The history of American soccer is a long, varied one, beginning, according to popular belief, in the 1860s. It would be some 20 years until the country's first national team was founded in 1885, and the sport has experienced something of a slow-burn ever since. Indeed, the rise in global popularity of American soccer didn't begin until the 1990s, when the men's team began to compete in the World Cup Championships.
Soccer is now America's fourth most popular sport, and the country's third most played team endeavour. There are an estimated four million players registered with US Soccer, as well as the many millions no doubt playing at an amateur level. The popularity of the sport has increased dramatically since 1994 when the USA hosted the World Cup; that year is described as being the moment soccer finally arrived in America, and the formation of Major League Soccer followed just two years later.
The MLS now boasts 22 teams, up by 12 since the league's foundation. It's clear to see that Americans are embracing soccer, and its global reach is improving year by year. Indeed, some 26.7-million viewers tuned in and were captivated by the Women's World Cup Final in 2015 – more than many large sporting events could ever hope for.
So, what makes American soccer so appealing around the world?
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of American soccer is its season; from March until October Major League Soccer hosts and broadcasts games at a time when many other leagues are enjoying their summer break. This move immediately captures an audience that's thirsty for more soccer action - an audience now hooked on the exploits of the MLS. There are some 60 teams now competing across America, almost a third of which play as part of MLS's program of events. Broadcast during lulls in other soccer programs, American soccer is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.
Major League Soccer was first broadcast nationally in 1996 and has steadily secured deals with international television channels ever since. Just last month, in fact, Major League Soccer reached a new deal with three additional networks; American soccer games will now be broadcast in Honduras, India, and New Zealand, marking a huge step forward for the sport's foray onto the global stage. Indeed, American soccer had never enjoyed such exposure before. MLS's latest deals join those with Sky Sports and Eurosport to tap corners of the market that are found even further afield.
Towards the beginning of this year news broke that major social media platform Facebook had won the rights to broadcast Major League Soccer to its millions of members; not only was this a huge coup for Facebook, but will enable the sport to reach a truly global audience. It's estimated that three quarters of American soccer fans already tune in to catch their favourite games online, with almost 90% of those using Facebook regularly. It stands to reason, then, that this move will attract viewers from even further afield.
In order to determine the global popularity of a particular sport it's usually a good idea to focus on the current betting trends. One glance at UK sports betting sites should be enough to allay any pundit's misgivings; this is just one example of the sport's international presence. American soccer's influence is steadily growing, ensuring its appearance across numerous global betting sites. This alone is evidence that the game is exceeding global expectations, and reaching audiences outside the States.
It doesn't matter where it's played or by whom, soccer remains one of the most popular sports in the world; indeed, one glance at current sponsorship deals and the advertising revenue that soccer accrues is evidence enough. American soccer is finally cashing in on the action, with experts estimating that the 2015 Women's World Cup earned in excess of $40-million in advertising revenue with FOX.
The media likes soccer because it's relatable, and because audiences engage with every rise and fall of teams' fortunes. Boasting some of the most influential media resources on the planet America has introduced its soccer teams in perhaps the cleverest way possible, and ensured investment that will go along way towards improving its national teams.
With a deal with Facebook looming, and more networks than ever interested in broadcasting American soccer it's clear that the simple answer is yes; American soccer has finally begun to reach a global audience, and its players, teams, and organizations are starting to reap the benefits that their international counterparts have long been enjoying.
The youth market is vital to American soccer at this stage, and many young people are engaging with the sport via a myriad of media resources. While it's unlikely that soccer will ever eclipse American football, either at home or away, audiences are now far more interested in this team sport than baseball. Perhaps spurred on by the success of international teams, American soccer has seen improvement across teams and facilities; long may its success on the global stage continue.