By just about any measure, soccer is the most popular sport in the entire world. It is played on every continent, and the premier event, the World Cup, sets viewership records all the time. Whether it is watching or playing, soccer is more than just a sport in a lot of locations.
However, in the United States, soccer still lags behind several other sports in popularity. Why isn’t soccer as popular in the United States?
1. Not Part Of The Culture
The main general reason why soccer isn’t as popular in the U.S is that It’s not part of the culture just yet. It is a relatively new sport to the country, and without the history and connection to the game, sports like football, basketball, and baseball remain more popular.
There is some good news for people who enjoy soccer, and that is simply looking at the year to year growth for the sport in the United States. More younger athletes are playing than ever, and Major League Soccer is becoming more and more reputable as a professional league. The demand is there even for watching top club teams in Europe in the mornings and afternoons.
Is soccer ever going to take over in the United States? It is likely never going to dominate the sports landscape, simply because there are too many options for people to choose from. On top of that, there are additional reasons why soccer isn’t as popular in the United States.
2. Lack Of Success
The three major sports in the United States are football, basketball, and baseball. When looking at individual and team success against other countries, the United States is the undisputed top country in all three of the sports.
In particular, the United States basketball team dominates in international competition. The United States is one of the only countries taking football seriously, and baseball history is largely filled with American players in the top league.
Every four years, the World Cup tells a different story. The United States has never won a World Cup, and they have never been particularly close. They have exactly one 3rd place finish, and that was in 1930 when most of Europe did not show up to play.
Without the top players, fans are not as likely to support. Not only that, but children picking their favorite sport early on my gravitate towards the one they like to watch the most.
3. Lack Of Opportunities In The United States
Whether it is a player or a fan, there is a lack of opportunities in the United States that do not affect the other major sports. Until everything is fixed a little, it is never going to jump into the top-tier status.
First, let’s take a look from a potential player’s perspective. A top-level soccer player will need to spend their time in Europe to play for the best club teams every single year. Not only do they provide the best money-making opportunities, but the best competition as well. A star American athlete in other major sports does not have to leave the country and play far away from friends and family.
Fans run into the same problem, as they are stuck watching MLS games live and on the same schedule as the rest the United States. While MLS is becoming better and better, it is still not near the overall level of the Premier League or La Liga, for example.
This goes beyond opportunities on the pitch. Soccer players are just not as marketable in the United States because their matches are being played when the majority of Americans can’t watch television. There is no way to catch them live except for maybe a couple of times a year with exhibition matches or friendlies on the national team.
4. Lack Of Scoring
A common complaint that comes from anyone who is not a fan of soccer in the United States relates to the lack of scoring. Look at a typical match, and there are plenty of times when there are two goals or fewer. When both teams play for 90 minutes, on paper, that can seem like a pretty dull match.
Soccer supporters will point out that there is a lot more to each match than scoring. There is a lot of tactical aspects of soccer, but it might not be easy to tell from a casual fan standpoint. To grow the game, it is a hard sell to say to people that they might not even see a single goal scored they show up.
Football and baseball both have their low scoring games at times, so it is not unprecedented. However, the average fan tends to know a little more about the sports, and the individual battles and exciting plays are easier to identify.
5. Faking Injuries
Soccer players are always looking for some type of edge, and in a competitive match, getting specific calls can sway the result. That has led to a lot of players exaggerated injuries, and fans have not embraced that at all. In fact, it is one of the major reasons why some Americans want nothing to do with soccer.
Excessive embellishment with any injury is around other sports as well, but soccer puts it on display pretty frequently. Players can go down with a leg injury and act like they can’t walk one minute, and then jump back up and pretend like nothing happened the next. A lot of times, they are trying to sell a foul, which could give them an excellent shot of scoring.
No matter what rule changes are made, it is impossible to eliminate this injury faking entirely from the sport. Players feel like they can get an edge at times, and that is enough to keep it going.
6. Matches Ending In a Tie
Just about every sport is defined as a competition where there is a winner, and a loser. Fans want to go home happy that their team wins, and questioning everything if their team loses. When there is a tie? Both fan bases are not necessarily happy or sad.
Ties are necessary in soccer because scoring is so low, and it would take a lot of time to determine a winner in some cases. Having a shoot out is used in knockout rounds, but that is not the same as playing actual soccer. Not even the biggest of soccer fans enjoy ties, but it is accepted as part of the sport.
Ties can almost always be labeled as boring, but that is not always the case. If one team is a huge underdog, just tying the better team can be viewed as a win. There is such a thing as celebrating a tie, especially if it helps with an aggregate. Some teams will use certain tactics to play for the tie, and only the informed fans will understand why.
7. Riots, Hooliganism & More
There are some rabid fan bases in the United States, but some soccer matches have exploded into a pretty big mess for one reason or another. Whether it is a passion for a team, race relations, political issues, or something else, some fans are turned off by this behavior.
No one sees anything wrong with fans being passionate, but it goes too far if a sporting event no longer feels like a place that is safe enough to take a child. It can begin to alienate other people in the fanbase, which is never a good thing for a club’s bottom line. It does not do any favors when it comes to growing the sport either.
The officiating in soccer is always under constant scrutiny. So many decisions are left up to those calling the game, and with a decent amount of power, they can heavily sway a match.
We already talked about how flopping and faking injury can make a referee possibly make a bad call. Officials are left to make a lot of judgement calls, and soccer is very slow to adopt technology to help these humans out.
As a spectator, people have the opportunity to see a certain play in slow motion from every angle. It is just a bit unrealistic to think that officials will always make that correct call in real time, even if they are the best in the world at their craft.
Will It Ever Change?
As the United States evolves into more and more of a melting pot, soccer is one sport that has seen considerable rise. The success of Major League Soccer in certain cities has also helped the sport become a legitimate threat as a top-tier team sport in the United States.
Realistically, soccer will have too much competition from other popular sports to ever reach the same level of passion as Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, and others. However, a few successful players from the United States, and perhaps even club teams, could take the sport to another level. The numbers continue to rise at the younger levels, so the interest is there. It is a matter of getting those players the right training, and allowing it to build up.