its counterparts coming in at #10 on the list, but has seen growth in audience and team size in recent years. Sport viewership has increased tremendously with MLS moving from the 13th most popular to the 7th in 2021. Not only are Americans becoming more interested in the sport, but they’re also tuning in to watch more often. Currently, the MLS 25 in the U.S and 3 in Canada for a total of 28 teams; they plan to expand to 30 by 2023.
Soccer has been an integral sport in the world throughout history, but never reached the same level of acceptance within the states. With the rise of the hispanic population in the U.S and the further development of the MLS, this fact is changing. There is a growing market for soccer in America and as our professional league advances, so will the notoriety of the sport within our culture. Americans are starting to stray from the “all american” way of life in favor of interests that align with that of global audiences. The U.S has stayed behind other countries when it comes to soccer, but it looks like we’re finally starting catching up.