In the United States Football is king. Sadly, we're talking "American Football" and not Fütball. We all know how wildly popular soccer/ fütball is around the world, but how is it doing here in the good ‘ole US of A?
It starts with the youth
Want to change public perception on any sensitive topic? Target the young minds first. Get to the teens and suddenly their vote completely swings outcomes in unexpected ways once they hit 18 and can vote. Well, if they bother to vote. They can have the same impact on the world of sports as well. Thankfully, we're seeing that exact impact on MLS and NWSL.
A poll by ESPN in 2014 noted soccer is tied with baseball as the #2 preferred sport for youth (male and female) ages 12 to 17. Considering the growing health concerns related to football, soccer could conceivably grow into the number one sport for our kids in the near future. Numerous parents I've talked to have become more hesitant about letting their kids play football but would allow, or already have allowed, their kid(s) to play soccer. This gives the sport a greater opportunity for growth which might not have been there just a few years ago. In fact the US Youth Soccer organization reports over 3 million members between the ages of 5 and 19. This is more than Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Little League member registration.
High school and college statistics show there are over 800,000 students playing soccer at the high school level and about 77,000 players in colleges across the nation. This does not include intramural leagues and the like. These numbers indicate a large percentage of kids who start playing the sport when they are young will continue to play it throughout their childhood and teenage years. In addition to these numbers helping to boost the overall popularity of the sport, this also results in healthier youth.
But but, video games are controlling their minds!!!!!
Every few years Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo release a new video game system to save our kids from sunshine, fresh air (OK...maybe not in Houston) and *gasp* exercise. Video games are released with better graphics, intriguing story lines (not including Battlefront...looking at you EA) and eat up countless hours of our collective lives. Personal note: Totally guilty of this, would be even more guilty if my wife let me...moving on. Every year NFL fans of the wildly popular Madden franchise watch to see who will be on the cover of this year's game. I mean, who doesn't want to see who is on the most popular sports video game franchise? Oh wait...the most popular sports franchise in the world is not Madden, it's FIFA. FIFA has led the way for sports video game franchise in the world for several years now, making up a whopping 27% of the EA's net revenues in 2013.
In 2010, FIFA as a franchise had sold over 100 million copies. With FIFA 12 selling over 3 million copies in its first week in the US, EA Sports called it the most successful launch in EA Sports history.
NFL is King, MLS isn't even in the "Big 4"!
Walk around Houston and ask a random person to name their favorite sports team and there's a strong chance The Texans or the Astros will come up. A few people MIGHT even name the Rockets if the team is playing well. An interesting statistic has popped up, however, which should bring a smile to your face. MLS average attendance per game (in 2015) was 3rd in the US behind the NFL and MLB. It was well ahead of the NBA and NHL. In fact our Dynamo averaged 3,000 more in attendance over the Rockets. The Dash, like the WNBA, are struggling behind their male counterparts however they continue to grow in popularity as well. In fact the Women's World Cup in the summer of 2015 drew a larger TV audience than the average per-game audience of the NBA finals and the Stanley Cup finals during the same summer.
Advertisers are beginning to take notice as well. That same World Cup brought in over $40 million in ad revenue for FOX Sports. Look around BBVA Compass Stadium and you'll notice all of the major players in advertising have definitely taken notice of the growing sport.
Unlike popularity spikes in the past, soccer appears to finally have a foothold to stick with the major sports in the US. The growth of MLS and NWSL, advertising revenues increasing and general interest in the sport growing at all ages and demographics, times are good for US soccer. Maybe one day the general audience will take notice and start including us in the "Big 4" talk.