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)).

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

  1. James

    I love soccer,but I consider that some changes are necessary to improve popularity of the game. First, no ties. That way the game will be more offensive and more chances of goals will happen. Less minutes. And to be a foul it necessary really strong physical contact like in basketball. Change first in the U.S,forget about FIFA

    Reply
  2. hifijohn

    Kids love the sport but as they grow up they also grow out of it,baseball/basketball/football command respect and the players get the girls, something that soccer cannot do.A tie is the most common type of score and few americans will put up with a game only to end it in a tie, we want winners and losers, not ties.
    Soccer can be improved upon, but that would make it incompatible with the rest of the world.
    Make the field much smaller
    Get rid of those silly looking uniforms
    Break the scoring up, 1pnt if you hit the frame of the goal, 2 pnts if the ball goes into the goal but is stopped and 4 pnts of you actually make a goal, this will start putting numbers on the board and make ties very difficult
    Ban fake injuries.
    Break the game up into 4 quarters of 20 minutes each, this will make it more tv friendly.

    Reply
    1. fernando

      you are wrong that is what makes it more interesting when its a tie that means it was a great game if they had the same amount of points.

      Reply
  3. Thomas

    One of the main reasons i for sure all the overacting by the soccer players. Americans love tough games and this sport seems to have too much diving and stars like Neymar and CR are just balerinas… Another aspect is that many games end up with no goals at all. This is just boring, compared to real football, basketball and baseball.

    Reply
  4. Norman Prather

    Why hasn’t anyone worked at teaching US population that in soccer the season is the primary competition not the individual game. I’ll wager that most in the US, like me, don’t understand the value of a draw vs a loss. When one understands that a draw gives you 1 point in the season (+1 goal for if it is an away game) it becomes easier to understand that the season is the competition. The table becomes much more understandable and draws are seen in a very different way.

    I doubt I’ll ever be a club fan but at least the whole thing makes a bit more sense.

    Reply
  5. Kevin

    Soccer is predominately a “foreign” sport predominantly played by foreigners or offspring of foreigners. (please refrain from insisting we are all part foreigners. You never hear foreigners saying that they are part American). Statistics actually show that over 60% of American sport enthusiasts have no true interest in soccer. Possibly the overwhelming competition from the current popularity of baseball, American football and basketball in Our country dominate viewership. I can’t see that changing for the choice of soccer. Reality should considered. America may seemingly accept soccer. But who is kidding who? With everything going on in Our country, can anyone actually agree that a sport which is, as I stated, predominantly foreign, ever be accepted as a popular alternative? No, it’s not gonna happen. And time will prove. Soccer will remain as stated. Accepted, but well, really?

    Reply
  6. Kibagendi

    I think the constant excitement explains it all. In soccer you have to wait long enough to be excited.

    Reply
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  8. Ralph Kiszakiewicz

    Soccer is more of a game of anticipation and I appreciate the rules. You have to take in everything about the game from the viewing parties to comimg together the camera angles make it boring sometimes but if you zoom in some of these guys are truly working out there. Its a different type of game that uses regulation format along with round robin in majority of places. In MLS the only difference is playoff and im not sure how it works to qualify in concacaf champions league. I take in everything about the game from goal celebrations to watching athletic players working out there. This game is more for ppl with up beat personalites and that have energy. Americans have gotten more into n soccer they have a chant now..i believe that we will win and i see them getting more into it..also like american football go ny giants! I guess i seen part of my family whos from poland and they are very passonate whenever someone represents them in sports and they have a handful from soccer to volleyball team handball and track and field they alll watch gather have fun and cheer! and make it fun and cool..i can see making the field a little smaller for more tricks but not much…regardless if less goals are scored those players are still working out there. Check out team handball a sport i can see rise in the usa. Respect to all sports and posts here.

    Reply
  9. Bounds Cruise

    In the late 19th century baseball became America’s sport not because the game was any better than others, but because it successfully adapted to and represented the cultural changes going on in the country. Coming out of the Civil War and going into the industrial revolution baseball brought together north and south, rural and urban and even black and white (although mostly on a seperate but unequal basis).

    In the early 20th century gridiron football slowly grew, but it was college-based and therefore somewhat elitist. Boxing and horse racing were behind baseball in popularity. However, after WWII the GI Bill plus growth in public universities and the establishment of a few pro football leagues (mainly in the industrial midwest) laid the foundation for the growth of football. Subsequently, the NFL and NCAA benefited tremendously from shrewd management in the era of network-based television.

    Soccer is growing rapidly in the US now, being driven by another cultural phenomenon – globalization, which is focused on the internet. Basketball is also successfully riding this wave, taking an American game in the other direction to the rest of the world. The inability of baseball and gridiron football to exploit globalization has been led to the rapid aging of their fan bases.

    Sports’ gains and losses in popularity come as a result of adapting to technological and cultural changes; not due to any specific features that make the games more or less desirable.

    Reply
    1. Ed

      I agree with your observation. Soccer for instance is the product of globalization in America, with mostly young people get more exposed with this sport from other part of the globe.

      Reply
  10. 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
    1. Jacob

      I see your point about the weakness of MLS… But I don’t think that’s as important as you’re suggesting.
      For one thing, soccer is still extremely profitable. There is much more than MLS… The best players go to Europe, so the best Americans can still earn extremely high wages (as high as NFL etc), just by going to Europe.
      Also, look at Brazil. Admittedly, there was once a time when the best South American talent did in fact play in Brazil… But it should still be noted that nowadays the best players in Brazil can’t earn the very top salaries without going to Europe… The Brasileirão in Brazil isn’t massively stronger than MLS… The best young Brazilians (such as Neymar, or more recently Gabriel Jesus) are signed by European clubs.

      Reply
    2. JAMES J SPEACE

      Americans work Monday through Friday 8 to 5. They want their sports in the evenings after work or the weekends after yard work or church. They get a beer watch spot and relax. The good soccer is played in time zones that are not conducive to this lifestyle.

      Reply
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  14. 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
      1. Jim Moore

        As an immigrant to America from Scotland, I have watched soccer grow immensely in popularity, to the point where NBC now broadcast every English Premiere League game. I know many young Americans who are avid soccer fans.
        My observation about those who don’t Appreciate real football. (Americans are the only people who call it “soccer” Is that they dislike low scores. They are obsessed by big numbers, and want to see a
        score of 49-24 than 7-4.Jim

        Reply
    2. Jacob

      So basically turn it into an American sport…?
      These comments are from people who clearly don’t understand the game; you can’t understand why it is so popular and why people love it and then suggest taking away the very elements that make it an intelligent, creative and popular sport.

      Reply
  15. 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. jezzak

        “senseless running”= passion (for me) otherwise it would be futsal (boring)

        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
    4. Jacob

      Not only is Baseball boring with little action, basically the only action *is* the scoring. The point about soccer is that the enjoyment and action is in other areas than actually scoring…
      I mean is a near goal (where the ball goes narrowly wide) actually less exciting than a goal? If so, then surely you’re just watching for the goal itself, and not the sport itself.

      Reply
  16. 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
    1. Jacob

      Well it’s called simulation, never heard acting being used… But I think the point is that regardless of it being outlawed, it happens.
      But every sport has these sort of dark sides… Happens in basketball too.

      Reply
  17. Fernanda

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

    Reply
    1. Spike

      Fine with me too. As an American, I don’t care if it’s wildly popular everywhere but the USA. I’ve tried to watch it with an open mind and it just doesn’t do it for me at all. No amount of being told how great it is or how we should love it because of X, Y, and Z reasons is going to change that. For me, and I speak only for myself, soccer is a snoozer. We like what we like. That’s pretty much it. Enjoy your game. It’s all good.

      Reply
      1. Mitch

        Totally agree with Spike. My son tells me how great it is and I think it is boring. Just like I have friends who think Nascar is exciting and mostly for me it’s a snoozer too. BUT… those that like soccer or Nascar it’s fine with me. I like baseball, football & basketball. I even like to watch golf (which I totally understand why non-golfers find it extremely boring!). I just don’t see how 3 hours of 1-0 time after time will ever really catch on in America. But like Spike said, “It’s all good!”

        Reply
  18. 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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  20. 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
  21. 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
    1. john@crazyball

      Robert I don’t agree only technology is the reason because soccer is ancient game and very popular in other countries also. I think they have other popular games like base ball and ice hockey. Environment may be another reason.

      Reply
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