Dispelling The Myth That Soccer Is Not Big In America

I was on an online chat last weekend with 1,200 people watching a second division U.S. soccer game streamed online. All of a sudden a soccer fan blurted out on the chat that ‘soccer wasn’t big in America.’

Soccer not big in America? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Twelve hundred people watching a dodgy stream with cringeworthy commentators may not be the sign that soccer has arrived on these shores, but it’s still a significant accomplishment for a lower league game streamed online. But where soccer has really taken off is on the national scale. TV ratings are higher than ever before. U.S. businesses are spending more than a billion dollars for World Cup TV rights. And soccer is played by more citizens than any other sport in this country.

In the past, I would have agreed that soccer is not big in America. But I believe it’s high time that we soccer fans stick up for our favorite sport and not let that stupid criticisms go unanswered. It’s one thing for American baseball or football fans to say it, not knowing the facts, but when it’s the soccer community saying it, that’s inane. Sometimes people are their own worst enemies.

If you’re not sure whether soccer is big in America, consider the following facts:

  1. TV ratings are up, way up. The 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and Holland was watched by an audience of 24 million people on ABC and Univision — 10 million more than the average primetime audience for the 2011 baseball World Series. Game 7 of the World Series was the only one that eclipsed the World Cup Final with 25 million viewers.
  2. Premier League and Champions League soccer are being shown on free-to-air network TV. This year is the first time that Premier League games are being shown on FOX, the free-to-air network, while the permanent home for Champions League Finals is now FOX where the network continues to bring in record TV audiences. More than 2.4 million people watched Man United against Chelsea on U.S. television two months ago.
  3. Average attendances for MLS games are now higher than NBA and NHL. In the 2011 MLS season, America’s top division achieved their highest attendance number in their 16-year history with more than 5.4 million people attending games. In comparison, 4.2 million people on US TV watched Barcelona win the 2011 Champions League Final against Man United.
  4. More than 17 million Americans play soccer. Soccer haters like to denigrate soccer by saying that it’s played mostly by children. While true, there’s a growing number of adults who play the sport. And soccer remains the number one most played sport in this country among youth.
  5. Even MLS TV ratings are showing some sign of life. For the June 26 game between New York and Chicago, 622,000 people watched it on ESPN. Over at ESPN2, 41o,000 people watched a game between New York and Seattle (June 23).

If you look at every level of soccer in America, you see growth. The 2011 Women’s World Cup Final was watched by 13.5 million people in the United States. And there’s growing interest in the second and third tiers of US men’s soccer. The women’s league, meanwhile, is still hanging on by a thread.

Soccer haters love to rub it in that soccer is not a major spectator sport. But if MLS gets higher average attendances than NBA and NHL, and capacity crowds of 75,000, 80,000 and 90,000 pack American sports stadiums during the summer when foreign teams play stateside, does that not make soccer a major spectator sport?

You’ll usually find that it’s the old guard who tells people what to think. The washed up American sports writers who talk about “the good old days” and look at soccer as “a foreign sport.” Thankfully most of these old school columnists are fading away and being replaced with more worldly writers who have an open frame of mind.

“Soccer isn’t big in America” is such as subjective opinion anyway. When is a sport considered big, and who defines that? Is MMA not big? What things are big anymore anyway? Everyone’s tastes in this world are so splintered anyway. We’re not all sitting down watching the same prime-time programs anymore. The choices are endless. The big, the mainstream, isn’t as big as it used to be. The edges are where people are at. Playing video games, watching Japanese cartoons, surfing the web or reading niche authors.

So the next time you hear people say that soccer isn’t big in America, tell them they’re wrong. Debate them. Enlighten them. Ask them what they’re basing their information on. Remind them how soccer is big in America.

And lastly, if you run into obnoxious fans of American football who don’t want to admit that soccer is big in America, ask them if they know how many minutes the ball is in play during a typical NFL game. The answer: For a three hour broadcast, 11 minutes. Yes, you read that correctly. Eleven measly minutes. Ninety minutes of interrupted pleasure (other than half time) is greater than 11. “Soccer is boring”?? Give me a break!


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