American Soccer, It’s Getting There

It’s an uphill battle, but the apex of American soccer fandom might be in sight. 

“History puts soccer at a disadvantage in this country,” ESPN’s Soccernet contributing writer Andrew Hush said.  “While the mainstream sports have been established over many decades here [in the U.S.], soccer has been more stop-start.”

Dominant American sports, such as: baseball, basketball and American football have about a 20-year head-start for being televised in the United States.

In the U.S., the televised debuts of baseball, basketball and American football all took place between 1939 and 1940.  All of these games featured collegiate teams, while soccer did not debut until 1959 with the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals, in the defunct American Soccer League.

“The single biggest reason for why soccer hasn’t flourished more is that the sports marketplace is incredibly crowded,” Jeff Carlisle said, a contributing writer to ESPN’s Soccernet.  “The competition for people’s money and time is very intense.  And a lot of the other sports have had a huge head start over soccer.  That makes it an uphill climb from the beginning.”

Other American sports have shown they will outlive (and be more popular than) soccer to the television viewers in the U.S., evident by the number of failed professional soccer leagues in America.

Media coverage plays a large role in the progress of sports in America.  Its direct relationship with the success or failure with any sport is clear.  In a country where baseball, “America’s favorite pastime,” and American football have clear national ties in their recognizable names, soccer’s European overtone has set back its American fan base compared to others.

“In some circles it is also looked upon as a ‘foreign’ sport, and is therefore not deserving of their time, although this has decreased over the years,” Carlisle said.  “I see a lot more mainstream acceptance of the sport than I did 20 years ago.”

“Only in the last 20 years has it created any type of solid foothold,” Hush said.  “The other thing this has meant is that there is neither the expertise nor the resources for soccer [in America] to compete (yet) with the top nations in the world.”

While the fan base for soccer is still considered niche, some in the soccer community relish in their so-called minority status, says Hush.  But the availability of soccer in the U.S. for its fans has increased significantly in the last decade, to now be considered a minority or a niche may no longer apply in the future.

“In many respects, it’s [being a soccer fan] easier than it’s ever been,” Carlisle said.  “Ten years ago it was a lot more difficult.  There is still a ways to go.”

“In the past, the sport has been seen as great for kids but not taken seriously by many adults,” Hush said.  “I think the stigma applies less these days, in part because many who played as children now have kids of their own.”

Times are changing in the U.S. for soccer fans.  Availability of the sport is at an all-time high and media outlets like ESPN appear to be bringing soccer to the forefront of American sports like their competitors (baseball and American football).

Where does the sport and its coverage go from here?     

“The USA’s performance is very important and a place in the knockout rounds must be the minimum target if casual fans are to stay with the sport.  If the team fails to get beyond the group, there is a risk that many will say ‘same old story’ and lose interest for four more years,” Hush said.

“It [fandom] will continue to gradually grow.  There is no magic bullet, although a deep run in next summer’s World Cup would certainly help,” Carlisle said.  “That said, if the U.S. goes three and out, the game will definitely survive, and continue to grow.”

“It’s a slow process but things are generally on the right track,” Hush said.

One Response to “American Soccer, It’s Getting There”

  1. This is really well done. It has a lot of information and is well contructed. I enjoyed reading it. My one suggestion, (and something I need to work on as well) is incorporating visual aids to the posts. This is a long post and it would be easier to read if there were at least one visual element to keep the reader intriqued in a different way. Otherwise this is really interesting stuff. Nice job!

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