A common question that people often ask is, “why has soccer not taken off in the United States the same way that other sports have?” Although there are a variety of hypotheses, ranging from “it just isn’t the style of play that Americans like” to “it isn’t high scoring enough” to “there isn’t a professional league at a high enough level,” I think it is interesting to analyze the disconnect between I see between the high participation in youth soccer and the lack of fandom that exists.
Interestingly enough, the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer. Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before. There are also a growing number of television channels that provide access to both foreign and domestic games to help with the soccer push even further. An interesting number that seems contrary to what we think about fandom in the states is in a poll from ESPN in the Economist, demonstrating soccer is the second-favorite professional sport behind only American football in the United States for Americans ages 12-24. What do these numbers say to me? There is a large constituent of those who play, and perhaps there is a growing number of fans, but why are Americans thought of as not liking soccer, then?
However, I have to ask myself, “why do I love to play the game so much, and enjoy watching it, but would not consider myself an avid fan of the game?” And I think that there are probably numbers that exist about taking either side of this argument, but to me, I love watching sports because of its social nature. Watching the Masters finals on that first or second Sunday in April, sitting down with chips and dip every Sunday to watch American football, or going to Cameron to be a Cameron Crazie with 1,500+ others, soccer seems to fall into a catch-22 situation. I like to watch sports and be a fan because I get to do it with friends and family. But when friends and family don’t enjoy watching, then I don’t end up watching. Will the United States reverse this cycle and become a nation of fans of this beautiful game? Or perhaps we really are in a period of transition where people think the sport might not be big while in reality it has a huge following? Only time will tell.