Matthew McConaughey has stated that US soccer could overtake hockey and MLB. While it seems like an ambitious claim, he might just be right.
The growth of US soccer is happening before our eyes. Curiously, the world’s most popular game has never swept through America like with almost every other country across the globe. Basketball, football and baseball have dominated the sporting landscape, leaving very little room for soccer.
However, things are beginning to change. With the introduction of the internet and greater global coverage, it is easier to keep tabs on a sport that does not have an American epicentre, unlike American football, baseball and basketball. And so, the growth of soccer in North America has flourished.
Soccer has grown at a sensational rate since the turn of the Millenium, breaking into the most-watched and covered sports in the country. Major League Soccer, the domestic league, is expanding faster than any other league in the world, breaking attendance records seemingly every season, while talking about soccer in general life is becoming increasingly normal.
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And now predictions are being made that soccer that begin to challenge the elite sports in America. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has stated his belief that US soccer will rise to become one of the biggest sports in the country, and now Matthew McConaughey, who has an ownership stake in Austin FC, a newly expanded MLS team, believes the same:
“As far as Americans go in European leagues [Pulisic] would be top of the American’s game. Hopefully we can see more of that. Youth soccer in America is big, it is huge. There’s a real commitment there. My hope is that in eight to 10 years you’re going to see that generation actually having something to do with soccer around the world at a high level. We’ll see, I don’t think it’s ever going to take over American football or American basketball but it may take over hockey and baseball. So it’s good to see Pulisic out there and hopefully he keeps it up and hopefully more Americans can get up to his level.”
And what is most amazing about McConaughey’s comments is that he might just be right. However wild it sounds, it is not inconceivable that soccer could be the third-largest sport in America in the future.
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According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, 7% of Americans name soccer as their favourite sport to watch. It comes in as the fourth-most popular sport, just 2% behind Baseball. Meanwhile, MLS has seen a 27% increase in interest since 2012, according to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink.
Even more pertinently, soccer is increasingly popular among young people. In fact, 11% of people aged between 18 and 34 named soccer as their preferred sport to watch. That is 5% more than Baseball and the same as Basketball, behind only football. Even in the 35-54 age range, soccer still draws priority viewing for 10% of people. The figure drops to 1% with people 55 and over, a clear illustration of the growth of the sport in a younger audience, which will only continue in future years.
In MLS, Atlanta United are shattering attendance records, average attendance is now comparable to Serie A and Ligue 1 games, north of 20,000 people per match, while expansion now costs $325 million, a sure sign of the financial growth of the sport and league.
US soccer, then, is bigger than ever. And it is only growing. Matthew McConaughey might just be right: Baseball should be looking over its shoulder.