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.
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.
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.
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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