Oct 13, 2014
Part 3: Reflections on USA Soccer from our Stateside expert
Seattle Sounders Stadium is one of the few to regularly sell out in the MLS
In the final part of our mini-series, we asked our Stateside expert Roxane Coche, a lecturer in media studies at the University of North Georgia, for her take on USA soccer. Roxane gives her opinions on the cyclical interest of soccer in the US, how the European and USA soccer leagues compare and what lies ahead for the USA soccer market.
Why do you think the interest in soccer is growing in a market almost already saturated by other sports? Are American bored of their well-established American Sports?
I wouldn’t say they are bored of them… They still love American football, baseball, basketball, and depending on the area of the country, hockey. This growing interest in soccer is the result of many factors in my opinion.
First, MLS plays in the summer when most of the other men’s sports are off. As a result, it is basically only competing against baseball, which obviously helps. I still see many more pictures of friends at baseball stadiums on my social media feeds than pictures of them at soccer stadiums. And as for the Premier League, of course it plays during American football season or basketball season, but with the different time zones, soccer matches also happen to be before most NFL or NBA games. It looks like soccer has found a good spot to attract audiences.
A second factor that comes into play is the World Cup. There have been consistent surges of interest in soccer every four years… or actually twice every four years because there usually is one during the Women’s World Cup as well. This year, Team USA’s showing in Brazil was so surprisingly strong to most that a lot of fans jumped on the soccer train… but from personal experience, many are just bandwagon fans and will jump off before the end of the year –if they haven’t already. It’s kind of a vicious circle that US soccer needs to get out of. Bringing Klinsmann to manage the team proves that the soccer federation wants the team to get better in order to increase its fanbase.
A third factor is the willingness of American businessmen to bring soccer here. They have been trying for almost half a century, eventually it has to pay off! That’s why Pelé, Chinaglia and Beckenbauer played for the NY Cosmos in the late 1960s and 1970s: to increase the popularity of soccer. It has been a long time coming.
And a fourth factor, which I think is key to this growing interest in soccer, is the undeniable shift in population. The United States has a growing number of immigrants many of them are from Latin America where soccer is a religion. These people help soccer grow tremendously.
What is the big difference between an American Soccer fan and a European one? What is the difference of atmosphere attending a game?
Mo’ne Davis made history by appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Soccer is still seen as unfavourably by some sectors
The difference is quite big actually. American fans are a minority in their country: it is not considered cool to play soccer in most parts of the nation. Here is an example: this week, for the first time in history a little leaguer made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The little league is a baseball competition for kids, which Americans love. The little leaguer who made the cover happens to be a girl, Mo’ne Davis, and when she was invited for an interview on Fox News (a conservative network), the anchor asked if she had considered a “more female friendly sport like soccer.” So soccer still has a long way to go before being considered a major sport here, despite the progress it has already made lately.
In Europe, soccer fans are the majority. It is not weird for a grown man to love soccer –on the contrary– so obviously it is going to create different attitudes, different behaviors.
As for the atmosphere in the stadiums, again, it is very different. Soccer stands in the US lack the spontaneity that you get in European stadiums. Except for Portland and Seattle, and maybe one or two other, people are often quiet in the audience unless they are prompted by the screen or the speaker. It’s a much more proper and family-friendly atmosphere. I must admit that I miss European football stadiums!
What is missing in the MLS to compete with the top European Leagues?
I don’t see MLS being able to compete with the top European leagues in the near future. It needs to attract the best players, which right now tend to go to Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, and one or two clubs in France. But the shift can’t happen abruptly. MLS has grown a lot in the past 7 years or so since it managed to sign David Beckham, but the fact is that all the big names they sign are on their way out in Europe. I absolutely love Thierry Henry and he’s still an incredible player but he’s not as good now as he was when he played for Arsenal. Signing someone like him helps the popularity of the league, but to raise its level of play to European standards, MLS would need to sign younger players. Thinking about it though, I’m not sure it will happen as long as they play in the summer, which is at the same time as big international competitions. But as I said before, playing in the summer is actually very beneficial for MLS so that’s another vicious circle they have to deal with.
Where do you see soccer going in 10 years in the US? Could soccer compete with the 4 US sports?
I certainly want soccer, both men’s and women’s, to do better here in the US. But competing with the Big Four is tough! The one advantage soccer has is that it is the number one sport for kids. Between this and the shift in the American population, I think soccer has a good chance of at least turning the big four into a big five.
In my opinion, soccer professionals need to target younger audience and focus on not losing them during their teenage years. That’s what’s been happening for years, and I think it is because soccer marketing is mainly targeted toward women and parents with young kids. When you’re a teenage boy, soccer stops being cool in the eyes of your friends. If soccer professionals want to compete with the Big Four, they need American men to stop thinking that soccer is a female sport or a kids’ sport. It is not. A sport has no sex, it is not gendered–or at least it should not be.
And with that we conclude our series on soccer in America. You can read Parts 1 & 2 on the News page of our website. Thank you to all those that contributed – Marie Binet (Head of Insight), Charlotte Beaulat-Clement (Insight Intern) and especially to Roxane for taking time out of her schedule to write for our blog. You can find out more about Roxane and her work via her website.
football fans US, football US, soccer in US, soccer US fan, Sport Business, sport expert, Sport Marketing