Soccer has been dubbed the “sport of the future” in the United States for decades. Heading into the World Cup later this year, new Morning Consult research illustrates that while the sport has yet to catch up to the country’s most popular pastimes, its long-promised “future” is still on the horizon.
Respondents were asked whether they identify as fans of each of the following sports or leagues:
‘Big Four’ still trump soccer
- Thirty-two percent of U.S. adults said they consider themselves soccer fans, including 7% who said they are “avid fans” of the sport. Both of those figures are virtually unchanged from a July 2019 survey, suggesting interest in the sport wasn’t negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Among the so-called “stick-and-ball” sports, the NFL (67%), MLB (55%), college football (52%), NBA (46%), college basketball (43%) and NHL (38%) all ranked higher in popularity than soccer. (Prior research suggests that “soccer” as a catch-all term rates higher than any individual soccer league, such as MLS or the English Premier League.)
Soccer leads other sports in youth, diversity among fans
- More than half of respondents who identified as soccer fans were under the age of 45 (54%), a greater share than than any of the other sports included in the survey, including the NBA (51%), NFL (46%), college basketball (46%), tennis (46%), NHL (44%), MLB (43%) and golf (40%). Previous Morning Consult research indicated many young soccer fans are passing their affinity for the sport down to their Generation Alpha children (those born from 2013 to 2017).
- Soccer also had the most diverse fan base, with 40% being fans of color. More than 1 in 4 U.S. adults who identified as soccer fans (27%) were Hispanic. The NBA’s fan base is about as diverse as soccer’s, with 39% being fans of color.
- Enthusiasm for soccer was higher among younger adults than the general population, with 40% of those ages 18-34 identifying as fans. Among the more targeted sample of Generation Z adults (those born in 1997 or later), 47% said they are soccer fans, putting the sport ahead of college basketball (44%), MLB (44%), tennis (32%), the NHL (30%) and golf (22%) with this cohort.
- More than half of Hispanic Americans (55%) identified as soccer fans, a considerably higher share than among Black (33%) and white (31%) adults, as well as those of other races (43%). Soccer’s popularity among Hispanics ranked just behind MLB (58%) and was on par with college football (56%) and the NBA (55%). Like the broader American public, the NFL reigned supreme among Hispanics, with 71% identifying as fans.
Soccer’s popularity among younger and Hispanic adults suggests the sport is on a trajectory for growth. Which leagues and entities can capitalize on that potential growth, however, remains to be seen.
Unlike other sports, in which the top North American leagues essentially have monopolies on top-level competition, soccer fans’ interest in the sport is spread among MLS, Liga MX and several major European leagues, as well as international competition. While MLS has grown in-person attendance to more than 20,000 per game and expanded to 29 markets, its TV viewership has suffered in part due to competition with other leagues.
After failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, the U.S. men’s national team could play a considerable role in sparking interest among casual fans and non-fans with a strong showing later this year in Qatar.
The April 1-4 survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,208 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The subsample of 708 self-identified soccer fans carried a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.