There is a viewpoint in much of the football-loving world that football (soccer) is not popular in the United States.
Much of the world thinks the people of the United States. are too busy following baseball, American football, and basketball, and that the beautiful game is basically ignored in the states.
I'm not here to tell you football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the U.S. It isn't. And, the fact is, it will probably, at least in the next 50 or so years, never be the most popular, like it is in so many other countries.
But I am here to tell you, it is very popular. More popular, in fact, than perhaps you would ever imagine. And I have some figures and statistics to back up my opinions.
Although it trails behind American football, baseball, and basketball, and is about as popular as hockey, this still translates into huge numbers of fans.
Here are a half dozen reasons I think soccer (football) in the U.S. is doing just fine, thank you....
The United States has nearly 310 million people. Let's say a safe estimate would be that two of every 10 people are avid soccer fans. Just two of 10. Doesn't sound like much, right?
Two out of 10 people, considering the population, is over 60 million fans. That is more than the entire popluation of England, and about the same as Italy or France. Let's say seven of every 10 people in England, France, or Italy are football fans. That is around 40 to 45 million fans in each of those countries.
Translation: More avid football fans in the United States than those three countries.
The fact is, when you have a country the size of the U.S., massive groups can be underestimated.
It is the same with hockey in the U.S. The numbers are similar to soccer. Canada likes to think it is the hockey capital of the world. And, per capita, they are right. But in raw numbers, there are three times more hockey fans in the U.S. than Canada. They are just a little more hidden.
It's not just the impending arrival of Thierry Henry, or the move by David Beckham a few years before, that is the sole reason for the surge of the MLS; although these players help.
There are three main factors that have led to the steady popularity growth of the MLS.
Fan bases (except maybe in Seattle) are not created overnight. Clubs have to develop that fan base and earn support. The teams, some of which are as old as the league is at 15 years, have developed a deep fan base through the years.
Two, new stadiums:
The first soccer only stadium in the league was in Columbus a little over 10 years ago. Since then there has been a growing trend to the soccer only, 25,000 to 30,000 seat facilities, more intimate and better viewing stadiums.
Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, Salt Lake, Colorado, New York, Philidelphia are to name some. Soon there will only be a couple clubs in the league without the soccer-specific stadium.
These stadiums have created a new mindset in the fans' eyes. A feeling of not having to share something. A prouder feeling than they felt before. One of the downfalls to the original soccer league in the U.S. back in the 1970s was the fact that the games were played in vast American football stadiums that seated 60,000 to 70,000 people and, even if they had 25,000 people at the games, felt like they were empty.
Three, better players:
Yes, Beckham has helped, but it doesn't stop with him. The Freddie Ljungberg type guys coming over and doing well has been huge, and being able to keep these players.
Having the best player in the United States, Landon Donovan, and being able to keep him in the league has been important. Although Donovan may end up back with Everton in the Premier League, his loyalty over the years to the league has helped the growth of the MLS.
Despite not being the most popular sports= in the country at the professional level, soccer at the youth level is one of the most popular. Million of kids in the United States play soccer at an organized level.
Some numbers from 2009 show that over three million kids between the ages of five and 19 play in the United States Youth Soccer Association, and over 300,000 kids between the ages of four and 19 play in the American Youth Soccer Organization.
Girls play soccer more than boys, and it is far and away the most popular sport in the country for females.
The United States relies on international success perhaps as much as any other country. This is the time when the non-soccer fans, the eight out of 10 people, come out of the closet and root on the red, white, and blue on the pitch.
If the Americans don't do well in these world tournaments, you have no chance to convert these people.
Last year's success for the U.S. in the Confederations Cup, finishing second, is the kind of results the U.S. needs. A strong showing in the 2002 World Cup helped, but not getting out of the group stage in 2006, despite being ranked fifth going into the tournament, did not.
ESPN is expecting huge ratings for the World Cup in South Africa for their American audience. A quick exit from the tournament would hurt the TV ratings, and it might hurt the effort to draw some new fans to the game, but it is not going to suddenly stop the popularity of the sport among its 60 million some supporters in this country. They are going to go on watching and supporting the beautiful game.
In 2009 an estimated 3.5 million people immigrated to the United States.This total does not include student admissions.
Approximately half a million of those people came from neighboring, football-loving Mexico. England and South Korea, both strong football countries, had nearly 200,000 each come into the States. Germany 140,000. France 115,000.
And this is in one year. All of these people are joining the already millions of recent immigrants to the U.S.
What does this mean? It means a lot of football fans are coming to America.
This fact alone assures the future of American soccer is healthy.
Extensive televison coverage of the European leagues in the U.S. has grown, and with that growth in coverage is the growth in popularity.
Millions now spend Saturday mornings watching English Premier League and Serie A games. Bundesliga and La Liga games are also available in most of the United States.
This ability to watch the best leagues in the world on a regular basis has been a huge factor in increasing the love of the beautiful game to a whole new audience in the Untied States.