That perception, however, may be very wrong very soon if it is not already wrong. It’s well known that the rest of the world loves soccer. And a large part of the growth of the sport in the US could lie in the changing demographics of the country itself as we inexorably change from a largely white, born here and bred here country to a country where whites are the minority and soccer loving immigrants from Central and South America where soccer is a part of daily life, an expression of culture, are becoming the majority.Soccer is currently the fastest growing youth sport.But that demographic shift does not fully explain the growing love for “the beautiful game”. Soccer is currently the fastest growing youth sport as well as the second most popular youth sport behind basketball. Starting in the mid-eighties and increasingly since then almost every kid in America has had some exposure to the game. With around four million youths in a registered program each year, soccer is not only gaining popularity, but there are more youths playing in registered leagues in the US than in any other country. In other words, the only sport more kids are playing and have played in US in the last ten years is basketball.
The demographics of soccer’s growth get even more daunting when you consider that the first American generation that began playing youth leagues in the eighties is now having children who are starting to play. The current generation of soccer player’s parents understand and appreciate the sport in the ways that those who have done something understand it better than those who have not. They can converse about the game in a way that wasn’t possible before unless your parent happened to be from abroad. This also means that the true American passion (watching TV) for the first time can be shared across generations watching soccer matches on TV.
Those generations are increasingly tuning in on Sundays to watch English Premier League Games, and following the sport’s stars who are among the best who have ever played and are true international celebrities: David Beckham, Christiano Rinaldo and Lionel Messi. (It doesn’t hurt that both Beckham and Rinaldo make the tabloid pages on a regular basis bringing in the female demographic. Messi on the other hand may just be the most creative player the game has ever seen.) Ratings for recent high profile matches have nearly doubled compared to just a few years ago.Ratings for recent high profile matches such as the US vs. Mexico World Cup Qualifier and the European Championships have nearly doubled compared to just a few years ago. In the coming years soccer will become increasingly more available to US TV viewers as NBC takes over the US rights for most major European leagues, meaning more families will have access to more top flight games than ever. Soccer video games are doing their part as well; currently the second most popular sports video game is FIFA 2013.
Throw in a few more odd factors, Major League Soccer after some fits and starts seems to have found a formula for success by building soccer specific stadiums that fans in the cities that have them like New York, Columbus, OH, LA, Dallas, Philadelphia and Portland, OR are flocking to. Major League Soccer actually has greater attendance than either the NBA or the NHL.Soccer is already the fourth most popular sport in the US.For decades, the question of why soccer has not caught on in the US has been bandied about with much hand wringing among the cognoscenti of the sport. Detractors argue it never will be popular in the US. But the reality is that soccer is already the fourth most popular sport in the US. With the generational shift, growing numbers of immigrants, growth of the youth level sport it really may only be a matter of time before it takes a spot among the big three of baseball, basketball and football. You can be sure the detractors’ voices will be loud but the numbers paint a pretty clear picture that soccer is already here.