Will Soccer Catch on as a Spectator Sport in America? Posted by ClubSportal on May 25, 2016
When my family got hooked on the FIFA Women’s World Cup Last Year, we questioned why soccer has not taken off as a spectator sport in America. We, along with 23 million other Americans, were glued to the television as we watched the US beat Japan in the final match. So, what gives? Why did only 1.1 million viewers tune in for last year’s MLS Cup final match, while NFL preseason football games draw anywhere from 5 to 10 times that number of viewers?
Depending on the figures used, soccer is either number one or number two on the list of sports in which American youth athletes participate. Yet, despite the number of kids playing soccer (and the number of parents watching on the sidelines), at some point interest in the sport in this country drops dramatically.
One theory of adult apathy toward the sport argues that there isn’t enough scoring, not enough action. Americans like basketball games with their fast-paced action and continual scoring. Even football frequently sees each team score 5, 6, or 7 times (counting field goals and touchdowns). Soccer games, on the other hand, often end with scores like 2-1, 1-0, or even 0-0. Such lack of “action,” the theory goes, doesn’t appeal to the American fan base. However, that doesn’t really explain our love of baseball, which also sees many low-scoring games and which epitomizes a lack of “action.”
Others suggest that too many soccer games end in a tie, and Americans like to see winners and losers. This could explain Americans’ lack of interest. Although football games can end in ties, it rarely happens, and baseball games can literally go on forever until a winner is determined. So, maybe a rule change the mandates a winner and loser would increase our appetite for soccer.
I think the most compelling argument is that Americans simply don’t have many opportunities to watch soccer. If you can’t watch it, how can one develop a love of the game? This make sense to me. Spanish-language television has carried soccer matches for years (and a sizable portion of the Spanish-language audience watches and loves soccer), but it is only more recently that one can find matches broadcast in English. Even then, however, the games have been found on less widely available cable and satellite channels. This is starting to shift, with ESPN and its subsidiaries carrying games on TV and online. Of course, this argument presents a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. Broadcasters won’t air soccer matches if people won’t watch them (it doesn’t make sense financially to do so), and people won’t watch those that are aired if they haven’t developed an interest in the game. I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I do hope that broadcasters will start to bring more soccer matches into American homes so that we do develop a broader interest in the game. And hopefully one day, soccer will be as robust in this country as it is in the rest of the world!