Welcome to the Club: USA Embracing the World’s Favorite Game

It’s usually referred to as football, but in America, where it is called soccer, the game has been perennially disrespected. For years in the United States, soccer has been regarded merely as a tedious game, cyclic of ‘complaining, flopping and faking injuries.’ But some kind of culture change has swooped in, proliferating interest and trumping stereotypes.

Soccer is growing in America; there’s no doubt about it. Whether it’s viewership or participation, the game is steadily rising in popularity.

Just two years ago during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, countless Americans were captivated by the success of their country’s national team. Although coming up short against Belgium in the knockout stage, the game was still watched in America by an estimated 16 million people. That’s not too shabby, considering that the five NBA Finals games that year were viewed by an average of 15.5 million.

As the United States made their way through the group stage and into the round of 16, it felt as if the country had accomplished something new. Despite a knockout stage appearance in the previous World Cup and three others prior, America’s reception in 2014 was like nothing the country had ever seen before. Toward various extents, everyone seemed to know about what was going on down in Brazil. Although the United States was eliminated far sooner than their millions of fans would’ve liked to see, they fought hard, overcame expectations, and created a strong sense of national unity.

The same thing goes for women’s soccer, as television ratings for the women’s World Cup in 2015 increased at a 45% mark from the previous one in 2011. These ratings continuously skyrocketed throughout the tournament, coinciding with the United States women’s national team’s run to the finals. Each American victory directly led to increased total viewership, helping Fox television network rake in $40 million off advertisements in 2015. Just to put that in perspective, Fox’s 2015 earnings blow ESPN’s total of $6 million completely out of the water. Let’s also not forget that the American women won that World Cup just a year ago and that alone made quite a few people happy.

People in the United States are not just watching soccer more frequently; they’re playing it. It all starts with the youth population, where participation has grown incessantly over the last few decades. Umbel.com’s Trips Reddy had this to say on the matter:

The U.S. Youth Soccer organization says that participation in soccer is 30 times higher now than it was just 40 years ago. There were 103,432 children registered to play soccer in the U.S. in 1974, 1.6 million children registered to play in 1990, and more than 3 million registered to play in 2014. The Wall Street Journal noted that youth participation in soccer is double that of tackle football and larger than baseball by about 1 million participants. There are more than 80 Soccer Development Academy facilities that teach players about the international system and act as a conduit to MLS, EPL and Italian Serie A teams.”

 It’s the simple things as well that indicate soccer’s growth amongst the youth: more and more people are playing for their school team, getting up early on Sunday to watch some EPL, or even just playing a game of pickup. Formerly dominated by football, basketball, and baseball, America is now joining the rest of the world in embracing soccer, and it is a beautiful thing.

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