Soccer has always been the “little brother” of professional sports in the United States. The popularity of leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL has always seemed absolute.
A Gallup poll from December provided evidence that soccer is rapidly climbing closer to the number three spot in the list of favorite sports in the United States. Soccer is now the most preferred sport by 7% of the population, a three-percentage rise in the last four years alone. 7% may not seem like much, but with baseball polling at 9%, and basketball, the number two sport at 11%, the margins are closing.
To put this in perspective, just a decade ago, soccer was listed by only 2% of Americans as their favorite sport, and it was not until 2013 that soccer overtook ice hockey as the 4th favorite sport in the United States. Baseball’s 2% lead is the slimmest margin that a 3rd spot has held over a 4th in the last 20 years, and the fourth spot has not polled as high as 7% since 1997 when racing held its claim.
An interesting note is that this poll was done in a year in which the United States Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in two decades, and yet the numbers did not falter. But as avid fans of the sport and as soccer marketers, this comes as no surprise.
What is contributing to soccer’s push for popularity? One of the main reasons is consistent support from the burgeoning Hispanic population in the United States. The other major factor is the enthusiasm for the sport from American youth. Soccer is now tied among 18-34-year-olds as the second most preferred sport and is climbing.
People are falling in love with soccer in the United States, and it is less to do with faults in other sports, but rather that the United States is beginning to understand the soccer culture and are eager to become involved. If we play, they will come. If we engage, they will understand.
As marketers, there is excitement to be found in the progress that soccer has made over the past decade, but there is also much more work to be done. This latest poll is evidence of what is yet to come. New demographics are going to emerge, the soccer movement is more energized and promising than ever before. Where there is work there is an opportunity, and when soccer is involved, it is sure to be exciting.