New No. 1 Sport In The U.S. -- Soccer?

It may happen sooner than you think. My bet is that it starts this summer as a storm of soccer is coming our way -- and it's only going to increase from here. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicking off in June in South Africa, all signs point to soccer fever spreading throughout 2010 and beyond. Our coveted American sports should stand up and take notice. Why? Here are 10 compelling reasons.

1. Fans: According to published research, there are more than 75 million international soccer fans in the United States. At a growth rate of 52% and with an increase of devoted fans since 2005, it's the fastest-growing avid fan base in the country. Generally, soccer fans are also considered to be valuable and ad-friendly consumers. More receptive consumers translate to more sponsor dollars, which we've already seen in the case of marketing powerhouses McDonald's and Budweiser becoming FIFA World Cup Sponsors.

2. Appointment Television: The U.S. average household delivery of international soccer events in 2008-09 was more than double versus the previous 12 years. Look no further than the UEFA Champions League final, which for the first time ever, surpassed the Super Bowl as the world's most-watched annual sporting event (approximately 109 million viewers). Sure, it's a global number, but there's a reason Roger Goodell is playing NFL games in London, the NHL plays games in Sweden and the NBA is likely to welcome its first international owner.

3. Media Rights: When ESPN gets involved, you know it means business. Ranked by Fast Company as the most innovative company in the sports industry, ESPN recognizes the growth potential for soccer and even acquired the rights to broadcast English Premier League games for the first time last year, in addition to the World Cup rights for 2010.

4. Media Distribution: According to ESPN, all 64 matches will be aired live and in high definition on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, as well as extensive coverage on and ESPN Mobile TV. Look for the World Cup to be a major player as a part of the rebranding to "ESPN 3."

5. Media Viewership Trends: Looking back, the 2006 World Cup had a massive multicultural audience. More than 1.3 billion fans watched worldwide, with more than 118 million in the United States. That figure is comparable to either March Madness or Super Bowl viewership, and it's even more than the World Series or BCS.

6. Sponsorship: While the list of World Cup partners and sponsors is impressive, we're more intrigued by the European league deals. For example, the biggest sports sponsorship deal in the world happened last summer when Chicago-based insurer AON Corporation committed more than $125 million over four years to be the new primary sponsor of English soccer club, Manchester United, beginning this year. Why? Because of the global audience. Think about it. More than 300 million people worldwide, claim to be fans of Manchester United -- the equivalent of every man, woman and child in America.

7. Video Game Sales: Earlier this year, EA revealed that FIFA 10 has sold nearly 10 million units since its launch last fall. And while Madden is king in the United States, FIFA 10 is the industry's top selling sports game worldwide. With no official release date yet announced for FIFA 11, expect it to hit stores in the fall, right in the sweet spot before Christmas and right after the World Cup final in July.

8. The Youth Movement: The top sustainable sports in our country have massive financial interests at the youth development level. Baseball, basketball and football are all considered in the group of sports labeled America's pastime -- yet the amount of money and talent being poured into today's youth soccer is on a trajectory of growth unlike any other. For example, US Youth Soccer, the nation's largest youth sports organization, grew from 100,000 players in 1974 to more than 1 million in the early '90s. Today, US Youth Soccer registers annually over 3.2 million players, ages 5 to 19.

9. Brand as Owner: Red Bull is shaking up the sports landscape and MLS has allowed it the freedom to so. With Red Bull Arena, the new 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J., opening just last month, it is already considered the premier soccer stadium in the United States.

10. Celebrity Status: Tiger, Peyton, Kobe, LeBron -- sports stars are the new global icons. Soccer also has its shares of global super stars, e.g., David Beckham and Ronaldinho. In 2010, look for opportunities for new stars to breakout and/or achieve superstar status in the United States, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Last summer Ronaldo was transferred to Real Madrid from Manchester United for nearly $132 million, a staggering number for any athlete in any sport. Nike, Castrol and Armani are among just a few of his global sponsors.

A common thread in all of the above is the global nature of sports, especially evident with Futbol (soccer). I've always felt that modern sports marketing is a powerful global communication platform between "fans of sport" and corporations.

Most recently, the increased viewership of the Vancouver Olympics over past Winter Olympics demonstrated the increasing appetite of the global sports audience. That's a trend we expect to continue in 2010 with soccer fans and sponsors reaping the benefits.

4 comments about "New No. 1 Sport In The U.S. -- Soccer?".
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  1. Brian Canning from Davis Brand Capital, April 6, 2010 at 8:48 a.m.

    Soccer does not connect in the US. It will always be a distant fourth or fifth because it is viewed as a foreign sport and has a negative stigma surrounding it for American youth.

  2. Tomasito Bobadilla from BFM Movimiento LLC, April 6, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

    Dude, I totally disagree with your assessment. US Soccer will never break the top three American Sports landscape. Soccer is so regionalized that it is worst than Hockey. On the other hand, in my opinion, Skateboarding is generating more youth participation than ever. Every brand has a Skateboarding business plan in place to discover that next personality image branded Icon. Here is why your observation is off target.

    1. Outside of Hispanic and some European Americans, the game has not transfer well to African Americans and the middle of the country. Tampa Bay Rowdies disbanded their franchise, while the media frenzy behind the Tampa Bay Pro 2010 was just crazy. The audience witness Paul Rodriguez defeating Ryan Scheckler for Supreme Skate God.

    2. Americans could care less what the Worldviews. Who cares what the Worldview is for Basketball Baseball, and Football. At the end of the day, it is about AMERICANA and its American invention of these three Sporting disciplines.

    3. The rights fee from any MLS club is peanuts in comparison with the other leagues. What executive would say no to almost for nothing programming. Yet the rights fee for NASCAR, Monster Truck, Wrestling, MMA, and High School Basketball are beginning to spiral out of control.

    4. Even if ESPN decides to brand a dedicated channel, the youth interest is in Skateboarding. Fox Sports dedicated Soccer channel is dismal compare to Fox Sports viewership of NASCAR. The numbers do not lie. Fox Sports regionalize baseball telecast are very respective. Ask NBC or CBS executives if they would like to have those games. They would put buckets of money at any cost to MLB. The problem here, most MLB clubs have their own Networks, taking money away from the clubs. A problem that MLS will never have…..

    5. In my opinion, youth viewership is trending towards a Global reach. The most watched Sport outside of America is Formula 1. It has more viewership than Soccer. Nevertheless, do we care? Many have tried to make Formula 1 relevant and everyone has failed. The same for Soccer. It is not American…..

    6. Again, your claim about Global presence has no bearings with American Sports lifestyle touch-points. Soccer has no relevancy with the majority of Americans. If you take out the exclusivity clauses associated with the Sponsor and the leagues, you would see more National sponsorship dollars being spent.

    7. American youth will keep trending to Madden, whether FIFA 11 is release now or in the future.

    8. I just return from the US Tampa Pro 2010 Open, where PROD was crowned skateboarding champion. In my opinion, many investors are looking into how they can create a Skateboarding league. The Maloof have entered the fray, same family that owns Manchester United, and it looks like they are putting their money behind a potential sponsor driven ‘golden goose egg.’ In my opinion, if they can pull it off, is the question…..However More kids are buying skateboards than soccer balls.

    9. interesting you bring up Red Bull Arena. Are you kidding me? The massive branding campaign for a tune up game and the official opening of the stadium was dreadful. No sell-outs, half-empty stadium, and lots of white noise from those that attended.

    10. Celebrity Status – are you serious. Can you please tell me, what US soccer player has relevancy? You may a point on the youth, Ryan Scheckler, Shaun White, Paul Rodriguez JR relate more to five to 19yrs old than any US Soccer player. At the end of the day, they do not have to answer to any commissioner or guidelines. A brand-match made in heaven….

  3. Ian Steaman from CoolerBuzz, April 7, 2010 at 1 a.m.

    Hate to pile on but Brian and Tomasito are right. Soccer will uptick during the world cup then fall back off again. Americans will never forsake American football, basketball or baseball for soccer. Does soccer even come close to outranking hockey? I doubt it but if it could do just that, that would be an amazing achievement.

  4. Chris Koch from Q1Media, April 7, 2010 at 11:53 a.m.

    It will take a long time before Soccer is #1 in the US, but the participatory, demographic and marketing spend landscape will continue to help growth for years to come as Soccer is more than a sport for many of its fans. Like no other sport, there is a consumptive passion for content that is undeniable for club and nation on a global scale.

    2013 is a big year for the MLB since their contracts will be up with ESPN and Fox. It has been my opinion for sometime that Soccer will take share from Baseball more than any other sport.

    Is it "American?" Absolutely, as what is "American" is ever changing. However, the in-game flopping theatrics and the lack of uniformity in how each game is refereed is an issue for US Sports fans, in which I have struggled with to this day as an avid voyeur of the game. US sports fans, demand a fair landscape for their athletes to show their athletic prowess, and punishment for those that stray. This must change.

    I will be heading to the World Cup and look forward to feeling the vibe in person.

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