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US Soccer: Expanding Lengths and Breadths

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A lot of footballing actions are happening on the western front. By western front, we are talking about United States of America. Football or as the Americans say, soccer Is not really the primary sport but there has been a shift change in the way Americans view soccer in the recent times, both as a soccer fan as well as on the business side.

 

In this two-part series, we will have a deeper look at the state of football or soccer in America.

The first part, shared here, will focus on the growth of football in America. There has been a considerable increase in viewership of football, both internal as well as European football, increase in MLS club valuations, soaring value of Premier League broadcast rights and so on. The second part of the series will focus on the spate of investments undertaken by US investors in the European football market

 

Soccer Rising

 

According to a Gallup poll conducted in Dec 2017, 7% of all adults claimed Soccer to be their favorite sport to watch. That places Soccer at fourth position behind American Football, Basketball and Baseball in that order. This is where it gets interesting. In the ages between 18-34 years, soccer gets 11% watch share along with Basketball and is placed second and between 35-54 years, it gets 10% watch share and is placed third just behind Basketball at 12%. It’s only in the older generation above 55 years who are averse to watching Soccer.

 


 

 

It can be fairly understood that those who determine the future of spectator sports are well fond of Soccer.

 

 

Viewership

 

The next few years are very crucial to soccer for United States as two of the biggest events in the world are scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, the 2026 Football World Cup and 2028 Olympics. All eyes would be on the national team to perform there.

Recently, when USMNT defeated Mexico 2-0, it became the most watched FIFA World Cup qualifying match on ESPN2 was tuned in by an average of 1.315 million viewers and the TQL stadium with 26,000 capacity was sold-out.

Domestically, there has been a gradual increase in viewership and attendance figures in the MLS matches.

The viewership of Major League Soccer (MLS) has increased for all of the league’s US broadcast partners during the opening months of the 2021 season, according to Nielsen figures for April to July

 

 

 

 

As per the report,

  • Viewership on Disney-owned ESPN and ABC averages 384,000 viewers which is 50% viewership increase over 2020 figures and 39% compared to 2019
  • Univision and UniMas record highest viewership of all time with an average viewership of 302,000, a 21% increase over 2020 figures
  • Broadcasts on Fox and FS1 averaging 231,000 viewers are up by 14%

 

 

Stadium Attendance

 

When it comes to in-stadia attendance, the five-year period average from 2005-2009 was 15,976 saw an increase of 14% in the period between 2010-2014 averaging 18,222. This further increased by 19% during 2015-19 period averaging 21,712 signaling a regular growth  

 

 

 

MLS Broadcasting Growth

 

The increase in attendance and viewership of MLS can also be corroborated with the increase in annual broadcasting rights values of MLS. Comparison with the broadcasting rights values of other established NFL, MLB or NBA would be meaningless at this point where NFL gets over $8 billion in annual fees compared to a paltry $90 million generated by MLS but on its own, it does give a growth picture

 

 

 

It still has a long way to go for a profitable deal (analysts say a 7X of the current value would make MLS teams turn profitable) but it definitely points to the upward direction soccer is heading to   

 

 

MLS and Other European Leagues

 

It would be worthwhile to state while MLS is growing is attention share, the European football leagues have attracted an even greater share of American attention, particularly English Premier League and Spanish La Liga. Google Trends gives a picture on the web search patterns (includes image, news, shopping and YouTube search) in the last 5 years

 

 

 

The viewership figures of Premier League and its growth over a period of time gives a more accurate picture. NBC, the official Premier League broadcaster in USA, witnessed a jump of almost 33% from an average of 457,000 TV viewers in 2018/19 season to an average of 607,000 viewers in 2021/22 season

 

 

 

 

English Premier League Broadcasting Rights Value

 

Recently, NBC has renewed the broadcasting rights with Premier League. After multiple rounds of negotiations, the deal reportedly has been finalized for $2.76 billion over six years from 2022-2027 or about $460 million annually, that is over a whopping 151% increase over the last value of $183 million per year from 2016-2021

 

 

 

The future certainly looks bright for US soccer and fans. USMNT is in a strong position to qualify for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. For the first time, they are seeing six American players playing in a single Champions League competition. With the interest and excitement building up back home and more players keen, the future can only be brighter!

 

In the next part of this series, we will have a look at the investments carried out by US investors in European football

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