Soccer In The United States: Why Is It Not Popular?

Last year on the 2014 Brazil World Cup, more than 25 million audiences watched the match between United States and Portugal through ESPN, which made it one of the soccer matches with most U.S. viewers in the history. “This brought soccer back into discussions, some people even claiming that it had finally made it in the United States.”

“With the United States through to the knockout phase and interest and television ratings soaring, soccer can rightfully claim a place at the American sporting table. Alongside the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, it has changed North America’s Big Four into the Fab Five.” Says a Reuter’s article during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, until now, one and a half years later, nothing has really changed.  Soccer games are rarely on TV and few people pay attention to them. People will fill up the football stadium whenever there’s a game while the soccer field is hardly half-filled during games. Overall, it is fair to say that soccer here is still far from popular.

Gradually formed in the mid-19th century in England, modern soccer was soon brought to the United States around 1860s, before football and basketball were created. Although soccer had a longer time to develop in the United States, its popularity now cannot be compared with those of football and basketball. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, soccer has become the most popular sport without doubt. Held every four years, the World Cup can be even more popular than the Olympic Games which is held every four years as well. If it’s not the shortage of time then what are the possible reasons that led to such a difference in nowadays?

Historical factors

“Towards the later portions of the 1920s a period in American soccer known as the “American Soccer Wars” ignited. The Soccer Wars regarded the internal conflicts with the American Soccer League and their affiliated clubs participating in the National Challenge Cup. The debate involved whether the United States Football Association or the American Soccer League was the true chief organization of American soccer at the time, and consequently wrecked the reputation and possibly even the popularity of the sport domestically. The colloquial “war” has been considered responsible for the fall of the ASL, and the end to the first golden age of American soccer.” — Litterer, Dave. “The Year in American Soccer – 1929”.

Having its first match on 1869, soccer in America started to spread and associations like The American Football Association (football at that time means association football, which is soccer) was formed shortly after that. By the 1910s, soccer had become one of the most popular sports in America. However, the “soccer war” between United States Football Association (USFA) and America Soccer League (ASL) arguing which one was the true chief organization of American soccer and the Great Depression that took place in the 1930s led to a significant decline of the sport for nearly 30 years.

Due to this, soccer’s development was hugely interrupted and soccer itself might be viewed by people in mid-20th century as a representation of the old days full of painful memories.

The current soccer leagueMLS logo.svg

The largest soccer league now in the United States is Major League Soccer (MSL).  Started in 1996, MSL so far has developed into a soccer league with 20 soccer teams and about $34 million annual profit (Forbes estimation in 2012). However, compared with the five main leagues in Europe (the English Premier League, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga and French Ligue 1), MSL is still pretty far behind in both influence and profits.

“When I watch the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL I feel pretty confident I am watching the best teams and athletes from that sport in the world. I cannot say that when I attend a MLS match.” This comment under “Soccer: Sport of the Future, Forever?” an article on The Atlantic kind of concludes how people feel about the soccer leagues here at America. When able to watch many top teams and players from other sports, people will hardly save time for an “ordinary” soccer match.

As a result, there are few followers of MSL compared to other sport leagues and therefore few people often watch soccer or treat soccer as a daily sport. Although the World Cup can attract millions of audiences, most of them would just walk away after afterwards and never come back until four years later.

Changes are required

In England, where the major soccer league plays an important role, soccer is considered the primary sport. However the Barclays Premier League in England, known as the most famous and competitive league around the world, also had experienced a bad time.

Having more than 100 years of development in England, English football went to a low point in the late 1980s. After the Hillsborough disaster, people realized that the soccer stadiums are crumbling, supporters endure poor facilities and hooliganism is rife and that revolution is urgently needed. By renewing television deals, singing The Founder Assignment, and other actions, the top- flight clubs managed to establish a new soccer league and that was the Barclays Premier League now.

Similarly, if MSL wants to be bigger, it has to change, although that could be hard with the sports market occupied by other wide-spread sports.




3 thoughts on “Soccer In The United States: Why Is It Not Popular?

  1. I have been wondering why soccer hasn’t caught fire in the USA my entire life. Your article addressed many key issues of American soccer, and my favorite part was when you mentioned that we rally behind America in the World Cup, but forget about soccer until the World Cup comes back around. I also like how you mentioned the Premier League in England and its low point in the 80s. Why do you think soccer is so unpopular compared to other sports, and how do you think soccer in America could gain popularity? Your article could benefit from adding more reasons why people might prefer football and basketball. Also, you used “MSL” to abbreviate Major League Soccer, but its abbreviation is “MLS.”

  2. It is very interesting how the feud between the two major soccer organizations led to a decline in the sport, but it’s hard to think about exactly how that happened. Did the feud lead to a disruption in the number of soccer matches played, or were athletes forced to choose between the two leagues, or was there some other factor? I also think that the lack of popularity of soccer in America is due to cultural reasons as well. I have a friend who was born in Argentina who jokes about being forced to play soccer when he was a child, and if he didn’t he would probably be disowned from his family. Soccer is rooted deep in some cultures, but that’s just not the case for America. Children grow up here watching American football and basketball, so they naturally like those sports more.

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