6 Reasons Why Americans Should Watch Soccer

A few months ago I wrote an article listing reasons why NBA fans, with the then impending and thankfully short lockout of the NBA season, should get into soccer. After a rollercoaster season in the EPL which saw Manchester City, rivals of Manchester United, finally bring home a title after 40+ years, after seeing Real Madrid steal one from Barcelona while breaking many records along the way, and seeing one of the most dramatic finishes for Chelsea in the Champions League, and now watching the UEFA European Championship, I thought it was about time to try and give a few more reasons why Americans should watch soccer, especially with the prospect of Sunday’s Euro 2012 final between Italy and Spain:

1. The rest of the world does, why not?

Let’s be honest. Americans are sleeping on the biggest sport in the world. Somewhere north of 200 million people worldwide were expected to watch Chelsea defeat Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League Final. How many watched the Super Bowl this past season? Just 111 million. And the viewing audiences for soccer are continuing to rise worldwide, as well as in the United States.

Another statistic you should look at is the numbers of fans worldwide. Just this past month, The Guardian newspaper stated that at least 659 million people follow Manchester United alone and that is just one team. Can you imagine how many hundreds of millions follow other teams worldwide? So what is the 2nd most popular team worldwide and most popular US team?  The answer is the New York Yankees.

Soccer lives up to McDonald’s slogan when it says over a billion served. Yet as Americans, we turn up our noses in favor of our hard hitting sports such as football and basketball, and yet we’re missing out on a game that can have just as much drama as any other we play here.  If you saw the controversy during the Euro 2012 game between England against Ukraine last week, you would know full well what I am talking about. The best part of this sport is you can go anywhere in the US and out of the country and you are guaranteed to find someone who follows the sport. Plus, you may make a new friend for life based on that, whereas you can wear your favorite American football jersey to Greece (as I did) and no one would notice or care.

Over a billion people can’t go wrong so why aren’t we picking up on it?

2. It’s more accessible now than it ever was

With all of the smartphones, tablets and other devices, and a huge Internet presence, there are many ways to be able to watch games anyplace at any time; even more now than just 5 years ago. This past week alone through the use of the WatchESPN app, I and many of my fellow co-workers have caught the Euro 2012 tournament either while at lunch, on the way to a destination or even just sitting outside, without needing a television.

Last year, FOX televised the 2011 Champions League final between Manchester United v Barcelona on terrestrial television. In all, 300 million people worldwide watched that game so that gave FOX ample room to decide to broadcast this year’s final live over the air on terrestrial FOX. If you package it right, people will watch. Not to mention, most cable packages includes FOX Soccer as well as GolTV.  NBC recently gained rights to broadcasting MLS games over the air and while right now it may not have the legs that FOX or ESPN has, there’s still room for growth now more than there ever was.

3. The atmosphere at live games

My very first live game I went to was the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal doubleheader last year here in Washington DC. The first match was between the US men’s national team and Jamaica in a very tame affair.  But the second game between El Salvador and Panama was far better. Say what you will, but the stadium turned into a live party and this was just pre game. The crowd got to singing and partying, while the whole overall atmosphere changed into something that I can’t say that I have ever seen even at a NFL game. That was one of the best memories I took away with me. Plus I have noticed that at almost any game I have gone to, there is a different vibe that the crowd gives off that is unlike anything you can experience in American sports. Watch any European game on TV, and no matter if the team is winning or losing, the spectators are into it, willing their teams on. Compare that to any American venue and you would be hard pressed to say that you get that same kind of feeling, even at a Steelers against Ravens game.

Just recently, my wife (going to her first live pro soccer event) and I went to the USA versus Brasil game at FedEx Field last month. Although we didn’t have great seats, my wife even stated that crowds aren’t this pumped at American football games we go to. The key, of course, just like any other venue is to go for the fun. Go for the camaraderie. Just learn to enjoy it regardless if you are winning or losing.  Even at some of the MLS games I have been to, winning or losing, the supporters still make a ton of noise throughout the entire 90 minutes simply because they enjoy being there. And if you like that, then this is a good sport for you to get behind.

4. It needs our presence

We have exported baseball, American football and basketball. All over the world, there are fans that know the name of the Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers. American business knows how to market these teams and also knows what kind of money is out there. Next to Asia, we are probably among the biggest consumers and trendsetters of anything that is out there. We are also a population of changing demographics. With such an increase of people in the US of different cultural backgrounds, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep pushing soccer out of the picture when many of the people who emigrate to the US from all over the world follow soccer.

Again, numbers don’t lie. When you have more people who watch one sport worldwide than nationally for another sport, common sense would dictate that you should go where the money is. People will spend it if they have access and if there is access, you grow your presence. Just for kicks, right around the time of the Champions League Final, I contacted a few stores in my area to see if they carried kits of the teams playing. Sold out; and it was the same answer for the US v Brazil game. And also now that the European Championships are being played, many kits are on back order where you used to be able to walk right in and buy one. And now the only other way to get them is via the Internet. I expect the same to happen once the international friendlies start up next month in the United States.

Another great way to get people out to games has been the friendlies that are played throughout the summer in between the regular season.  Many of the European clubs have come to the US over the past few years to give fans a taste of how they do it overseas. And the turnout has been excellent. I have already purchased my tickets for the two games being played in my area this summer and I can tell you, many were disappointed when the Chelsea versus AC Milan game was moved to Florida. But we are still going just to see the quality live and up close.

5. Support for homegrown soccer is growing

As much as people talk about how the quality of MLS soccer isn’t on the same level as Europe’s game, it won’t gain anything unless we who live here nurture it and help it grow. One excuse I hear often from friends that won’t go to MLS games is that it’s not the same or it’s amateurish. Well guess what, it’s all we got for now so enjoy it while it lasts. Nothing gets better while you sit on the sidelines.

While I wish that smaller leagues worldwide stop becoming dumping grounds for discarded and over the hill players, I do know the value of being able to support the home teams and enjoy it for what it is. The average price for a ticket to a DC United game peaks at around $40 to $75 dollars per game and you can get excellent seats no matter what.  Try getting a lower level seat to a Redskins or Ravens game in almost equal proximity and your ticket may cost you a car payment just for your ticket or one month mortgage for you and a companion.  And here’s hoping that your team isn’t already having a bad year, because it makes it that much harder to justify purchasing that ticket.

Support has indeed grown over the past year as a report was released showing that the average attendance currently sits at 18,542 through 121 matches. A year ago, the average was 17,245 through 116 matches. So to put it simply, people are coming to games. Also with the fact that teams like the Houston Dynamo, are opening new stadiums, instead of squatting in oversized stadiums designed for American football, means that MLS is serious about getting people to support this industry. There have  even been louder murmurs being heard about DC United possibly getting a new stadium and moving out of RFK. Many of us are hoping this comes true.

6. It’s a sport that transcends all races and creeds

For awhile now, I have been trying to avoid writing about this issue, but I really think that if there ever was a way to really convince Americans to get into this sport, fans and supporters have to do what they can to lift up the veil of ignorance that surrounds who plays and who doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to others not as into the sport who has stated some of the following:

  • Not enough blacks play this sport
  • Too many blacks play this sport
  • It’s only a sport for Hispanics
  • Too many whites play this sport
  • Not enough English speakers play this sport

And while I would like to throttle some of these people for saying these things, this is just a lesson on how much work needs to be done to open the minds of ignorant Americans to a global sport. Lesson number one that dispels just about all of these myths is the World Cup.  The title itself lives up to its name. Players from all over the world compete to win. From every background, rich nation, poor nation, skin color, language, religion and whatever you want to point out, they all come every four years to play. Even during the regular season, observe the make up of teams. They are a melting pot of players from all over the world and American sports can’t say that we really have that.

In hindsight, sometimes I almost see the reason why we as Americans have to try and export baseball, basketball and American football for the exposure. To be blunt, if you look at those sports over the past century, it started off mostly white, then mostly black and they just now are starting to really get a mix of internationals with basketball probably being one of the more viable of our exported sports. Soccer, even with its own issues of racism, still has a better handle of integrating the sport on a global level and have readily shown that it can do because most teams look at quality first over anything else and that in itself is a positive that we can learn from.

If there ever was a game that could bring people from different backgrounds together, it’s soccer. It’s not a perfect system however and the fight between fans from different groups during the Euros has shown this but this doesn’t mean we have to be just as ignorant. Even in the time I have been following this sport, it has helped me meet so many new people from many different places and exchange our stories about what we enjoy about this game.  This is a perfect sport designed to bring people out of their shells; it’s a very sociable and easy sport to get into where if you are by yourself walking into a sports bar at the beginning of a game, by the final whistle, you will have new friends. When you really think about it, Liverpool has the right anthem for this sport, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

So as an American, if you never have watched soccer before, take time to watch one game and if possible, find a friend that knows the sport to watch it with. Better yet, make some time and check to see if a MLS venue is nearby. Go check it out and don’t necessarily go to try to understand the game. Feel the crowd and the excitement. And who knows, maybe you might just like it.

25 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why Americans Should Watch Soccer”

  1. How about the fact that there’s no commercials? “Support local programs” and “engaging mutliple cultures” are nice, soft ideas; but for Americans to sink their teeth into something, there needs to be direct and immediate return.
    The flopping/crying thing also will need to stop before Americans can watch the sport with conviction. As a fan of international soccer already, it’s embarrassing to be looked at with that discerning, almost mockingly look from my father-in-law every time two wimps try to outcry eachother for a free kick.

    1. Well it won’t stop and who cares if Americans do watch or not. It will never be as big as the NFL NBA or MLB. The sport should improve for the good of the game not changing it so Americans will watch it. I also hear no ties or playoffs for leagues so it’s more exciting for Americans. I’m American and I don’t care what they think of the game. The more young people watch the top leagues the more quality players will come through for the future.

    2. The lack of commercial interruptions has ruined other sports for me. I tried to make it through the end of multiple NBA playoff games this year and couldn’t do it—even with DVR. It takes 30 minutes to get through 3 minutes of game time (since when do teams get 19 times-out, anyway).
      I never thought I’d like soccer more than basketball, baseball and hockey—and yet now I can’t even watch the others without getting bored.

      1. True. I know many people from outside the US who complain about the excessive stop-start nature of the NFL – I being a non-American myself also have similar complaints even though I follow the Eagles and Vikings! But I still love ice hockey and international football/soccer above all else!

        If American sports want to really compete globally, the first thing they ought to do is ELIMINATE TV TIMEOUTS! We foreigners HATE having commercials interrupt our sporting broadcasts!

  2. I’m not so sure we even need this discussion anymore. The sport is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. MLS is healthy and growing in the midst of a fairly difficult economic climate. MLS and even USL academy programs are supplanting the old school pay to play Classic Club culture. Most of all, the fan base that exists is very passionate and quite simply and organically is growing.

  3. Funny thing is the three most exciting sports are Basketball, Football(American) and Football(Soccer). Anybody who tells me that Hockey and Baseball are more exciting are kidding themselves.

      1. to me its the opposite. i live in toronto, so the coverage is amazing, but when you go the actual game, its just a bunch of old white men drinking beer.

  4. and the number one reason is…so in the future we can dominate..it’s the only sport the world doesn’t want us to do good in..hmmm….wonder why hahaha…

  5. I may be off here on my numbers but from a very quick check it appears to me that the 29 April Manchester Derby drew ratings in the US that exceeded any NHL broadcast with the exception of the last game of the finals. Derby got more than a million viewers, which is HUGE for cable sports.

    In other words, maybe Americans ARE embracing soccer more than is generally recognised. The NHL is still treated as a “major” sport (albeit on a lower level than the big three) and it loses out to the EPL? Crazy.

    I come from an English family but have been back and forth between Europe and the US pretty much all my life. I remember when the US media just ridiculed soccer constantly. But you don’t see it any longer. And it is amazing to me to see the appreciation developing for the sport in some quarters. I even find the crowds at some MLS venues to be moving much more to a European vibe. (Portland and Seattle being great examples but you see it in some unlikely places.)

    It’s all very exciting. I think you would have some major intrinsic obstacles to the MLS becoming a league in parity to anything in Europe. But maybe the example of Clint Dempsey making money and being a legit star in Europe will encourage more US athletes to go down that path.

  6. I fell off the “Lets get Americans to watch more soccer” bandwagon years ago and decided to embrace the “niche” appeal of being a soccer fan.

    The thing that is bringing me back to the effort to popularize the “watch soccer” movement is having kids and realizing that if they don’t start watching it from early on, they will join the migration to other, “popular” sports in high school. My son’s U9 coach is always hammering on the point to the kids and parents and reminding us about upcoming opportunities to watch matches on TV.

    My opinion:
    The lynchpin is MLS. Let’s face it, kids are not going to get too jazzed over a club that they probably will never, ever see in person and the timing of live matches can make watching European soccer difficult/impossible.
    In short, point #5 above is the most valid. The rest are relevant, but much less so.

  7. With clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa wholly owned by Americans who also own sports franchises in this country, these clubs are getting lots of TV exposure here with NESN, for example, showing Liverpool games during the week, YES showing Arsenal games, and I’m assuming United are being shown in the Tamba bay area and Aston Villa in Cleveland. Anyway, once kids watch these games they will become more interested in these teams and that will help.

    Right now, the MLS is popular with kids but I think in time a lot of kids will begin supporting clubs like United, Liverpool, etc. and that will mean that soccer’s popularity will increase. Lots of hispanics already support Mexican, South American or Spanish soccer.

    With so many friendlies being played in this country every summer, and it is increasing every year, with some of the top teams in the world featured will mean even more exposure and a chance for Americans to go see them in person.

    Soccer’s popularity in this country is growing and it doesn’t look like it will stop.

  8. Soccer actually used to be quite popular in this country but I think huge world events (world wars, great depression, and the cold war) that roused isolationism or national pride made us turn away from global sports.

  9. ” I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to others not as into the sport who has stated some of the following:

    Not enough blacks play this sport
    Too many blacks play this sport
    It’s only a sport for Hispanics
    Too many whites play this sport
    Not enough English speakers play this sport

    And while I would like to throttle some of these people for saying these things,…”

    You want to ‘throttle people’ for having an opinion you disagree with? Unfortunately, the list of statements you mention prior to your comment, while perhaps being considered impolite, ignorant or crass by some people, are by no means illegal to say and are protected under the Bill of Rights in the US.

    1. Also protected is expressing how I feel about such ignorance. Last I checked, I was free to express my disdain for those statements, however I am also responsible for ensuring I don’t engage in criminal activity.

      “Thanks” for the civics lesson.

      1. Actually, I think Styles simply misconstrued the sense in which the word “throttle” was used. The word can mean “to silence or suppress” (as in censorship) but I think Harry Cee meant it, hyperbolically not literally, in the sense of “to kill or injure by squeezing the throat” (a fairly common way to express extreme exasperation with a person).

        Ah, the dangers of florid prose … (Note to self: Always avoid abusing aliteration.)

  10. It’s so awesome to finally see soccer’s popularity grow here in the U.S. I became hooked after watching the U.S. National Team’s memorable run in the 2002 World Cup. I remember not many years ago, you would never see a soccer story on ESPN or score for that matter. When the U.S. beat Spain 2-0 in the 2009 Confederations Cup, I was shocked to see the result made front page headlines in newspapers across the U.S. I still have the front page saved from my local newspaper. With all the soccer on tv now and big clubs coming across the pond every summer for friendlies, I’ve become quite spoiled. One great thing about soccer is there are always games going on throughout the year, so there is no long offseason wait compared to sports like the NFL. I hope the big surge in the popularity of soccer here doesn’t fade, which I think is very unlikely to happen.

  11. Being an avid United fan I have tried to introduce soccer to my American friends to very little success. Oddly, the ones that do get rather interested in it are the hockey fans. If fans in the USA would take the time to watch a few Europe teams without focusing on scoring they would find it is the greatest sport in the world. Also, I can sit with people from other countries, not knowing each others languages, and enjoy a game together. What other sport can testify to that?

  12. The match only last 2 hours. The NFL announced this week that the kickoff for games has moved to 3:25 eastern. You can watch a match and be able to go out and do other things than be consumed with an afternoon or entire of 1 game.

  13. Or just have them play FIFA. I bought FIFA 04 along with PES, got hooked, and haven been watching football ever since. You won’t believe the amount of people I’ve got hooked on the football just by begging them to play FIFA 11 and 12 with me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *