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Fútbol Gaining On Football? The Numbers Say Yes

Is Fútbol Gaining On Football? The numbers suggest that answer is yes.  As The World Cup approached a question was presented to me about American interest in Fútbol. Ever ready to tackle a new challenge, I set out to discover the truth about whether American Interest in soccer is growing.

It’s no secret that soccer and the World Cup is far more popular abroad than it is in the United States.

Is true interest growing among Americans for Fútbol in general and The World Cup in particular? The numbers suggest this is true. In 2006, 91.4 million Americans watched the World Cup. In 2010, that figure was 111.6 million representing a 22% increase in viewership. When you go back to 1994, as we do later, the numbers are even more telling.

Of note, 57% of that audience was male while 43% was female. Approximately half of the audience fell between the ages of 18 and 49. The highest-rated top-25 markets in the U.S. in 2010 were Miami, New York and Washington D.C which do have larger percentages of non resident viewers and certainly the influx of a more diverse sports fan into the United States has helped these numbers. Miami alone has seen a vast increase in it’s Hispanic/Latino population.

These aforementioned numbers of course are obtained from Nielsen Media Research and while I am not at all convinced these numbers are truly representative of fan interest they do serve as a discussion point. We are a multitasking society and for that reason I’m not sure statistical sampling or viewer interest can be completely and adequately gauged by what any particular viewer has on their television set.

Still the numbers provide a good reference and starting point. Having said that wait there is more! Nielson research also indicates increased interest in watching, attending, or listening to Fútbol has increased 32% since 2010. Bolstering those numbers are the numbers for advertising revenue. Nielsen numbers indicate soccer related advertisement was around $265 million in 2010. In 2013, that number had skyrocketed 43% to $378 million.

Let’s take a trip back in time to see how the numbers really look. Since 1994, when the United States hosted the World Cup, youth soccer has exploded. Per the United States Soccer Federation, the number of youth soccer players in the United States has doubled to 4.04 million players in 2010.

Not coincidentally, the number of high school soccer players has has also more than doubled since then with an estimated 730,106 in 2010. That represents the fastest growth rate among any major sport. The numbers for women are even more telling. While the number of men’s soccer teams jumped 27.6% from 1994 to 2010, the number of women’s collegiate teams has jumped 115% in that same time period.

To be fair, the numbers from 2010 to the present aren’t as encouraging but decline overall in youth sports is at an all time high.  While there was still growth in the sport, the numbers show participation to be somewhat stagnant with only a 7.4% in participation between 2009 and 2013.

These numbers are of course very exciting for soccer fans but wait there is more! Major League Soccer began in 1993 when the country was wooing FIFA to bring The World Cup to the United States. League play commenced in 1996 with ten teams and initially, it struggled badly. Since 2002 however, interest in Major League Soccer has also steadily grown and there are currently nineteen teams. The league’s emergence not incidentally coincided with the United States unexpectedly making the quarterfinals in that year’s World Cup.

Of that nineteen, sixteen are based in the United States with three in Canada. The league will expand to twenty-one teams in 2015 with the introduction of New York City FC and the Orlando City Soccer Club. In 2017, it will add a twenty-second team when the Atlanta MLS Team will join the movement.

Soccer attendance grew steadily and the sport remains popular. You can track soccer attendance here. While attendance was down a bit in 2013, it wasn’t that far off the numbers for 2012. Attendance rebounded somewhat in 2014 and with The World Cup renewed interest is expected and it well could be a banner year for soccer attendance.

If you take the numbers for Chivas USA out of the equation, the health of American grown Fútbol looks far more attractive. Not unsurprisingly, in Seattle where the 12s are infamous among football fans, fans of MLS far outnumbered others. The Seattle Sounders set the league record for attendance for a fifth straight year in 2013 and averaged over twice the league average in an attendance at 44,038.

As interest and numbers steadily grew, television executives were forced to acknowledge it. Early in 2014, MLS announced an eight year deal with ESPN (ABC), Fox, and Univision that will raise MLS’s annual broadcast revenue to about $90 million a number that is roughly four times what it collects now. It also fixed a set number of weekly broadcasts and each of the three networks will air an exclusive broadcast a week.

While the Fútbol numbers are not even remotely close to what football brings in, and attendance is far shy of your average NFL team, it is still another sign that soccer is growing. As the old saying goes, numbers don’t lie.

Will interest in American futbol ever overtake American football? It seems unlikely. Football as a national past time seems deeply rooted in the national consciousness. It is highly unlikely that will change even with all the talk of injuries and concussions. Still, Fútbol is gaining ground and growing as a national sport and past time.

The good news is that there is room for both and interest in one doesn’t detract from the other. Want some more good news? You can be a fan of Fútbol as well as football and sports is better for it.

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