By Jed Stone


Technology and Soccer Popularity in the United States

To understand the rise in soccer fandom in the United States is anything but simple. We have not seen the burgeoning prowess that many South American countries claim fame to. We do not boast the greatest soccer clubs on the planet as many European clubs do. However, that has not stopped the American people from grabbing ahold of soccer and embracing the game that so many play, love, and celebrate. In part, technology has played a huge role in developing a stable and strong fan base in the United States. But it may not be so obvious how a video game or website could have changed the landscape for soccer fans in the United States.

For one, social media has certainly accommodated for the wide dispersal of soccer in a manner that allows a passive audience to become engaged. Previously, a viewer might have to tune in at an absurd hour to see some of the world’s best soccer take place. However, today, scrolling through a Facebook or Twitter feed serves as a random stream-of-consciousness highlight reel through which any number of amazing, controversial, or worthy plays will air. For instance, just a couple months ago, Lionel Messi took a penalty kick, but passed to his right allowing Suarez to come in the box and drill in the shot – taking the goalkeeper by complete surprise as he crumbled to his knees. With social media, anyone in the world can become a fan of soccer, and watching the world’s best players is an effortless task. In the United States alone, social media posts related to the MLS increased 34% in the first five days of the 2015 season compared to 2014, and 64% compared to 2013. The closest increase can be seen in the NHL which increased only 7% in the same timeframe. Moreover, last summer 10,000 women were surveyed regarding the Women’s World Cup and 61% preferred to receive updates via social media.[1]

Source: DiscreetIntelligence

Source: DiscreetIntelligence

So perhaps America is watching soccer via social media, but has yet to take that big step toward becoming a true fan. How has technology set up soccer as a sport in the US for which fandom is convenient? Like most cable television plans, too many channels air too many programs for one to possibly keep up. But in soccer, that was not only the case – save those individuals who purchased specialty soccer packages. Fortunately, NBC changed that in 2012 when they struck a deal with the English Premier League to air their games. [2] Now, for the first time, American fans, aspiring fans, and those wanderers who just happen to turn on a game, could witness some of the greatest players in the world right in their homes. Teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, and so many more can be seen regularly. This means a whole lot more in the context of the Copa America than just becoming well acquainted with a team. More importantly, as soccer fans, we can easily become enamored with a single player on the pitch. For many, that will be Lionel Messi or maybe Suarez. These individual players draw a crowd to the tournament, and for good reason.

Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest soccer player in the world, will be in attendance on Argentina’s squad. After coming up short in the 2014 World Cup Final against Germany’s powerful squad consisting of Bayern Munich’s finest and then some, Messi has work to do. And if many didn’t think this Copa America was important, Lionel Messi has opted to play for Argentina in this tournament in lieu of his spot on the Olympic team in Rio.[3] Decisions such as this, and the presence of players like Luis Suarez contribute to a buzzing hype that fans around the world will feel. Suarez, a highly controversial player is equally hated and loved by many soccer enthusiasts. Last year, he was forced to sit out of the Copa America in Chile after his infamous bite in the 2014 World Cup, however, that did not stop him from publicly defending Uruguay even after a tough loss to host country Chile.[4]

Lastly, the Holy Grail: FIFA, the video game. Why does a video game deserve such emphasis, gravitas? To be fair, FIFA – a form of vernacular synonymous with the video game itself – may be more responsible for soccer fans in the United States than any other source. The game is a hit. However, we find ourselves in a chicken vs. egg scenario when contributing the rise of American Soccer to FIFA. It could have been that the increasing fandom for American Soccer led to increased gameplay of FIFA. Regardless, there is a certain correlation between the two. And while empirical evidence may not crack the case, a small sample case study illustrates an important point in FIFA, contextualized via the American college student. When walking into a Duke student’s apartment and seeing four guys playing FIFA one night, I asked about their playing habits relative to watching or playing a real soccer game. All four stated that they have spent more time playing FIFA than they have spent playing real soccer or watching a real soccer game. Moreover, three of the four individuals do not ever play real soccer, and rarely watch a real soccer match. Lastly, all four individuals play at least 2 hours of FIFA every week. While definitely a small sample size, this FIFA effect is certainly worth digging in to.

Source: Futhead

Source: Futhead

The game has provided access to the best clubs, international teams, players, and even female players in the world. You can play as a single individual: if your favorite player is Arjen Robben, then you can play as Bayern Munich club team or Netherlands National Team and dominate the pitch with his life-like skill. The stats behind EA Sports’ blockbuster hit support all of the hype, as well. From 2010 to 2012, FIFA experienced a 35% growth in unit sales, and more recently, EA Sports stated that not only is FIFA it’s best-selling game, but it accounts for 25% of the company’s revenue.[5] This statistic speaks for itself when you consider all of the games EA Sports has on the market. They include games like NHL, PGA, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, MVP Baseball, Madden NFL, FIFA, UFC, and a host of NCAA sport games.

Needless to say, we can expect the Copa America to draw a significant crowd of fans from around the world. Many of which may have never seen a match of such caliber live. Others will add such to their vast repertoire of legendary soccer matches. Regardless, we can say with some certainty that social media and technology have influenced many to become fans, and ultimately, contributors to the Copa America Centenario.


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How to cite this page: “Technology”, Written by Jed Stone(2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)).



[1] Gary Parkinson, “How Social Media Marketing Helped Soccer Take Over The World”, ScribbleLive, August 19, 2015,

[2] Andrei Markovits, “FIFA, the Video Game: A Major Vehicle for Soccer’s Popularization in the United States”, Huffpost Sports, September 4, 2015,

[3] ESPN Staff, “Lionel Messi to play for Argentina in Copa America but not Olympics”, ESPN FC, February 1, 2016,

[4] ESPN Staff, “Luis Suarez defends Uruguay, launches dig at Chile after Copa America loss”, ESPN FC, June 25, 2015,

[5] Andrei Markovits, “FIFA, the Video Game…”, Huffpost Sports, September 4, 2015,