Soccer is by far the most popular sport in the planet. It’s played in every single continent and country worldwide. However, every time I go to the United States I ask myself why soccer is not the most popular sport for americans? In fact, they don’t even call it football, as the rest of the world calls it. I did some research and analyzed a couple of reasons why americans prefer other sports over the “beautiful game”.
So, why is soccer not popular in the United States? The main reason why soccer is not popular in the USA is because of the American culture. There is a great number of aspects in soccer that simply don’t match with the social beliefs of americans. This phenomenon, combined with other historical events, made soccer a unactractive sport for americans.
The american culture has been changing through the years though, and soccer is becoming more and more popular. Are there any chances that soccer can become one of the most popular sports in the United Stares? I really think that it’s possible, as I’ve personally seen an increase in fan participation and social acceptance during the last years.
6 Reasons why soccer is not popular in the United States
There are 6 reasons that explain why soccer is not so popular in America:
- Americans are not #1 in soccer
- Obsession with excessively big things
- Not ideal for marketing and business
- Excessive faking of injuries
- American’s can’t stand a tie
- 1863 and England expansion
Now, we’ll break down each one.
Americans are not #1
People in the United States have an obsession with being the best at everything, which has nothing wrong at all. We’ve notice that during the history of the country, they’ve always seek to win at everything. USA is a country that has fought during its entire lifetime to be the number one super power in the world, which they actually are right now.
They fought in the WWI and WWII to gain complete world dominance, and constantly intervene in international events. The point is that american culture always wants to have everything under control, and make sure that they are at the top of the pyramid.
With sports, it’s no different. The three most popular sports in the United States are American Football, Baseball, and Basketball, from which the United States is the best at each one.
It’s funny because outside the United States, we laugh every time we see the Super Bowl and hear the narrators saying “They are the new world champions”. Yes, they are the “world champions” of a game that is only played in one country. United States have the best American Football players, but all american football players are from the United States. It’s obvious they are going to be #1 at football.
Also, the World Series is the finals of the Major Leagues, and is played between two teams from the United States, so why is it called “world” series”? In Basketball, the same thing, United States has participated at 18 Olympic games from which they’ve won 15 gold medals. The three most popular sports in the United states are the ones they are best at.
But, What happens with soccer? Soccer is a global sport, meaning that there will be great teams and leagues in every single continent. It’s impossible have one league in a country that is the most dominant from all leagues, and say that the team that wins that league is “the world champion” as they do with other sports in USA.
As soccer is so popular worldwide, it will also be more competitive. The United States soccer team is not considered a “super power” in the soccer world. In fact, they didn’t even make it to the last World Cup. Their best participation in a world cup was third place back in 1930, when the first world cup was played. For that world cup, teams didn’t even had to qualify, they were invited, and the level of competitiveness wasn’t anything close to what it is today.
It is true that in the CONCACAF confederation (North, central america and the Caribbean), they are one of the two “giants” alongside Mexico, easily beating every team back in the 90’s and early 00’s. But the distances between other teams like Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica have shorten, and it is hard for team USA to play against this teams.
With that said, United States national team has never been a tough competition for big european powers of the sport, that have historically knocked out USA easily of World Cups.
American Culture always wants to be the best at everything, and because they can’t be the best at soccer, that’s probably a good reason to dislike the sport. At the end of the day, no one likes to see themselves loosing.
Obsession with excessively big things
The american culture clearly has a preference for excessively big things. I’m from Panama, and every time I visit USA I’m impressed with how huge things are everywhere. For example, when I go to fast food restaurants they serve excessively giant sodas and fries, people drive super big trucks, streets are wide, and even people are bigger.
So, it’s normal that this behavior will also be reflected in sports. If we take a close look at the scores of the top 3 sports in the country, they all have big scores.Take football as an example, where the average points scored per team is about 20-29 points per game.
In the other hand, the average runs scored by a baseball team during a game was about 9 points. When we talk about basketaball, each team in the NBA is scoring at least 97 points a game, while in the NCAA each team is scoring 68 points on average.
In soccer, well, we don’t see that amount of goals scored during a game. In the past, we use to see an average of 5 goals per game, which is really high. Now, the game has become more competitive and we are barely seeing an average of 2-2.6 goals per game. The american culture will reject these type of scores.
Player Height and Weight
Another thing that is too small for the american culture is the player’s height and weight. In basketball, the average height is 6.6 feet (2 meters) and 220 pounds. In football 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) and 250 pounds, and in baseball is 6.1 feet (1.85 meters) and 200 pounds. As you can see, in all this sports the prototype player is a big person. When we see an athlete of any of these sports in the streets, they will be impressive.
In the other hand, soccer is not the same. In soccer you don’t need any special physical characteristics regarding to height or weight in order to play. The average height was 5 feet 11 inches in countries with tall people while the average is 5.9 feet in most countries.
Normally the tallest player in the soccer field is the goalkeeper, which you can see the average height in my article “Average Goalkeeper height”. The tallest goalkeeper at the 2018 world cup was Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois at 1.99 meters (6.5 feet), which is still less than the average NBA player.
Small sized players don’t fit in the american social beliefs and makes soccer unappealing for some people.
Not Ideal for marketing and business
Another reason why soccer is not popular in the United States is because Americans have a materialistic behavior. In United States, corporations wants to do as much money as possible. The big TV networks in the United States are no different. Obviously, the major revenue stream they have when broadcasting sporting events is advertisement.
This means, they are more likely to promote the most ad-friendly sports. Coincidentally, these sports are Baseball, American Football, and Basketball. In american football, for example, you have all of these breaks between the game for advertising:
- End of the 1st and 3rd quarter.
- Timeouts (3 per teams per half).
- Injury timeouts.
- Two minute warnings.
- Stoppage after punt and kickoff returns.
- Stoppage after a score.
- Stoppage after a turnover.
- Coach challenges.
In the other hand, soccer only has halftime. This makes the sport not suitable for advertisement, which means big TV networks won’t prioritize broadcasting it.
The american culture, unconsciously, values a lot the economic principle of opportunity cost. This factor refers to “the loss of potential gains from other alternatives when an alternative is chosen”. In other words, americans value a lot their time to make money, which is why statically they have less vacations, working hours, and leisure time than other countries.
They will want to use the little leisure time they have in the best way possible, and watching a soccer game for 2 hours to watch two goals isn’t something that excites them so much.
Excessive faking of injuries
When we compare the roughness of soccer against american football, they are totally the opposite. In soccer happens a lot what americans call flopping. Basically, soccer players like to simulate and exaggerate fouls by rolling over the floor and shouting.
Now, imagine a person that loves big hits from american football players watching a soccer game for the first time and watch players flopping everywhere. What would he think? He’ll probably dislike the conduct as flopping is socially rejected and considered a unsportsmanlike conduct in USA. This is the case for most americans that watch soccer for the first time.
What a person watching soccer for the first doesn’t understand is that soccer is different from other sports. In soccer, flopping is a game strategy that is very effective. Is one way to force the referee to take a decision that will favor your team, like for example calling a penalty or showing a red card to a player from the other team.
As crazy as this sounds, in soccer the human mistake is part of the game and is what makes it beautiful. This is a game were technology is not as effective as in other sports, and where teams have qualified for a world cup thanks to a referee’s human mistake. It’s not that soccer players fake injuries in every single play, intelligent players know when and how to fake an injury.
In a culture that likes aggressive and physical sports it could be hard to accept a sport where they see players flopping so much. However, I would tell you to play a soccer game and watch for yourself how physical this game is, and you’ll realize players don’t flop because they are weak, but because they are smart.
Americans can’t stand a tie
Again, we come to the opportunity cost. Any sports fan in the world, won’t watch an entire 2 hour game to end up with a tie. There has to be a winner, if not, watching the game is not completely worth it and a loss of your time. Basketball, baseball, and american football games will usually have a winner. Among american football fans, the games they hate the most are those ones that end up in a tie. They say it feels like both teams lost.
I will have to agree in this with americans. There is nothing I hate the most than watching a soccer game for 90 minutes and that it ends up in a 0-0 tie with no goals. Although, not all ties are boring games. I’ve witnessed incredibly exciting games that ended up in a tie like Portugal 3-3 Spain at the 2018 Russia World Cup.
1863 and England expansion
It is believed that the rules of association football soccer were written in pub at England in the year 1863. These rules spread to the surrounding countries like France and the Netherlands. European colonialism helped the game grow in different continents like South America, Africa, and Asia.
But, one place where football (soccer) failed to grow was in the United States, where another sport was becoming more common: Rugby. This happened, in part, thanks to a published book called “Tom Brown’s school days” , also published as “Tom Brown at Rugby”. The booked talked about his author’s, Thomas Hughes, experience at rugby school, a public school for boys.
The book helped popularized the game in colleges and high schools. After some time, the game evolved to what it is today: American Football. This story demonstrates that there were historical events that prevented soccer football from becoming popular in the United States since the beginning.
Will soccer ever be popular in the United States?
I really believe that soccer has a huge growing potential, not only the United States, but in North America in general. It’s true USA didn’t qualify for the 2018 world cup, but the soccer culture has significantly grown in the country. We see stadiums full of people, cheering for their teams in the MLS and when the national team plays too.
Youth soccer in the USA is massive. There are about 3 million children playing the sport. Parents are starting to like soccer because it represents a more safe alternative to practice sports. But, is this really true? In my article “How Dangerous is soccer?” I tell the truth about how safe soccer is and I compare it with other sports like basketball, football, and baseball.
Also, soccer offers an alternative that american football can’t, that is women soccer. Women in the United Stated are very good at soccer, they’ve won the women world cup three times. This has contributed to make soccer one of the favorite sports for women to play in the country.
Another factor that will considerably contribute to the growth of soccer in United States is the FIFA World Cup that will be organized in the year 2026 at Mexico, Canada, and United States. European leagues like Spain’s “La Liga” are also planning to play soccer games in America to promote the sport in the country.
Is soccer really the most popular sport in the world?
Yes it is. Just so you have an idea, the last world cup was seen by more than 4 billion people, which is more than half the world population. The most watched super bowl in history was only viewed by 114 million. Soccer is definitely a worldwide fever. I recommend you read my article “17 reasons why Soccer is the Most Popular Sport in the World”, so you see by yourself the magnitude of this sport.
The fact it is not popular is good for you (if you’re American)
Yes! The fact that is not so popular in the United States is good because it means you won’t have as much competition as in other countries. My uncle once told me that the reason why soccer is not popular in USA is because the country’s best athletes are playing other sports. Which I think makes sense.
Where is soccer least popular? Soccer is the most popular sport in most of the countries around the world. However, there are some few countries that prefer other sports. Among those we find the United States (football, basketball, baseball), Australia and New Zealand (Rugby), India (cricket), China (table tennis), and norther countries like Finland and Canada (Ice Hockey).
How to make soccer more popular in USA? First, United States has to considerably improve their league. The MLS has become a retirement league. When the local league improves, the national team will become better and maybe have a chance in the world cup. Once people in the United States realize that they can actually be very good at soccer, they’ll put more attention to it.