Why is Soccer Less Popular in the U.S.?

By Kelsey Ontko, Julia Fogleman, and Lucas Nevola
Edited and Updated by Matt Berezo (2013)

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, nations all over the world began the implementation of national sports.  Soccer, known commonly as football to the rest of the world (which further distinguishes America as an anomaly when it comes to soccer), became an international craze, capturing the focus of countries throughout the world, with the notable exception of the United States.  Why was the United States reluctant to adopt soccer into its sports culture?

According Ivan Waddington and Martin Roderick, in each society there is a limited amount of “space” for sports, and once that designated space is filled by one sport (such as football in the U.S.), there is little room for other sports.  They argue that once a particular countries sports fans’ conscience is occupied by a sport that is seen as their “national” pastime, there is a diminished capacity for interest in additional sports.[1] Andrei  Markovits argues similarly that in the United States, soccer was “crowded out” by American (gridiron) football and baseball and therefore could not take root in the national culture[2].

Markovits also argues that gridiron football in particular draws upon and expresses a set of values and characteristics that are uniquely American. Since the American Revolution, he argues, the U.S. has strived to distinguish itself as a unique country with democratic principles and capitalistic standards.  Since sport plays such a crucial role in society, the urge to assume a national sport divergent from that of Great Britain ultimately led to the diminished popularity of soccer in America.

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[1] Ivan Waddington and Martin Roderick, “American Exceptionalism: Soccer and American Football” The Sports Historian 16 (1996): 49.

 

[2] A. Markovits, ‘The Other American Exceptionalism: Why is there no Soccer in the United States?”, Praxis International 2 (1988), 125-150.

How to cite this article: “Why is Soccer Less Popular in the U.S.?,” Written by Kelsey Ontko, Julia Fogleman and Lucas Nevola (2009), Edited and Updated by Matt Darlow, Dan Carp, Bryan Silverman and Matt Berezo (2013), Soccer Politics Pages, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp (accessed on (date)).

23 thoughts on “Why is Soccer Less Popular in the U.S.?

  1. Derek

    I think it’s more of an economic issue (i.e.- there’s not enough money left for soccer after American Football, Baseball, and Basketball). I don’t think anything in particular about the game, as is, is keeping it from being popular in America. It’s more in the formative years of many modern sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for many reasons, including a still rampant ‘American Exceptionalism’ culture, America chose American Football and Baseball to be its major sports leagues.

    Today, it’s not the game of soccer, itself, that is keeping it from being hugely popular. It’s the fact that with 3 major sports leagues already that (despite what nationalistic Europeans may say) in many ways appeal beyond just the American audience, there is no room or money for soccer. Top athletes in major sports leagues make upwards of $10-15 a year in salaries. The NBA, MLB, and NFL all pay these types of salaries. In order for the MLS to pull in top talent and make itself one of the top soccer leagues in the world (thus, signifying that it is popular in America), it would need to also pay out those kinds of salaries to attract the talent. Also, once the prospect of playing soccer becomes profitable to Americans, some of our top athletic talent would be diverted from American Football, Baseball, and Basketball. It’s not that Americans are athletic enough or ‘good’ enough to play soccer well on the international level. It’s more that our top athletic talent have more options to choose from than most other countries, and so far, have chosen other sports to play.

    As soon as America starts attracting and retaining top talent in the MLS, it will catch fire here. That can already be seen a bit from the effects of David Beckham coming to the LA Galaxy after retiring from English soccer and the deep (if not lucky) run the US National Team had at the last World Cup. It’s a slow process, but I think the US will eventually come around. There’s plenty of ‘haters’ here, but, to be honest, from what I can tell as a whole, the US is coming (slowly) to enjoy and support soccer. Give it another 5-15 years, and I think it’ll be more prominent here, as sports like Baseball and Basketball are slowly waning in popularity due to boring-ness, and the entitled and extravagant personalities that are ruining the games and slowly detracting normal people from being fans.

    Reply
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  5. Taariq Shabazz

    Soccer fields should be dramatically decreased and have less players on the field at a time. This would allow for a lot more scoring and more emphasis on dribbling and tricks instead of watching senseless running.

    Reply
    1. Spencer

      Yes, scoring goals is a time to celebrate, but have you thought about how it will drastically reduce the celebration of goals. If games end up having upwards of 10 goals scored it will take away from the stadium wide celebrations. It just changes the game in ways I personally don’t want to see and I know many others who would argue with me.

      Reply
  6. Taariq Shabazz

    One aspect that possibly contributes to soccers unpopularity in the US would be americans need for frequent and constant excitement. For example in football, basketball, and baseball(popular american sports) scoring is frequent and keeps the crowd in constant excitement.

    Reply
    1. Taariq Shabazz

      Soccer fields should be dramatically decreased and have less players on the field at a time. This would allow for a lot more scoring and more emphasis on dribbling and tricks instead of watching senseless running.

      Reply
      1. beto

        If you want to watch a smaller field and more scoring watch futsal (indoor soccer/football)

        Reply
    2. Oscar Trout

      re: frequent excitement.

      Americans seem to have no problems watching baseball, a sport where the action is often intermittent.

      Reply
    3. Tony

      Well, I you see j don’t understand how baseball is considered more exciting, I mean fans can be sitting and watching a man foul off a ball 6-10 times in a row and eventually strike out. To me at least that’s boring

      Reply
  7. michael

    Reply to steve: actually such a rule exists (when a player falls down on purpose). It’s called “acting” and the player is granted with a “yellow card”. A second yellow card and he is out, therefore leaving his team with 10 players.

    Reply
  8. Fernanda

    We, THE WORLD, don’t care if it is less or not popular in U.S
    🙂

    Reply
  9. steve

    the reason is because all the diving and overacting by the players they barely get touched and fall to the ground crying in pain then get up and start playing again americans don’t like fake flops in sports and leave the acting to hollywood they should have a rule like hockey called embellishment and that’s a penalty when you dive to the ground

    Reply
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  11. Jim Norris

    Soccer will become more popular in the United States ONLY when the rules are changed; e.g. make the goal HIGHER, change the clock (count DOWN, not count UP), allow substitutions/change lines while in-play (like ice hockey) and get more AMERICAN players, or at least those who can speak passable English.
    You might also try quitting your crying about: Soccer (we will NEVER call it ‘Football’) is the most popular sport in the world, and should also be so in the USA for just that reason, and realizing that, until you have the potential to exponentially score more goals, NOTHING will ever change in the USA. Soccer, as it is, puts most of us to sleep.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Trout

      Jim, modifications to the game have been attempted and were basically unsuccessful. The changes made little impact in drawing new fans, and the changes worked to alienate fans already familiar to game. Ultimately, the leagues that made similar changes became more of a novelty than they already were.

      Reply
    2. Jacob Cristo

      There are substitutions in soccer, why would we make the goal higher? And for the sport to get more “american” players, you’d have to PLAY. So ignorant

      Reply
      1. nolan

        These football crazed egg heads cant appreciate anything that doesn’t involve brute force or constant commercial breaks. Playing soccer well is like making fine art, football is like an idiot beating a nail into a board

        Reply
    3. Lazy_Bones

      So FIFA has to change the rules of the game, adopted and adhered to by the rest of the World, to make it more appealing for one country? No thanks, let’s just leave it as it is – everyone else can marvel at the beautiful game, and you can stratch your heads in bemusment whilst watching sports as boring as basketball and baseball. Seeing as 1 in 4 of the US population will be of Latin or Hispanic descent within the next 20 years, I would say learning Spanish would be a pre-requisite over learning English in order to play the game there in the near future.

      I hate to break this to you, especially given that many of you walk around thinking you’re the greatest country on Earth……but no-one gives a single crap that Americans don’t like “soccer”.

      Reply
  12. Robert Gaspar Majestic

    Technology has a huge effect on why soccer is not popular in the USA. Some people are too busy on their job and they don’t have time playing or watching soccer.

    Reply
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