Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Soccer's Growing Popularity in America - World Cup

When I was a young boy growing up and playing soccer in the 1970s, I regularly heard that soccer was going to be hugely popular in the USA by the time I was in high school and college. With so many young people playing the sport, it would no doubt pass at least one of the four major league sports - MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL - and it would join its rightful place as the world's most popular spectator sport. Heck, Pele's popularity alone was enough to make this prediction, right?


For many reasons, soccer has never quite caught on with American fans, and it still trails even hockey in terms of viewership and revenue. In fact, years ago, I made a bet with someone that if soccer even surpassed hockey in terms of popularity in my lifetime, I would pony up big cash. And I've felt pretty confident for a long time that I would never pay up. But the World Cup this year has me thinking. Just like it had during the Olmpics in America in 1984 and 1996, and during the America-hosted World Cup in 1994, the country seems to be catching a little soccer fever.

Of course, whether that ever translates to regular viewership for a professional league remains to be seen. Major League Soccer (MLS) has had some great years recently, averaging about 18,000 fans in stadiums across the country. And in some places, the local teams are drawing as many as 40,000 fans like the Seattle Sounders, and that's probably sustainable to some degree. Of course, popularity is a complicated thing, and I would have to judge at least part of that by revenue - and TV revenue is king. So, the current average salary for a professional hockey player is $2.4 million while the average pro soccer player makes about $150,000.

So, there is still a lot of growth to come.

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