Despite billions of viewers watching the FIFA World Cup and the Champion’s League, the most popular annual sports event globally, soccer has still not caught on as prominently in the US.
As we know it today, soccer can be traced back to many ancient civilizations, like the Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Central Americas. In the 19th century, the Brits transitioned the game to the way it’s played today. By far the most popular sport in the world, soccer has not become mainstream in the US. However, viewership figures of the MLS season increase with each passing season, raising hopes for the future.
Statistics from 2018/2019 show that the game is gaining popularity among younger people. One of the reasons for this is soccer programs implemented in high schools.
What else needs to happen for the game to become more mainstream?
Challenges of Promoting the Game
Americans are a sports-loving nation, but there appears to be one fundamental barrier to why they have not embraced soccer: culture. According to market research conducted by Hall & Partners, Americans find other sports more relevant and don’t feel passionate about any team. They also cited that games are slow, and they don’t know any of the big-name players.
Fans follow sports for many reasons, but above all, it gives them a sense of identity and belonging. Therefore, then engagement and demand for soccer can be driven with a few changes.
1. Soccer needs to be accessible to the right people
The two main groups of people who watch soccer in the US are the Hispanics and an increasing number of young people.
The younger generation is interested in the global appeal of soccer and its dedicated and diverse fan base. Their love of technology makes it easier to engage them with the right content at music events, social media, etc., making soccer a relevant part of youth culture.
Soccer is already a huge part of Hispanic culture. Predictions are that they will be 30% of the population by 2050. Unfortunately, coverage of their favorite soccer leagues and tournaments is often unaffordable, and there are few channels where they can watch high-level soccer without paying a subscription. Even though OPT streaming services are available, many aren’t aware they don’t need multiple subscriptions to watch their favorite tournaments. Language is also a barrier, and Spanish-language commentary may help to solve this.
2. Differentiate soccer
There are many sports ingrained in the American culture, and soccer needs to find a way to stand out. Since it’s essential to target youth, brands are the way to draw them in. Soccer needs to relate to relevant causes that young people care about. Tech can also offer better ways to interact with the game, whether they are watching or playing. Better online and console games focused on soccer products will help increase the game’s relevance.
3. Create a buzz
Passion toward a sport results from fans making a team part of their identity. Creating a buzz through targeted advertising about a team or event will grow the organic fan base.
Almost all Americans have a country of origin they feel connected with, and where soccer is a prevalent sport. Therefore, it is easy to target them with a sense of belonging to the sport. One way to do this is by making national leagues more available for them to follow.
4. Soccer exposure
In most countries, exposure to soccer begins at the neighborhood level, with children playing on the streets or have free access to soccer pitches. Unfortunately, in America, children can only be exposed through expensive clubs. Not to mention travel fees when they reach the upper levels. The opportunities to play on the streets are essential to get them to love the game and influence their playing style.
5. Soccer celebrities are powerful
In the US, many soccer fans follow individual players rather than teams. The players are the best assets the game has. As the 2021 soccer season gets underway, advertising needs to focus on the players to increase engagement where it counts.
6. Marketing of the leading soccer events
While the major events on the soccer calendar are televised, people are often not aware of them or their importance. Capitalizing on the passion evoked by events like the Premier League, FIFA World Cup, the Champions League, and Copa America requires awareness with better marketing. One great opportunity to raise awareness is with the upcoming 2026 World Cup to be co-hosted by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Partnerships with teams in other countries are an idea first tried by the NYCFC and worth exploring. Their link with Manchester City makes a pool of talent available to them and increases fan interest.
7. Soccer doesn’t excite
For many people, soccer lacks the excitement of other American sports and is very slow. The size of the field also decreases the chances of scoring, and some people feel there are too many players on the field to allow goals to go through.
Ties in the score are unrelated to American sports culture, and extra time is another area they can’t relate to.
Perhaps the answer to competing with faster-paced American sports is how soccer content is presented on TV. If it’s cut to only show the highlights, then it might match the bite-sized content Americans love to consume!