Will soccer ever be popular in the United States?

USA SoccerYesterday I saw an article by the Orlando Sentinel about the addition of professional soccer in Orlando. This article was of interest to me because I love the sport as much or more than I love football. The comments attached to this article were both uplifting and disturbing. They got me thinking, “Will soccer ever be popular in the United States?”

Being a lover of the sport, I am inclined to believe the sport will become popular, just like in other countries. However, the sport has been trying to breakthrough to Americans for some time now and hasn’t had as much success as many hoped.

Maybe we’re already seeing a jump in popularity, driven by our children playing the sport. It’s no surprise that soccer is the sport most played by America’s youth. The game can be set up for a much lower cost than other popular sports, such as baseball, football, and even basketball. If you’ve got a ball and an area to kick it, you can set up goals from almost anything from cones to trees to a gap between parked cars. I’ve even seen kids make a  ball out of wadded newspaper so they could play.

Some people say that the game is played by more children than any other sport in America because it is easy. To them I have a few questions to better understand their definition of easy. Have you ever played the game by the rules? Can you run up and down the field (pitch) for 45 minutes straight, rest for 15 minutes, and then run around for another 45? Do the professionals simply kick the ball down the field and hope their teammates receive it, or do they time their kicks and strategize their passes? Is it easy to send a ball into a goal with only your feet or head when 11 men are trying to stop you and one of them can use his/her hands?

Regardless, if the kids are playing it, they may want to follow it when they get older.

Maybe the fact that ESPN has started showing more and more soccer matches in HD has to do with the never slowing addition of new American citizens from other countries or the fact that our new citizens are having more children on average than the people who have lived here for generations. We all know that soccer is the biggest sport in almost every other area of the world, so maybe this makes sense.

Maybe Americans will never truly embrace soccer because it is low scoring. I needed to look into this a little farther, so I checked out the previous month’s scores from my favorite soccer league, the Premier League in England. It turns out that an average game consisted of 3 goals. I compared this to other sports.

In the NBA it was no contest, so I didn’t bother calculating the average games. Basketball players score a lot. Just ask Wilt Chamberlin.

In the NFL, I used the last regular season week as an example. Week 17 was a high scoring week for them with an average of 6 scores per game. That’s double the amount of a soccer match.

In MLB I took a stab at the schedule and used Oct. 4th because there were 15 games played that day. I’m not sure if this was an average day of games, but they had an average 10 runs scored per game. I thought this was pretty high and it was definitely higher than both the NFL and soccer.

But wait, isn’t the NFL the most popular sport in America? Then it can’t be due to the amount of scoring, because both the NBA and MLB average more scores per game. So I probably shouldn’t apply the scoring logic to the reason why soccer isn’t as popular here.

Maybe it’s the commercials. In soccer, there is 90 minutes of action with 15 minutes of rest in between the halves. There is usually 15 minutes divided between the start and finish of the match for analysis, so it makes about 1.5 hours of action and 0.5 hours of possible commercial time. That’s not a lot compared to other sports. Without as much money coming from advertising, why would a TV station want to show a soccer match?

In a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, it was found that there is an average of 11 minutes of action for an NFL game. An average game last for 3 hours, so there is plenty of possible commercial time there. If I were a broadcaster, I’d love to get my hands on a football game to generate advertising revenue.

This also disproves the argument that soccer games are boring. 90 minutes of action vs. 11 minutes of action means that action is not the determining factor.

With all this analysis, I still don’t have the answer. I hope that soccer becomes more popular in the United States, but I’m not sure if it ever will. What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Will soccer ever be popular in the United States?

  1. Hey there Levi,
    I’m an avid fan of football, sorry, soccer for you.
    Anyway,i love your article, it’s very informative on what people think of soccer on US soil.
    It’s no surprise that one of the major hurdles that MLS faces is exposure and also media influences.
    Again, America is so bounded by what the media says, i doubt that MLS would get that exposure it needs to survive and grow.
    I’ve read somewhere one of the possible reasons why soccer is not that popular in the US is the lack of a hero. NBA has Michael Jordan (obviously i don’t watch it as often since the 90s so forgive my ignorance) where as MLS has? Donovan?. Granted that you guys now have T. Henry but he’s not American.
    You guys need to produce a hero for soccer but again, that needs time, chance and money. damn, lots of money.
    Good luck

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