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Report: Soccer the fastest-growing major sport in the US

Soccer In The USA

A recent report commissioned and released by Telemundo Deportes has showcased soccer as the fastest-growing team sport in America. Entitled The Future is Fútbol, the report also revealed additional fascinating insights into the fanbase and the sport of soccer in the USA.

For a long time, soccer has been touted as America’s “sport of the future” (this writer is looking at a vintage NASL “Soccer: The Sport of the 80’s” pennant pinned to his wall right now), but as the demographics of the USA have evolved, the data seems to be finally catching up with that claim.

Latest research findings explore the sport of soccer in the USA

Based on a Gallup sports poll, the report asserts that, as of 2019, 52% more adults consider themselves a soccer fan compared to 2012. This growth outpaces the other four “major” American sports, with ice hockey (+42%), basketball (+27%), and baseball (+8%) all behind soccer, and American football (-7%) actually losing fans. The 1994 FIFA World Cup, creation and growth of Major League Soccer, and the success of the United States women’s national team are cited among reasons for the overall growth in interest in the sport over the past three plus decades.

Another large part of the sport’s success in the US is the fact that we have a plethora of soccer available on TV. Everything from our domestic men’s and women’s pro leagues and college soccer, to just about every league from anywhere on the planet can be found across US TV and streaming services. In 2021, there were only six days where a soccer game was not broadcast on TV in the US, over 4,600 individual matches. That is a simply staggering statistic. Over half of those matches were broadcast in Spanish, showcasing the sport’s popularity amongst the Hispanic demographic – the fastest growing population in the US from 2010-2020.

Somewhat surprisingly, amongst those polled, American football is the most followed sport among Hispanics, with 59% saying they followed the action on the gridiron, slightly edging out soccer which came in at 57%. Soccer of course is still king worldwide, raking in over $40 billion in profits in 2019, twice that of the global revenue of the American game.

The massive importance of the World Cup

FIFA reported that in 2018, the Russia World Cup reached over half of the Earth’s population, 3.57 billion viewers.

Such a massive event is an important milestone in the life of many around the world. Amongst Hispanic fans polled, having their country win the World Cup ranks second in important life events, coming in only slightly behind the birth of a child, and ahead of landing a dream job, getting married, or buying a car.

In addition, the World Cup clocked in as the second-favorite celebration among Hispanic fans – only Christmas polled higher.

And the big event is easier to watch than ever before, with multiple ways beyond traditional TV to take in the games. While TV is still the most popular viewing option, 34% of Hispanic viewers polled say they plan to watch matches on their smartphones, with computers, tablets, and even game consoles as preferred options for some.

Optimism for soccer continuing to grow

Importantly for the future of the sport in the USA, the game is quickly becoming a “first choice” sport for young people. High school soccer participation grew 32% from 2002 to 2019, far and away the the biggest growth – beating out baseball (6%), hockey (7%) and basketball (-6%) and football (-2%) where participation dropped off. Additionally, participation was nearly even between girls and boys, with girls not far behind the total number of boys playing in high school.

With the explosive growth and strengthening of the game domestically over the past 30 years, it is especially exciting to think about where we go from here. The 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA still holds the all-time tournament attendance record (despite only having 24 teams and fewer games than subsequent tournaments) and was the most commercially successful edition ever. When 2026 brings the World Cup back to North America, with an expanded field of 48 teams, those records will surely be smashed.

As both international and domestic soccer increase in popularity, and the population of the US continues to evolve, it’s only a matter of time before soccer begins to overtake America’s traditional pastimes, and the world’s game truly becomes America’s game.

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  1. John

    September 26, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    It is a very interesting situation for networks, leagues and sponsors, isn’t few cord cutters or people under age 30 or whatever even care about live sports, with all the splintering of streaming.

    I’ll be interested to see if Amazon succeeds with Thursday US football or whether CBS finds their commitment to European football pays off.

    • dave

      September 26, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      You highlight a core challenge for the sports industry. Many younger people self-report as sports fans. But relative to older sports fans their habits skew less towards watching an entire event live and more towards highlights, social media, video games, e-sports, etc. Many sports entities make much of their money, directly or indirectly, off live sports viewing. That may need to evolve, which is easier said than done
      Prime is off to a strong start with TNF, though part of that may be novelty and attractive early season matchups. Data from Showbuzz has Prime TNF 22-SEP at 11 million viewers and 4.3 A18-49 rating. Over 80% was Prime as opposed to local team OTA, and it is well up from 2021. For comparison, 18-SEP CBS national NFL had 27 million viewers and 7.4 A18-49 rating while 18-SEP SNF on NBC had 20 million viewers and 5.6 A18-49 rating. Looking at ratios, Prime had a younger audience than CBS or NBC (relatively overperformed among A18-49)

      • Mercator

        September 27, 2022 at 9:28 am

        Yea this isn’t a surprise – social media, highlights, e-sports etc are all FREE and available online. Like banging your head against a wall with some of these boomers who look around bewildered wondering why 22 yr olds aren’t spending $80 a month to watch games. It’s too damn expensive and no one that age has cable! It’s no shocker prime over performs CBS or NBC among younger demos – there are probably 2x as many of them with Prime as cable or an antenna, and there is no extra cost to watch.

        I saw EA couldn’t even be bothered to use an actual replica of Arteta in the latest FIFA. Just some fat blonde guy pretending to be Arteta. EA sucks but why are Arsenal not kicking down their door to get this right? Half the newer football fans I know are fans because they love playing FIFA, its the gateway into the game for I would say the MAJORITY of younger fans in the US who didn’t actually play soccer much growing up. MLS, with multiple stadiums missing and half assed lineups, looks Busch league on FIFA, and that no doubt contributes to the view the MLS is a second tier league. If Clubs are going to insist on ripping off fans and demanding hundreds of dollars to simply watch their teams, they need to get the FREE stuff right because this is their one and only opportunity to really influence younger people.

        I’ve been trying to get my nephew more into the game, watching arsenal and all that. It’s basically impossible, he doesn’t have cable so can’t watch most of the matches (thanks NBC). My new strategy is to just get him into the local MLS team once they are on Apple – I can gift him a subscription, he can watch every game, and perhaps once he is more into the sport I can introduce him to the good stuff. Kid loves FIFA though (PSG of course).

        • Michael F

          September 27, 2022 at 10:56 am

          @Mercator. Your nephew can’t all of Arsenal matches? Sure he can. Some are ‘live’ on Peacock and the rest are on-demand in its entirety the next day. Let’s be clear on what is and what is not.

          That said, I get the complaints of NBC/Peacock not airing all matches ‘live’ via their streaming app, but it is a minor headache considering all matches ARE available to every viewer (half or more ‘live’ and rest on-demand by next day) for a small $5 fee per month.

          Some perspective here.

          • Michael F

            September 27, 2022 at 11:02 am

            First sentence should read: “Your nephew can’t watch all of Arsenal’s matches?”

            Btw… to a previous debate unrelated to this… Trevor Lawrence is now enjoying life on the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars — after you made this presumption he must hate being a 1st round draft pick of this team.

            You couldn’t be more wrong. The NFL is a whole different landscape than euro soccer leagues. There is competitive balance and parity. An NFL team can go from worst to first in a very short period of time. The Jaguars are now 2-1 after blowing out the Chargers in LA. They now have a super bowl winning coach and they are there way to better times.

          • Mercator

            September 27, 2022 at 11:49 am

            Listen man, please stop with this the games are on delay nonsense. This is football, live is all that matters the games are all free on youtube after the fact because that is worthless.

            I won’t get into Trevor Lawrence because nothing has changed. He is severely underpaid because of the draft, and winning 2 our of 3 games doesn’t change a damn thing. I guarantee he still would much rather be in New York or LA than in Jacksonville, and he still went though over a year of absolute shame and ruin thanks to being drafted by the Jags (and is no longer a top rated QB thanks to that abysmal streak).

            • Michael F

              September 27, 2022 at 1:53 pm

              We agree to disagree. Trevor Lawrence will make millions and milliions very soon. You are not well informed regarding US sport athletes and the ceiling money they can make.

            • Michael F

              September 27, 2022 at 1:56 pm

              And live soccer matches are not the only thing that matters. If that were true, there wouldnt be any on-demand needs for every single match that is available across all streaming platforms. This is your opinion and it is quite subjective.

    • Michael F

      September 26, 2022 at 6:26 pm

      @John. Your quote: “ I’ll be interested to see if Amazon succeeds with Thursday US football or whether CBS finds their commitment to European football pays off.”

      You are talking apples and oranges here. The NFL is a giant in this country for tv viewing. Its played on three major over-the-air networks on a weekly basis and Amazon Prime has a majority of Americans subscribed to it. Prime will do great with Thursday Night Football.

      Conversely, soccer on Paramount+ is minuscule by comparison in number of households paying attention. That said, it holds its own I suppose for the Champions League fan audience when compared to other soccer leagues viewership.

      • Cpcva

        September 27, 2022 at 10:59 am

        NFL now on 4 ota networks. ABC now simulcast MNF along with ESPN 1 AND 2.

        • Michael F

          September 27, 2022 at 11:13 am

          You are correct. Thanks.

          Btw… I don’t particularly like to make comments about another sport on this soccer site, but I feel it is needed to point out when there is commentary that is so Ill informed regarding the demand of an entertainment product and also how many people today are streaming.

          Less than HALF of American households still have traditional cable. That means more than half are already streaming via streaming apps. To suggest that a company like Amazon Prime won’t do well with NFL Thursday Night Football when 112 million are subscribed to this service, is silly.

          • dave

            September 27, 2022 at 3:36 pm

            @MichaelF, you are correct about the ubiquity of streaming and even understating the case. As of early 2022, estimates were that ~90% of US households have at least one streaming service. Just considering Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney+, estimates are ~80% of US households subscribe to one or more
            The size of “traditional cable” is complicated by vMVPD (Hulu Live, YTTV, etc.). Data are imperfectly available, but estimates are ~15 million US households pay for vMVPD, rising to ~25 million US households by 2025. Data suggest sports fans are disproportionately high subscribers to vMVPD, as are people who like narrow bundles
            Discussion of football and streaming is on point to the headline and content of the article. The Trevor Lawrence-Jaguars exchange is off topic, but the rest of the points made on this thread by you and others seem relevant and constructive

            • Michael F

              September 27, 2022 at 6:02 pm

              Thanks Dave. Sorry about the off topic slant on Trevor Lawrence. I just couldn’t believe someone would think a US born college kid that is selected #1 in the NFL draft is unhappy to play in the most prestigious behemoth league in this country. To even consider any US born college kid should get to select where he wants to play in the NFL is ludicrous— because that is not the culture here. I will guarantee you Trevor Lawrence believes it is a total privilege to be a starting quarterback for an NFL team (any NFL team). For US born football players growing up in America, they know it’s a complete privilege and honor… not a right, to start and play in the most prestigious league of this country. To compare this with soccer athletes that can pick and choose where they want to play in Europe is moot. It’s a totally different culture, and if you’re an American, you understand that. That said, I appreciate and respect the structure that exists in European sports and soccer. They are simply different, that’s all.

  2. Reiner Graumann

    September 25, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    It looks like only the lower competition games will show on reg, TV. The top games are now
    all on PAID TV. And the prices are going UP! For the better soccer fans, they wont to see the good competitions games, but you have to join several outfits to see them. I think,
    accept for the Spanish chanels you will only see Soccer Games on paid channels. Most of us
    already pay for HD television. Also we do not like watching SOCCER games after they are over. I can get all the results on my TV via Soccer made in Germany ‘Kicker’. All results and standing for most European teams and several other Countries. So have fun watching RG

    • Michael F

      September 26, 2022 at 1:38 pm

      Define what you mean by… “only the lower competition games will show on reg TV.“?

      Oh you mean… on cable tv network channels? Hilarious. That IS PAID TV too you know. More pricey than the low cost streaming services now carrying the ‘top games.’

      When will these long time cable tv subscribers come to realize that you are not getting anything for free. That you pay a good heavy monthly fee for this entertainment in the home?

  3. dave

    September 23, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you for the interesting article and link to the Telemundo report
    I am surprised interest in football is reported ahead (if not statistically significant) of interest in soccer among the surveyed Hispanic audience. Previous data I have seen had soccer viewing at 3:1 or even 4:1 over football among Hispanics in the US
    Fascinating to see only 6 days in 2021 had no soccer on TV (I bet something could be streamed on those days). I look at WST “Upcoming Games” frequently and sometimes think to myself that I cannot remember the last time I saw a day with no soccer
    My initial reaction was that Telemundo significantly overstate interest in sports. Their methodology strikes me as likely to skew results in that direction. Telemundo state they surveyed “World Cup viewers age 16 and older” and estimated the relative size of groups based on national pre-survey screeners. In theory that can work, but color me skeptical that findings other than about soccer can be generalized to the full US. That said, it is very interesting data about soccer in the US generally and World Cup specifically

  4. Michael F

    September 23, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    I believe a major reason this has exploded in popularity (aside from the mass immigration to the US)… is how this sport has targeted gen Z population so effectively by having all the leagues and international competitions around the world so easily accessible to the masses via stream only services (ie ESPN+, Peacock, Paramount+ etc). America’s MLS league is all on ESPN+…. All Euro leagues (Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s Laliga, Italy’s Serie A, Netherlands league) are all available only on these stream only services. Only ones still also behind a cable wall channel is England’s Premier league and French’s Ligue 1… and of course the English Premier League does provide all matches on Peacock.

    Exposure of your product to the masses is a great winning strategy!

    It’s why I believe the archaic prohibitive ‘tv black out’ and subscribe to a cable sub to watch your local pro sports team is ridiculous! They all should be available by means of cable or streaming service. Think of how many more fans would pay more attention to their own teams (even when they are bad) because of being so easily exposed to viewing the team’s games!!

    This is how soccer continues to grow in popularity. Exposure!

    • dave

      September 23, 2022 at 4:51 pm

      That is a reasonable hypothesis. If the topic is of interest, the linked Telemundo report is a good read. Some report data:
      * In 2021 in the US, roughly 5,000 soccer games were on TV while roughly 10,000 soccer games were on streaming
      * Surveyed Hispanics planning to watch the World Cup report they will use TV (90%), phone (34%), computer (17%), tablet (15%) for a mix of roughly 60/40 TV to streaming
      I suspect leagues will significantly change distribution models as and when RSN decline. That seems likely and already in motion. But as long as RSN get ~$15 per month from “enough” bundle consumers, it may be hard for leagues to forego easy short-term money
      A counter to your hypothesis is the six most popular US soccer properties are probably USWNT, USMNT, EPL, MLS, Liga MX, and NWSL. Each of these is all over the map as far as where to find games. Only MLS plan for “all games live in one place for one price” in 2023

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