Football, or soccer as Americans call it, is by a landslide, the most popular sport in the world, but thus far, has failed to gain widespread popularity in the United States.
The United States is host to some of the most highly competitive sports leagues in the world but Major League Soccer lags behind its peer leagues in other countries. Only a small percentage of sports fans in the United States follow soccer, and of the ones that do, very few are fans of Major League Soccer. Are Americans ready to become passionate about soccer in the same way they are about football, basketball, baseball, and hockey?
Major League Soccer, the biggest and longest lasting American soccer league, has many qualities of the other major sports platforms in the U.S. but it lacks the same level of talent. The MLS is ranked as the seventh best soccer league globally behind England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 and Italy’s Serie A among others. No other major sports league in the United States had as much international competition throughout its growth.
If Major League Soccer is able to sustain its healthy evolution, the hope of many is that it will bring in higher attendance rates and more lucrative television deals.
Tom Glick, President of New York City Football Club, shared his thoughts on the future of soccer in the United States.
“I think the biggest difference [between here and in Europe] would be that the U.S. has a number of other well-established sports, not only what people play but also spectator sports. Whereas in the rest of the world football is the number one sport. Statistically, the fastest growing sport [in the U.S.] is soccer,” he added.
“The sports landscape [in the United States] is a place where fans support multiple teams. In the UK most fans just support one football team.”
He then went on to talk about the state of Major League Soccer right now and where it’s headed.
“The future for Major League Soccer is very bright. It is 20 years old, getting stronger and stronger, and there are clubs that continue to elevate the league itself. I think the first thing about [the MLS] is that it is very healthy as it continues to grow in almost every aspect and more and more players are interested in joining. Having the big international stars come makes the league all the more interesting.”
New York City Football Club is a new Major League Soccer expansion team in 2015 owned 80% by City Football group (which own Manchester City) and 20% by Yankee Global Enterprises (affiliated with the New York Yankees). Glick went into why such a large investment was made by two well established groups.
“The future is very bright. In the case of Manchester City and the Yankees, we have made this investment in New York City FC because we believe that soccer is going to continue to grow. Look at the recent transaction values of franchises and what people are willing to pay [for professional teams]. It’s a real sign of strength that people want to be a part of this league. The future is bright for our Premier League team [Manchester City] in the United States because of the growing desire of Americans to follow soccer.”
According to Glick, it’s not a matter of if but when soccer will sit atop of America’s sports entertainment industry alongside the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL.
Glick said, “It depends on who you ask, I don’t think we’re far away right now. It all depends on the lens you look at it through. Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. and young people are becoming more involved.”
With the English Premier League signing a deal with NBC, more fans in the U.S. will be exposed to the style of soccer that has become so popular overseas and in turn could lead to the growth of soccer in the United States.
Soccer has had a sometimes tricky experience expanding throughout the United States, but its rapid growth in youth participation and healthy economic and professional progression have set it up to become a major part of the future of America’s sports media market.
Major League Soccer spokesman Dan Courtemanche stated that the “goal is to be among the world’s top leagues by 2022.” If the MLS continues on its current trajectory, it might just meet that goal and become even closer to turning the “big four” American sports leagues into a formidable “big five.”