Soccer is growing in the United States. The MLS has gained popularity in the country, as have international soccer tournaments, and leagues from other countries. Heading into the future, it seems likely that the sport will become an increasingly bigger part of the sports culture within the U.S.
As a result, it will be interesting to see how the interest in soccer develops in the United States as the MLS competes with not only other sports leagues such as the NFL, NHL, and MLS, but also with international leagues such as the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga, and the Bundesliga. In addition, interest in international tournaments will most likely continue to increase as the United States women’s national team continues to be one of, if not the best national team in the world, and the U.S. men’s team enters one of the most exciting eras of its history.
Interest and Growth in International Tournaments
In America, the 2018 World Cup did not have as much viewership as the 2014 tournament, mostly due to the fact that the United States men’s national team failed to qualify for the event. However, the final of UEFA Euro 2020 was the most watched European Football Championship Match ever in the U.S.; with more than six million viewers.
The Women’s World Cup has had phenomenal viewership in the United States. The 2019 Women’s World Cup Final, where the United States defeated the Netherlands 2-0, was watched by 14.3 million people, according to Nielsen. The viewership data has been remarkably encouraging for the growth of the sport in the United States.
It remains to be seen how many people will tune in for this fall’s World Cup. The tournament will have to compete with both college and professional football. College football will be in the most important part of its regular season when the World Cup begins in late November.
The return of the United States to the tournament will increase viewership across the country. Every U.S. match in the group stage will be at 2:00 p.m EST, although one of the matches for the United States is on November 25, one day after Thanksgiving.
While it is unclear how the timing of this year’s World Cup will affect U.S. viewership, the overall viewership trend for international soccer matches in both men’s and women’s soccer is positive. Interest in the United States national teams, the tournaments they participate in, and other international tournaments have increased over the last decade. In addition, the 2026 World Cup, which will be partially hosted by the United States, could provide a huge boost to soccer’s popularity.
The Continuing Growth of the MLS
According to Nielsen, 47% of adults reported that they were interested in the MLS in 2018, a 10% increase from 2012 when 37% of adults said they were interested in the league. It is an encouraging development for the MLS, which has continuously expanded over the last several years as it moves into the future.
The league has added Atlanta United, Minnesota United, Los Angeles FC, FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Austin FC, and Charlotte FC since 2017, with St. Louis City SC expected to join the league next year. Austin, St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Minnesota, and LAFC all play, or in the case of St. Louis, will play, in soccer-specific stadiums.
Atlanta United and Charlotte FC, who both play in stadiums originally built to host NFL games, are first and second in the league in attendance, with both teams averaging more than 35,000 fans per game. Charlotte set an MLS attendance record when more than 74,000 fans attended the team’s first home match against LA Galaxy earlier this year.
The league has set an example of how rapid expansion can be successful. Inter Miami, Atlanta United, and Charlotte FC, the three teams that have joined the league since 2017 that aren’t yet playing in a soccer-specific stadium, are either leading the league in attendance or, in the case of Inter Miami, have plans for a soccer-specific stadium.
Positive news for the MLS extends beyond in-person attendance. The league recently agreed to a 10-year, $2.5 billion media rights deal with Apple that will begin next season. In addition to the money already guaranteed to the MLS as part of the deal, there will be an opportunity for revenue to increase as more viewers subscribe to Apple’s MLS subscription service.
On the field, Gareth Bale’s recent decision to join LAFC ahead of this year’s World Cup has brought excitement to the league. The league has also seen several young players sign with European teams and have success after leaving the MLS, another example of the progress the league has made.
The success of former MLS managers such as Patrick Vieira, who formerly coached New York City FC, and Jesse Marsch, who coached the Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls, in major European leagues has also shown how the MLS has continued to improve as a league.
Overall, the MLS is having steady and encouraging growth. Many recent expansion franchises have had success within the league both on and off the field, and players and coaches from the league have had success in the broader world of international soccer. In the future, the MLS could become one of the major sports leagues in the U.S. and will be helped by the 2026 World Cup, which will be played in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
International Soccer Leagues Growth and Investment in the U.S
Multiple international soccer leagues have taken interest in growing their brands in the United States. The Premier League, the league with the largest television audience worldwide, has seen its audience in the United States grow rapidly in the last several years.
NBC is the Premier League’s media rights partner in the U.S., and television ratings for broadcasts of the league have seen consistent growth. Last year saw record-breaking viewership of the league in the U.S. In addition, NBC extended its media rights agreement with the league, reaching a $2.7 billion deal with the Premier League last year to broadcast games until 2028.
Liga MX is also incredibly popular in the United States. Fox Sports and ESPN share the media rights to the league in the U.S. Multiple Liga MX matches are among the most viewed soccer games in the U.S. each year.
La Liga is making a strong effort to gain popularity in the United States. The league is planning on playing matches in the U.S. ahead of the 2026 World Cup. Recently, the league made a media rights agreement for $1.4 billion with ESPN to broadcast matches in the U.S. on ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+.
The Bundesliga, like La Liga, recently came to an agreement with ESPN to broadcast the league in the U.S. Each match is available on ESPN+, and the league also featured Christian Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund as he began his soccer career, along with current U.S. national team members Gio Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, and Jordan Pefok, among others.
CBS entered soccer in a significant way when they agreed to a media rights deal with Serie A that sees games broadcast on CBS Sports Network and on Paramount+. In addition, CBS is the media rights holder for all UEFA club competitions, including the Champions League and Europa League.
The investment made by these leagues to grow their brands in the United States has led to increased popularity among fans. Most importantly, the investment ESPN, NBC, and CBS are willing to make to acquire the media rights to broadcast games show the potential these networks believe the sport has in the United States.
Soccer is heading for a very exciting future in the U.S. The sport has continued to grow over the last decade, and is increasingly becoming an important part of professional sports in the United States. The potential growth of soccer in the U.S. is even greater due to the upcoming 2026 World Cup, which could see soccer become an even more rapidly growing sport in the United States over the next decade.