5 Reasons Soccer Will Overtake Hockey in Popularity in the US

Mikhail Turner@MikhailTurnerContributor IIIJune 29, 2012

5 Reasons Soccer Will Overtake Hockey in Popularity in the US

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    Soccer will eventually overtake hockey in popularity in the US.

    As the MLS and soccer interest in the US in general continues to grow, the debate concerning whether the sport will ever be dominant in the country continues.

    Hockey, as well as American football, baseball and basketball, is one of the four major sports in the country, but it is the one soccer is most capable of surpassing.

    Here are five reason why soccer will overtake popularity in the US.

It Has Already Begun

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    Both Maria Burns Ortiz of FOX News Latino and Jim Edwards of CBS News presented articles during 2011 which showed just how far the MLS has come.

    Burns Ortiz focused on the fact that soccer is on the way to overtaking hockey presenting information about attendance and ratings along the way. Here are a few tidbits from her article via FOX News Latino.

    "In 2010, MLS average attendance was 16,675 spectators per game, a 4 percent increase over 2009. The NHL drew an average of 17,072 fans per game last season, a 3 percent drop from the year prior."

    "Meanwhile, the NHL experienced a 66 percent decrease in average attendance with 20 of the league’s 30 teams posting lower attendance numbers in 2009-10 than 2008-09."

    "With regard to ratings, MLS also is making a surge. The league’s televised 2011 opener between the Galaxy and Sounders on ESPN was up 129 percent in ratings and 112 percent in viewership, drawing 604,000 English-language viewers. The game’s Spanish-language broadcast on ESPN Deportes drew another 79,000 viewers, an increase of 84 percent from a year ago."

    While Ortiz focused on these things, and points to one major component for that growth in the process, Edwards article later in the year looks mainly at the attendance.

    He showed that the MLS had indeed surpassed the NHL and the NBA in attendance but also spoke of one thing to take into account. Via CBS News:

    "Of course, mere attendance at stadia isn't the full measure of a sport's popularity. The indoor arenas of basketball and hockey have structurally smaller audience capacities than the capacious outdoor arenas of football. And percentage attendance at NBA and NHL games tends to be nearer capacity than attendance at soccer."

    That statement concerning the difference in capacity and the percentage of attendance means that that those numbers shouldn't be blown out of proportion but they are still important.

    Either way, both these articles show how things have changed in the sporting landscape so far, and because it is up it, is very likely that things will continue to get better for the MLS and soccer in general.

Better Coverage

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    Viewers, both the casual and the hardcore fans, seemingly have much more coverage of soccer in the US than they do hockey.

    This is not to say that every home has FOX Soccer, Gol TV or even ESPN, not to mention channels such as Univision or Telemundo, but the majority do.

    While the NHL is pretty much the only source of hockey for followers of that sport, soccer fans not only have the MLS but also can watch games from the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and international tournaments like the ongoing Euro 2012.

    Soccer has the upper hand in terms of television deals as well. The NHL's deal with NBC gives the sport just one network for all games. Though that makes it easy for regular fans to remember where to go for games, it does not help to catch the eye of the casual fan.

    NBC also has a deal with the MLS to bring extensive coverage of the league over the next few years. Followers of other leagues can catch weekly games on ESPN and, if you are so lucky, Fox Soccer and GOL TV provide even more European leagues.

    Two major deals in the past few years show how big coverage for soccer is becoming. ESPN and Univision struck a big deal to broadcast both the men's and women's World Cups as well as the Confederations Cup between 2007 to 2014.

    FOX and Telemundo beat out both these networks to sign their own staggering deal for rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and, for FOX, all FIFA events between 2015 to 2022.

    These deals show the type of coverage soccer will be receiving over the coming years and that interest is only expected to grow.

More People Growing Up with It

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    All the increase in TV coverage and interest in MLS games will begin to show within the US. As more children begin to grow up with the sport as their parents grew up with baseball and so forth, soccer's popularity will increase.

    It is already commonplace for young children to find their way unto youth soccer team for some time, but they may begin to stick around in the near future.

    In the past when these children grew older, they would move on to the more established sports in their community and those usually consisted of American football and so forth.

    Soccer is very close to being at that "established" stage and participation will grow as a result.

European Soccer Tours/Soccer Stars Coming to MLS

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    Big European clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United have touched down on US soil a couple times over the last few years, and that is likely to continue.

    American sports is chock full of superstars and these stars are the reason youngsters go into their respective sports.

    When young fans get to see the likes of Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney live instead of on TV, it can have a similar impact.

    What makes even more of an impact is when some of those players actually play in the MLS. Michael Ballack is one such player who has been linked to MLS moves in recent months.

    While fans in Europe and America will joke that the MLS is a retirement league for some of these stars, one cannot argue against the increase in interest when a legend of the game is linked to an American club.

    Despite their age, these players are still good and have helped improve the level of play of their teammates and their opponents.

    They have positive impact on the field and off it and the obvious example is the growth of the sport since the arrival of David Beckham. Not that we are attributing it all to him, but you cannot say he did not have any impact.

US Soccer

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    US Soccer's men's and women's teams will be key for the continued growth of their sport within their own country. American sports fans like winners, and if they see their nation on top, they are likely to get become more interested.

    Both teams have a good chance in the near future to make an impression. The women have the upcoming Olympic Games to win a Gold medal.

    The men's team have to wait longer until the 2014 World Cup, and a good run in the competition would go a long way with the fans.

    If these two teams can prove themselves successful beyond just CONCACAF, they will create more interest in their teams and the sport as a whole.

    There is also the issues of the country having its own soccer stars and especially ones that play for the best teams. Things are not so easy on the women's side, but the men have a variety of options.

    Clint Dempsey stands out thanks to his individual success in Europe, but he won't really win championships with a team like Fulham.

    When fans start to see some of their own countrymen making waves for top, or relatively good, sides in Europe, they will be even more invested in the sport.