The 2014 World Cup is poised to be unlike any other for U.S. soccer fans. The simple reason: the soccer fan base in the U.S. is larger than it has ever been before. However, looking more closely at the soccer landscape in the U.S., it is clear that the fan base has experienced drastic changes in the past four years in particular.
Avid soccer fans in the U.S. have been itching to get their fix of top-class soccer for years. Fox Soccer Channel made this a reality by providing coverage of English Premier League (EPL) games. In 2013, Fox Soccer Channel lost their bid to retain the EPL coverage to NBC and the new NBC Sports Network. This newly created NBCSN featured free live-streaming of every EPL game. According to the recent SportsBusiness Journal, EPL viewership more than doubled from the 2012-2013 season to the 2013-2014 season, jumping from 13.3 million to more than 31.5 million.
This viewership increase can be traced to the growing number of youths playing soccer in the U.S. Youth soccer players, who have their Saturday and Sunday games, are now getting up early to watch the EPL games featured each weekend mornings. In turn, this has not only caused parents to watch these games, but has also increased viewership leading to the ‘fad’ of choosing a favorite team to support each weekend.
Not only have American soccer fans been able to enjoy international soccer, Major League Soccer has seen their following grow as well. MLS’s impact on international soccer can easily be seen when comparing the number of MLS players on team rosters of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa featured only six players who played in the MLS at the time. Four of those players were on USA’s team. The landscape of MLS players is very different in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. There are 31 current MLS players on World Cup rosters. Ten of these players made the final cut for USA’s team. Major League Soccer’s push to attract top international players is reflected in the league’s representation at this summer’s World Cup.
The driving force behind Major League Soccer’s rapid expansion is rooted in the league’s vision of becoming a top league by 2022. The growth has not gone unnoticed. MLS just this year entered into an eight year agreement with ESPN, Fox, and Univision.
As a result of the success of the MLS and the increased exposure to European soccer, American soccer fans have become more dedicated and more knowledgeable. The next step for soccer in the U.S is a strong performance on the world’s biggest stage. With the ‘Group of Death’ facing the USMNT, featuring two of the top 5 FIFA ranked teams in the world, it will take a certain degree of luck for the US to advance. However, there will certainly be no shortage of Americans watching their newly invigorated team in Brazil.