Soccer has consistently been one of the most popular sports on the international scale. It is a beautiful game that requires a lot of skills but is fun for anyone at any level to play. It also requires teamwork, as it cannot be won by one player alone. The small amount of equipment needed makes it easy to access and play anywhere, even in underdeveloped countries.
While it is the top sport in other nations with large amounts of passionate fans and viewers, we do not see the same love for it here in the United States. The reason for this does not have a simple answer, but there are factors we can look at to help. To start with, it is not because of a lack of exposure or broadcasting.
According to Time, most people point to a lack of scoring. Soccer is a low scoring game; it is common for draws to occur. This is the opposite of American football, baseball, and basketball which are largely popular in the United States.
Is it possible to see the popularity of soccer, more specifically Major League Soccer increase in the United States? In a CNBC article, Patrick Vieira, former World Cup winner and current New York City Football Club head coach said: "I strongly believe that soccer will be the No. 1 sport in this country in a few years.” The New York City game against Orlando received 14-15% more views than normal.
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Despite soccer lacking in popularity for a long time, we still have a professional league in the United States. MLS was founded in 1993 and currently has 22 teams, which is starting to see a surge in its popularity. According to Forbes, the 2016 season had a 25.7 million gross viewership, which is up 8% from 2015. MLS followers on social platforms have increased 95% in the past year. In 2016, they had an all-time high average attendance that ranked MLS 3rd for U.S. professional sports leagues. They only fell behind the NFL and MLB. To top it off, MLS merchandise sales have increased 21% in 2016.
While these numbers are impressive, they are not the only measurement of growth for MLS. The league has expanded the amount of team over the past 10 years. MLS has recently set up a roadmap to increase the league to 28 teams. That number is close to other top leagues such as the NBA and MLB, which both have 30 teams. One of the biggest factors of expansion is sufficient interest from fans, locals and everyone else. MLS feels that with its growth, now is the right time for such an expansion.
All of this affirms Patrick Vieira’s statement about the future of professional soccer in the United States. The rapidly increasing numbers provide hope to members of the soccer world. Could we see the MLS become one of the most popular leagues in the U.S. in the next few years?
About the Author: Emlyn is a sophomore at Cazenovia College and has grown up in central New York. She is interested in working in sports law with aspirations of becoming a player agent. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.