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Soccer is by far the most popular sport on the planet. It’s played in every single continent and country worldwide. However, every time I go to the United States I ask myself why soccer is not the most popular sport for Americans? In fact, they don’t even call it football, as the rest of the world calls it. I did some research and analyzed a couple of reasons why Americans prefer other sports over the “beautiful game”.
So, why is soccer not popular in the United States? The main reason why soccer is not popular in the USA is because of the American culture. There is a great number of aspects in soccer that simply don’t match with the social beliefs of Americans. This phenomenon, combined with other historical events, made soccer an unattractive sport for Americans.
The American culture has been changing through the years though, and soccer is becoming more and more popular. Are there any chances that soccer can become one of the most popular sports in the United States? I really think that it’s possible, as I’ve personally seen an increase in fan participation and social acceptance during the last years.
6 Reasons why soccer is not popular in the United States
There are 6 reasons that explain why soccer is not so popular in America:
- Americans are not #1 in soccer
- Obsession with excessively big things
- Not ideal for marketing and business
- Excessive faking of injuries
- American’s can’t stand a tie
- 1863 and England expansion
Now, we’ll break down each one.
Americans are not #1
[Editor’s Note: This statement does not pertain to the USWNT]
People in the United States have an obsession with being the best at everything, which has nothing wrong at all. We’ve noticed that during the history of the country, they’ve always sought to win at everything. The USA is a country that has fought during its entire lifetime to be the number one superpower in the world, which they actually are right now.
They fought in WWI and WWII to gain complete world dominance and constantly intervene in international events. The point is that American culture always wants to have everything under control, and make sure that they are at the top of the pyramid.
With sports, it’s no different. The three most popular sports in the United States are American Football, Baseball, and Basketball, from which the United States is the best at each one.
It’s funny because, outside the United States, we laugh every time we see the Super Bowl and hear the narrators saying “They are the new world champions”. Yes, they are the “world champions” of a game that is only played in one country. The United States has the best American Football players, but all American football players are from the United States. It’s obvious they are going to be #1 at football.
Also, the World Series is the finals of the Major Leagues, and is played between two teams from the United States, so why is it called the “world” series”? In Basketball, the same thing, the United States has participated in 18 Olympic games from which they’ve won 15 gold medals. The three most popular sports in the United States are the ones they are best at.
But, What happens with soccer? Soccer is a global sport, meaning that there will be great teams and leagues in every single continent. It’s impossible to have one league in a country that is the most dominant of all leagues and say that the team that wins that league is “the world champion” as they do with other sports in the USA.
As soccer is so popular worldwide, it will also be more competitive. The United States soccer team is not considered a “superpower” in the soccer world. In fact, they didn’t even make it to the last World Cup. Their best participation in a world cup was third place back in 1930 when the first world cup was played. For that world cup, teams didn’t even have to qualify, they were invited, and the level of competitiveness wasn’t anything close to what it is today.
It is true that in the CONCACAF confederation (North, Central America, and the Caribbean), they are one of the two “giants” alongside Mexico, easily beating every team back in the ’90s and early ’00s. But the distances between other teams like Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica have shortened, and it is hard for team USA to play against these teams.
With that said, the United States national team has never been a tough competition for big European powers of the sport, that have historically knocked out the USA easily of World Cups.
American Culture always wants to be the best at everything, and because they can’t be the best at soccer, that’s probably a good reason to dislike the sport. At the end of the day, no one likes to see themselves losing.
Obsession with excessively big things
The American culture clearly has a preference for excessively big things. I’m from Panama, and every time I visit the USA I’m impressed with how huge things are everywhere. For example, when I go to fast-food restaurants they serve excessively giant sodas and fries, people drive super big trucks, streets are wide, and even people are bigger.
So, it’s normal that this behavior will also be reflected in sports. If we take a close look at the scores of the top 3 sports in the country, they all have big scores. Take football as an example, where the average points scored per team is about 20-29 points per game.
On the other hand, the average runs scored by a baseball team during a game was about 9 points. When we talk about basketball, each team in the NBA is scoring at least 97 points a game, while in the NCAA each team is scoring 68 points on average.
In soccer, well, we don’t see that amount of goals scored during a game. In the past, we use to see an average of 5 goals per game, which is really high. Now, the game has become more competitive and we are barely seeing an average of 2-2.6 goals per game. The American culture will reject these types of scores.
Player Height and Weight
Another thing that is too small for American culture is the player’s height and weight. In basketball, the average height is 6.6 feet (2 meters) and 220 pounds. In football, 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) and 250 pounds, and in baseball are 6.1 feet (1.85 meters) and 200 pounds. As you can see, in all these sports the prototype player is a big person. When we see an athlete of any of these sports in the streets, they will be impressive.
On the other hand, soccer is not the same. In soccer, you don’t need any special physical characteristics regarding height or weight in order to play. The average height was 5 feet 11 inches in countries with tall people while the average is 5.9 feet in most countries.
Normally the tallest player in the soccer field is the goalkeeper, which you can see the average height in my article “Average Goalkeeper height”. The tallest goalkeeper at the 2018 world cup was Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois at 1.99 meters (6.5 feet), which is still less than the average NBA player.
Small-sized players don’t fit in with the American social beliefs and make soccer unappealing for some people.
Not Ideal for marketing and business
Another reason why soccer is not popular in the United States is that Americans have materialistic behavior. In the United States, corporations want to do as much money as possible. The big TV networks in the United States are no different. Obviously, the major revenue stream they have when broadcasting sporting events is an advertisement.
This means they are more likely to promote the most ad-friendly sports. Coincidentally, these sports are Baseball, American Football, and Basketball. In American football, for example, you have all of these breaks between the game for advertising:
- End of the 1st and 3rd quarter.
- Timeouts (3 per teams per half).
- Injury timeouts.
- Two-minute warnings.
- Stoppage after punt and kickoff returns.
- Stoppage after a score.
- Stoppage after a turnover.
- Coach challenges.
On the other hand, soccer-only has halftime. This makes the sport not suitable for advertisement, which means big TV networks won’t prioritize broadcasting it.