The United States gets sent home from the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Belgium. After making it out of a group stage that boasted Portugal, Germany, and Ghana, the United States could hold their heads high after competing with some of the best teams in the world and forcing Belgium into extra time. Even better news was that Americans actually started to care about soccer as they saw their team succeed. In the group stage match against Germany, 26.5 million Americans tuned in, and that isn’t even taking into account everyone at the gigantic watching parties or the many at bars. All of those count as one person.
While 26.5 million viewers in the US is a drop of water compared to the Super Bowl, you can expect Soccer to shorten that distance tremendously, and maybe even someday soon, overtake Football as the most popular sport in the US.
There is truly another British Invasion coming into America. America is being infused with superstars such as Adele and One Direction (I never thought I’d ever mention those two in a sports blog!), but Soccer is also tagging along for the ride. In 2006 there were over 24 million Americans who played soccer and over thirty percent of homes in the US have at least one person who plays soccer, which is second only to baseball.
In addition, television exposure has increased. During the 2014 World Cup, all four matches that the US played ranked among the top eight World Cup matches with the most US viewers, with three of them making up the top four.
Soccer is spreading, and while a scoreline of 2-0 isn’t as exciting as watching a football game that ends 41-38, America needs to realize that soccer is coming whether you like it or not and it’s growing fast.
What About It Being More Popular Than Football?
I understand the boldness of my statement in the title of this article. How could soccer ever become more popular than football in the next ten years? It could actually be a lot simpler than you think.
Football is fun to watch, and nothing excites Americans more (myself included) than watching two huge men battle it out, but the amount of kids that are actually participating in the sport isn’t nearly as many as soccer. So why is soccer not one of the four big American sports when it contains the second most players nationwide? It has to do with one reason and a reason that has been a point of controversy among everyone in the football community: The risks involved in football. By now, you probably have read dozens of articles on the threat of concussions and long-term brain damage associated with football, so I’m not going to explain the statistics associated with these injuries. However, the impact of playing football from a young age shouldn’t be discounted, as many parents stray away from letting their kids play football.
These concerns are of course a huge topic of discussion in the NFL. The NFL has made many changes to the rules of the game as well as how strictly they enforce certain rules in order to keep their players safe. Even though these rules help keep players a little safer, at some point the changes will ruin the core of the game and could ignite an exodus of viewers if the game becomes “too soft”.
Though there are still injuries in the sport of soccer, the risk involved and the long-term effects are far less severe than those of football. Why do you think so many parents sign their kids up to play soccer as young kids rather than football?
Though soccer is predicted to make huge strides in terms of popularity in the US, the way that soccer will overtake football could have more to do with what’s happening to football, rather than what’s happening to soccer.
I’m not alone in my theory either, as Mark Cuban even predicted that the NFL would “implode” in ten years. While I don’t see the NFL completely going away or not remaining one of America’s top sports, like Cuban, I expect a sharp decline in popularity due to the changes to the game and the fact that less and less kids are joining football each year.
What Is It Going To Take?
I’ve talked about the “what”, “why”, and “when”, but what about the “how”? How is such a massive change in American opinion going to happen? There are two key components to this happening. The first is something that I’ve already mentioned many times so far: the youth and their parents.
Every country, America especially, loves winners and they love to rally behind great players. Why do you think that Cam Newton and Stephen Curry are the two most hyped players in the US? Even those who have never liked football or basketball have still heard these names and have probably watched them at least once on television.
America needs a native soccer player to rally around, and most young athletes in the US are attracted to either football, basketball, or baseball, which means that those sports will have the best athletes. One of those kid, just one, needs to choose soccer and if that happens, America will have their superstar to rally around. This could have already happened, as Julian Green, 21-year-old US native, is already playing for Bayern Munich, one of the best clubs in the entire world. If Green develops into the star that many expect him to be, then Americans will have a face to associate United States Soccer with, and that hype could be a huge part of soccer eventually overtaking football.
The second is a little harder to accomplish, and that is building up the MLS to become one of the world’s top leagues. In case you are not a soccer fan, the MLS is America’s premier soccer league, but it is notorious for bringing in players who used to be world-class but are now old and far past their prime. This is why players like Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa have come in recent years to join the MLS. While these players are big names, they are but a shell of who they were seven years ago. Don’t get me wrong, the players in the MLS aren’t terrible and the league isn’t terrible, but out of the Top 20 major soccer leagues in the world, it is probably middle of the pack.
The MLS needs to end its reputation of being the “senior citizen’s home” of world football. This is where the hard part comes. The hardest part is convincing a world-class player in their prime to come to the United States and play in a so-so league. Like I stated previously, Americans love winners and superstars, and they will hype up athletes like no one else. Bringing in a top player from another league will draw more fans to MLS games and it will strengthen the popularity of soccer in America greatly.
These are the things that need to happen. In my mind, they will happen. It seems there are always rumors going about mentioning a superstar making the move to the MLS. While it has rarely ever happened with a player in their prime, I believe that at some point, the United States will be able to attract a player like that. With the domestic league being strengthened, the US National Team producing a superstar, along with the risks and increased rule changes in football, I believe that soccer will soon surpass football as America’s most popular sport.