How to Get the Ball Rolling: Making Soccer Popular in the U.S.


Photo Credit: NYCFC.com

Just recently I went to my first soccer game. I saw New York City Football Club (NYCFC) play at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It was amazing. I’ve been a soccer fan on and off throughout my life, but within the past year I’ve resurrected my fandom and love for the game (gotta fill the time while the Knicks “rebuild”, ya know?)

And after watching that game, and being inspired by my friend Phil, I started to consider a few things about soccer. What exactly makes the game exciting to watch? Why is it so different from American sports? And why the hell hasn’t someone marketed this sport correctly to the American audience?

It’s hard to imagine the world’s most popular sport doesn’t have something to offer sports fans in the United States. I think the general disinterest lies in the fact that soccer is so completely different from American sports that people don’t know how to introduce it in the U.S. Do we change it to fit the American audience? Or do we market the game’s differences and try to carve out its own niche in the wide array of American sports? I opt for the latter.

What makes soccer unique?

Firstly, the clock never stops. In all American sports, there is constant stopping and starting. That leads to lulls in the action, games lasting way longer than they should, and SO MANY ADS! With soccer, there is no stopping. Okay yes, play may stop due to injury or a foul being called, but the clock never stops. Every game is going to be an hour and a half. No matter what.

This means there is a constant tension when you watch soccer because you never know when the excitement might come. In American sports, the fourth quarter, third period, and the ninth inning are always the most exciting parts of the game. And if it’s a blow out before then, is it really worth watching the rest? In soccer, you can’t take your eyes off the pitch because you might miss the pass that leads to a beautiful goal, or the foul that turns the momentum in the game.

Secondly, soccer has a unique format for its leagues and teams. Players can be traded from country to country, across leagues, instead of from state to state. The transfer system is also a great way of buying, selling and trading players. The transfer window, as it’s called, would captivate American fans because of all the trade rumors that would fly around (and we all know how the U.S. media loves a good rumor), and because of the fresh take on spending and trading that this system provides.

Soccer leagues also add to the excitement of the games and the passion of the fans. Promotions and demotions give clubs a reason to play besides winning a championship. Imagine if the 76ers were demoted to the D-League after such a terrible season. Wouldn’t they play a little harder to stay in the NBA? You bet they would! This system leads to more competition between teams that aren’t necessarily vying for the top spot, and would eliminate something like “tanking” in American sports. That means every game counts, and the fans get the most out of their team, regardless of what point in the season it is.

So with the running clock, the league formatting, and the transfer system, as well as the nuisances of the game, soccer is primed to take root in American sports. It’s all down to the marketing and advertising of the game.

And that shouldn’t be a problem or point of hesitation for American fans and investors. Don’t forget, soccer is loved all over the world. The infrastructure is there, and the money is absolutely there. It’s simply a matter of properly connecting U.S. sports fans to a game they will love.

The marketing so far for soccer has only focused on the beauty of the game, which frankly won’t change much in the minds of American sports fans. If they already view the game as slow and boring, then the marketing needs to change that perception. Highlighting the differences would actually demonstrate to the U.S. why this game is so popular, and how it could actually interest them.

This marketing campaign would have to involve several outlets, from MLS to youth leagues, as well as big sponsors, like Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola and Budweiser, contributing to the change in perception in soccer.

The MLS would also have to change the outline of the league, because as of right now, it is run like most other American sports leagues. They need to adapt their rules so that the MLS behaves like European soccer leagues, which will lead to not only a national interest in American soccer, but an international one as well.