When you think about soccer fandom in the U.S., traditionally, the focus has been squarely on Anglo and Latino fan cultures. Combined, these fans represent the majority of the soccer pie and have commanded the attention of brand marketers looking to leverage the passion point of soccer. However, in recent years, we’ve seen a growing appreciation for the existence and importance of black and African-American soccer fans.
Just how big and how interested is this audience? According to this report from 2020, 14 percent of black fans in the U.S. are very interested in soccer, while 26 percent are somewhat interested. This compares favorably to white fans – only 7 percent of whom are very interested.
Who are black soccer fans?
Before we dive into some of the great content pieces highlighting black soccer fandom, let’s start with some of the foundational black fan demographics. In the latest GESM soccer fan research study (2020), one of the key takeaways was that black and African-American fans are younger – much younger on average – than all soccer fans.
The average age for black and African-American soccer fans is 29 years old – well below the average age of 36 for all soccer fans. In the 16-22 year-old segment alone, black fans over-index (186) by a considerable margin. With younger fans, you’d also expect there to be fewer children under 18 in the household and this rang true – black fans under-indexed (75) here.
On the gender front, we found that black female fans over-index (115) when compared to all soccer fans.
For brands looking to make waves among younger, female fans, targeting black and African-American fans is a direction worth exploring.
A more prominent seat at the table
The American soccer community has long talked about the need to embrace cities and urban centers that fall outside soccer’s established participation ecosystem and the influence of the much-maligned pay-to-play model. Fortunately, there are now more and more grassroots organizations like FC Harlem and Starfinder Foundation who have turned talk into action and helped their underserved communities use soccer as a platform for success. Progress at the participation level, however, has not been matched by representation of black personalities and fans in media and marketing.
It wasn’t until Atlanta United joined MLS that black and African-American soccer fandom started to garner more attention. A lot has already been written about the successes of Atlanta United, and the Club’s accomplishments has helped give black soccer fans in America a louder voice and a more prominent seat at the soccer industry table. The importance of this cannot be understated.
Atlanta United isn’t solely responsible for this, of course, and the influence of black culture within general pop culture can be seen in many different environments.
Showcasing black soccer fandom
The spotlight on Black and African-American fandom has never shone brighter and with this new wave of energy and focus on young, black fans and innovators, a lot of great content, collaborations, and projects have surfaced in recent years. Here are some of our favorites:
MLS players, coaches, staff join forces to create Black Players for Change and inspire change in racial inequalities.
Ownership Diversity in American Soccer
We’ve covered this important development in varying forms if you read our weekly newsletter, but within the past two years, MLS and NWSL ownership groups have grown to include the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serena Williams, Mark Ingram II, Russell Wilson & Ciara, Naomi Osaka, and Ken Griffey Jr. – all prominent figures in the black community.
Black-Owned Brands in Soccer Fashion
Soccer fashion brand, Live Breathe Futbol, recently partnered with Bleacher Report to create a limited edition Black Lives Matter jersey featuring sublimated fist, “BLM” on front of jersey, interchangeable sleeve patches, and vinyl patch where erasable chalk messages can be written. Black Arrow FC is lifestyle brand at the intersection of soccer and black culture.
Another brand, CREAVALLE, is owned by former MLS player, Warren Creavalle. He also has an after school program in Chester, PA, called Design FC, that allows students to use their creativity to design soccer jerseys.
In 2019, MLS hosted a roundtable discussion during Black History Month where Crystal Dunn, Mark McKenzie, Aaron West, Danielle Slaton, and Aaron Dolores discussed race and the black experience in North American soccer.
Copa90 visits Atlanta to discuss black soccer culture in arguably the most influential black city in the U.S., including stops at the MARTA Five Points rail station for street soccer and Atlanta United’s home opener.
Bleacher Report’s Bonsu Thompson takes a deep-dive into Atlanta’s culture and how it was destined to be a soccer hotbed. He also explores Atlanta United’s embrace of Atlanta hip-hop and R&B and its impact on black fan growth.
Famous music and social justice photographer, Mel D. Cole, highlights five Chelsea fans in each of New York City’s five boroughs.