A New Future American Pasttime?

It used to be that baseball was considered to be the Great American Pastime; however, in recent years, football, or American football as it is called in most other countries, is fast becoming the favorite American sport. According to a recent poll conducted by Bloomberg politics and appeared in Huffington Post, it may be time to throw out everything we thought about what baseball meant to Americans because 67% of respondents selected football as their favorite sport. Indeed there is much focus on football in America. On any given Sunday afternoon or Monday night during the fall and winter, there are millions of Americans glued to their televisions, cheering for their favorite NFL teams.

But wait! Don’t get too comfortable, armchair quarterbacks, because there is a new challenger charging down the field. Football may soon have to relinquish its recently obtained number one spot to a different type of football: i.e. soccer. (Note: In most countries soccer is referred to as football or futbol.)

After America hosted the World Cup in 1994, it was declared that soccer had arrived in the United States. American fans knew the stars and they had learned the game. Quickly MLS was formed and everything seemed to be in motion for America to fully embrace soccer. Although it may not seem like soccer is taking America by storm, take another look at the youth programs of today. It all starts with young kids playing the game, and as of 2016, more than 3 million kids were playing in U.S. Youth leagues. Furthermore, among 12- to 17-year-olds, MLS is now more popular than MLB and football, according to an article entitled “Soccer is Here for Real This Time” which appeared in the April 20, 2016 issue of Huffington Post. The 3 million youth soccer players is double the number of kids involved in football leagues and more than a million more than those who play in youth baseball leagues. But the love for the game does not end with 17-year-olds.

Trips Reddy writes in her article “10 Data Points That Prove Soccer Has Made it in America” (Umbel, August 18th, 2015),  In July of 2015, the U.S. women’s soccer team won against Japan in an incredible World Cup final with a 5-2 victory. But their win was especially sweet because more than 25.4 million U.S. viewers watched the game, making it the most-viewed soccer game in U.S. TV history. Notably, this was also more people than watched the Stanley Cup.

If 25.4 million viewers for a woman’s soccer game is not enough to convince you of soccer’s growing popularity in America, consider the following facts that Reddy sets forth. One point to consider is that Fox had no problem finding advertisers for the game. The network brought in over 40 million in ad revenue for the women’s World Cup. This allowed other networks to see the profitability of soccer, and they wanted to score some of that ad revenue too. Prior to the Women’s World Cup win, only five networks were broadcasting soccer games.  By late 2015 that number had increased to 13 networks, and the “Cost of advertising during these games has also seen a steep increase as soccer becomes more and more mainstream in the U.S.,” Reddy states.

Do not think that companies are just buying ads; their support for soccer goes even further. Major U.S. sponsors including AT&T, Visa, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Nestle, General Motors, Marriott, Allstate, Pepsi, and McDonald’s are donating millions of dollars to soccer training and building infrastructure and facilities for children, youth, coaches, pros and even America’s national team. (Reddy)

Another factor to consider is that as MLS expansion continues to grow, so does the size of the crowds. Major League Soccer games are seeing an average per-game attendance of 21,023 fans during the 2015 season; this is a 40% increase over the last 10 years. Two teams, the Seattle Sounders and Orlando City SC are both averaging more than 30,000 fans per game. (Reddy) Soccer is also benefitting from the well- known celebrities of the game that have chosen to relocate to America.  David Beckham moved to California to join the LA Galaxy, Thierry Henry joined the New York Red Bulls, David Villa joined the New York City FC, Kaka joined the Orlando City Soccer Club, and many more hires are in negotiations. “While some critics make fun of the MLS for hiring “washed up” premier league and A-list players, these soccer celebrities are helping increase the sports fan base, influence, merchandise sales, sponsorship and advertising revenue. Plus, they are strong role models for younger soccer players in the U.S.”  All of these stats lead experts to believe that somewhere between 2025 at the earliest and 2050 at the latest, soccer will become the number one sport in America.

      The only question that remains to be asked is why? What is behind the recent growing popularity of soccer? There are a few possible explanations. One is the growing number of Latinos in America. Soccer is very popular in Latin countries and just because these people leave their country to come to America does not mean that they leave the love of the game behind. Another point is that in this fast-paced world, people respond better to a faster-paced game. When attendees of baseball games and football games were asked what they liked least about baseball and football, the answer was that both games could be boring. There were too many stops and the game moved too slowly. While avid baseball and football lovers would say that if you find these games boring only because you don’t understand the subtleties of the game, no one could call soccer boring. The fast pace of the game can leave spectators feeling tired just from watching. Social media also helps bring fans together and to create a buzz about the game.  The final factor is affordability. While an afternoon at the baseball park requires a $70 ticket, a person can usually get tickets to soccer games for $20 a person. That equals a savings of $50 per ticket or $200 for a family of four. Clearly a difference!

      The love of soccer among American kids, the growing American population from countries where soccer is popular, the influx of the stars of the game coming to America, the support from major companies for soccer at the youth, adult, pro, and national levels, the increasing number of viewers for televised games, the profitability for the advertisers, and the energetic fast pace of the game indicate that soon soccer will become America’s favorite pastime.