Soccer: The New American Pastime?
1 Mar, 2015By: Tracey Schelmetic
Changing Demographics and Other Factors Raising Sport’s Profile in the U.S.
While football may remain the undisputed king of American sports, soccer takes the crown for the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. in terms of viewership. Once considered a minor blip on Americans’ radar, the favorite sport of much of the rest of the world has officially entered Americans’ consciousness. At the last World Cup soccer event, a total of 15.9 million Americans tuned in to watch the US-Ghana match on television. According to ESPN, soccer broadcasts as a whole are trending upward and averaging around four million viewers per game: an increase of 23 percent from 2010 alone.
Sports analysts attribute soccer’s increasing popularity to a perfect storm of factors: a combination of changing U.S. demographic trends that include a growing Latino population, the increasing competitiveness of U.S. Soccer in international play and the growing popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS). According to Daniel Cox, Research Director for Public Religion Research Institute, writing for Huffington Post Sports, the trend is also being driven by the rise of youth soccer leagues, and the fact that youth participation in soccer exceeds that of football.
“Youth soccer has grown dramatically over the last four decades, with participation rates increasing by roughly 300 percent from 1974 to 2014,’ wrote Cox. “Reflecting this growth, the 2015 PRRI/Religion News Survey shows that participation in youth sports varies dramatically by age. Young adults (age 18 to 29) are 10 times more likely than seniors (age 65+) to have grown up playing soccer (22 percent vs. 2 percent). Young people are also more than twice as likely to have played youth soccer than peewee football (22 percent versus eight percent).”
Cox notes that while some of this could be attributed to soccer’s popularity with girls, the trend remains even when comparing figures for males. One in four young men (25 percent, in other words) grew up going to soccer practice, compared to 16 percent who played football. Americans who grew up playing soccer often remain committed fans even in adulthood, so the market increase in young people who play soccer now will likely create more passionate adult fans in the decades to come.
While football may remain the undisputed favorite of Americans for years to come (100 million people or more tune into the Super Bowl annually, after all), soccer may easily surpass basketball, baseball and golf in the next few years. And as the growth of the Latino community continues – demographers predict that racial and ethnic minorities will become the majority of the population by 2043 – even football may ultimately find itself in second place in Americans’ hearts.