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Is America finally ready to embrace futbol?

June 19, 2014

Seeing large crowds of people in places such as Brooklyn and Chicago in cutaways from the U.S. soccer team's televised match with Ghana made me think back to a conversation I had with a friend some 20 years ago. He predicted that it was a matter of when, not if, soccer (he called it football) would become one of the most popular live sporting events in the U.S. The record-breaking television audience that watched the U.S. prevail against Ghana has me thinking that the future may prove him right.

My friend based his prediction on the combination of changing demographics within the U.S. along with several generations of kids who were raised playing the game. Ultimately, he said, soccer would pass professional hockey on the list of popular American sports. Even baseball and basketball could be given a run for their money by the middle of the century.

A ratings comparison between audiences for the U.S./Ghana World Cup game to the recently completed finals of the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association give credence to his prediction.

According to Nielsen, the U.S./Ghana match attracted an audience of 15.9 million viewers. The game was televised by ESPN and Univision in the U.S. The final game of the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers series drew six million television viewers while the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat final had 17.9 million people tune in.

Speaking to the demographic issue, The Wall Street Journal reported that Univision's World Cup audience to date is up 48 percent over 2010.

One event that could push soccer into the American mainstream is the country hosting a World Cup. A report by ESPN that FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, has approached the United States Soccer Federation about possibly hosting the 2022 World Cup has been denied by the domestic body. There are currently investigations into acts of corruption regarding the 2010 World Cup in South Africa along with bids by Qatar and other nations to host the sporting event in 2022.

Discussion Questions:

Will soccer soon regularly be among America's top live sporting events? What will this mean for retailers and consumer brand marketers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How likely is soccer to become widely popular among the American public over the next 20 years?


I don't see this happening, except for the World Cup. It is like baseball, as I might watch the World Series and the playoffs, but soccer is boring. I sat through my youngest son's games in high school, and if he wasn't on the team, I would never have sat through the whole game.

Americans want action, like in MMA, and football to fill up a stadium. Guys like me can watch golf, but I am in the minority. I'd rather watch bowling than soccer, and I'm not alone in my opinion on this, as my friends feel the same way. The younger generation is their only hope, and you can't get these kids off their computer games to play outside like we did. Maybe we could have a "Kick the Can" championship, and I would tune in.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

What, you mean like the entire rest of the world? The biggest obstacle to acceptance of the game is American reluctance to accept anything "not invented here."

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

First of all, what will this mean for soccer?

As an ancient guy who played (real) football as a kid (when it REALLY wasn't popular) I can say that the U.S.'s growing warmth to the game has had a significant impact.

When it comes to sports, Americans hate finesse. A classic soccer battle might well end in a 0-0 tie, sending U.S. fans screaming out of the stadiums. It's kind of like baseball. A pitcher's battle resulting in 13 scoreless innings is an example of the game played to the point of perfection but most baseball fans prefer an 11-2 blowout because they find hitting more exciting than pitching. We are a nation that likes big scores.

So, one of two things will happen: either soccer will get larger and larger creating better U.S. players and building a higher appreciation for the nuances of the game or fans will only support kill-or-be-killed offenses, making it more likely that indoor soccer will grow beyond contemporary imaginations.

Now that baseball has clearly become a game at which only elite athletes (of any age) can excel, soccer has become America's default everyman—er—everyperson sport where everyone gets a trophy. If that patterns continues, George's friend's prediction will come true in spades.

All sports have the potential to create excitement at retail and soccer won't be any different. That is, of course, if it ever catches on to the fact that Americans like big margins in final scores.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

The data support this conclusion. Futbol has a following that rivals NASCAR in terms of loyalty and consumer behavior influence. The increase in viewing opportunities creates an environment in which younger Americans can follow their favorite team and players, whether it be Manchester United and Wayne Rooney or Bayern Munich and Thomas Mueller. Both clubs are billion dollar brands.

This is a terrific opportunity for brands and retailers to forge an alignment with this emerging sport. The internet and social media provide vehicles to reach and customize their offerings to this new generation of sports fans.

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Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

Ok, so this is something that is pretty close and dear to me. I grew up playing soccer and I always said the same thing as George's buddy. In high school, everyone went to watch the football games, and almost no one showed up to watch the soccer team except for some parents. I grew to love football, the American kind, and baseball as well as basketball and follow all three sports. Although I hoped that the U.S. brand of soccer would have confirmed the predictions made by some, especially when players like Pele and others starting playing here, it has not been able to reach the level of European or South American soccer even though more American kids play soccer than baseball. The American professional teams are certainly getting closer and indeed some even play on international squads.

The World Cup however brings "The Beautiful Game" to a whole other level and anyone who enjoys competitive sports would be crazy not to watch how good this World Cup is and how exciting it has been already. No one expected the U.S. team to have a chance and yet they came out fired up and won. Hopefully they will continue their winning streak against Portugal on Sunday and move on. Even if they don't, watching all the other teams has been awesome and needless to say I along with many of my fellow Americans, Brits and Irishman and everyone else that has been crowding into English and Irish pubs in NYC to watch the games have caught World Cup fever in a major way.

Perhaps the hoopla will die down, and most likely it will, but while it lasts, a lot of marketers are doing a bang up business being tied to the World Cup. Beer and jerseys to name just two products have been selling like hot dogs at Yankee Stadium!

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

I don't think soccer will be among the top live sporting events. I see soccer similar to horse racing. We all love to watch the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup races. The championship races draw huge audiences both on-site and on TV, and that's it. Horse racing takes place nearly everyday all over the country and is simulcasted live from all over the world. It's incredibly popular but we don't watch it live regularly on TV. To me soccer is the same. We love to watch the championships and then forget about it. Much the same as the rest of the world loves to watch the Super Bowl and then American football is out of sight, out of mind.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

I read Tony's response and say ditto. Yes, the World Cup is drawing multi-millions of fans. But so does the Olympics every two or four years. Soccer is great, if for no other reason, than that it gets young people out exercising instead of playing games on their smartphones. Also, the cost to equip a team is modest compared to other sports.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Soccer growth potential in growing live sporting event attention and interest received a significant boost as Major League Soccer signed agreements with Fox, ESPN, and Univision this year. Demographically, the Millennial generation had greater access to learning the game. Socially, communities across the country have raced to add more soccer fields to their parks & recreation platforms. And, the World Cup, if they can keep their noses clean from corruption, has gained awareness, if not status in America.

All bode well for improving soccer viewership for weekly matches. World Cup games of the home team (America) will become a staple. Will America rush to view other soccer matches on TV? Nuh-uh ...

Soccer, like all sports, along with being a business, has to be seen as an entertainment event. The entertainment spectrum in the U.S. is both broad and deep. NCAA and NFL football, NCAA and NBA baseball, Major League Baseball (and college baseball, and prep and junior), National Hockey League, PGA Golf, NASCAR, major poker/gaming events, etc.

Soccer is going to grow. It's not going to be one of the top five sporting events in cumulative audience in the next 10 years. Too much competition for share of audience.

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Roger Saunders, Global Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

The economy, the news, and media have all become more interconnected and global in nature. And while soccer has long crossed borders across the globe, sports in America has long been a very insular and national affair. Because of the ever-increasing connectedness of social media and internet communications, soccer—er, sorry—futbol should continue to make gains in the U.S.

Brand marketers should be able to better leverage campaigns that are more global in nature. Nike's excellent brand media featuring soccer is a great example.

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Matt Schmitt, President, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Reflect

Soccer will soon be America's top live sporting event. That success will be driven by our children having been raised on the sport and by our immigrant population. The growth of the sport will provide integration opportunities for brands and merchandise and equipment sales for retailers.

For years brands and retailers have benefited from AYSO and other youth soccer programs, through both sponsorships and sales. Once the quality of professional soccer in the U.S. is raised, or if the country again hosts the World Cup, soccer will become more top-of-mind to everyday consumers, which will attract more brand and retail participation.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Soccer will continue to gain momentum in the U.S. as long as the team keeps winning. There will always be a group of Latino supporters due to the size of the population that is from a Latino heritage. I do think we will keep winning as more and more of our players are getting the best experience in Europe and elsewhere. Retailers will have unfortunately a short selling time period during World Cup events but not for three years in between the big event. Our major soccer league does not have the following other countries have, nor do we have a champions league to play against teams from the rest of our hemisphere as they do in Europe.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

I am happy to see the enthusiasm for the World Cup in the U.S. I see people huddled around screens in airport terminals, family and friends talking about matches that have nothing to do with the U.S. and kids wanting licensed items from the World Cup. Soccer is already a very popular youth sport in the U.S., and in many cases it is the most popular sport. The injuries are far less than other sports, like football. The equipment, uniforms, etc., are also far less expensive than other sports.

I believe the real issue is the U.S. professional soccer offering. As a country, if we are presented with the right stadiums, the right cities with teams, the right media coverage and the right marketing and promotions, we can add soccer to our sports of favor as a nation. The NBA, NFL and MLB are marketing machines and they are focused with significant investment in target markets. I do not believe we will see soccer rise to the level of other countries without MLS behaving like the other major sports in the U.S.

Kevin Sterneckert, EVP Marketing, Predictix

Soccer is non-stop (and I love it!) My prediction is the sport will grow in coverage with the evolution, integration and adoption of the second screen (tablet) as the vehicle for advertising and information.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

Umm... the US did host a World Cup 20 years ago, which was supposed to be the seminal event for soccer in the U.S. It didn't quite work out that way.

It's great that there is a growth in interest, but has there been any real interest shown outside of the World Cup? Many Americans watch skiing and gymnastics during the Olympics too, but only during the Olympics. There is no way soccer will become the number one, or two, or three, spectator sport in the U.S. in the next 50 years.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

There's a game that comes from the Isles
To billions worldwide it brings smiles
But in the Land of the Free
We never shall see
Too many succumb to its wiles

As Jonathan correctly points out, we had this discussion twenty years ago. Much like the metric system, "Futbol" always remains waiting in the wings...so to speak.


We don't have the attention spans in America to truly appreciate the strategies involved in a typical soccer game. It is "cool" to get excited about the Wolrd Cup and act like we care, however, few of these people in the crowds on TV News will watch another game until the next World Cup. We need 3-point-shots. We need 24-second clocks. We need to keep the game moving. The inner management of MLB is seriously considering employing pitching clocks to help stop the pitchers from taking so much time between pitches in order to keep the game moving.

I do not foresee any significant migration toward American interest in soccer on a seasonal basis. I would stick with the major American sports that continue to attract the spending consumers...regardless how un-cool those sports may be.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

It is certainly becoming more popular. Although the speed is different and hockey is sometimes difficult to watch on TV, hockey and soccer have similar tactics and a crossover of fans. In one city, the owners of the baseball team and the football team are both vying for ownership of a soccer team; which is telling as to where soccer is headed.

FIFA still has some difficulties to overcome if it is to be a force in the US because of the scandals in the air. It does not help when a high FIFA official says "There is a difference between a gift and a bribe."


Basketball and hockey are going global. Basketball is is leading this escape from the new world with some impressive international television ratings. As for the United States the television ratings and stadium attendance is still owned by football and baseball. The NFL may be working to revise these standings with the recent changes to governance and policies going against the grain of the fans, but for now they are in the driver's seat.

As for American support and enthusiasm, I am of the opinion that it will drift in an out of the world sports competition as it always has in the past. Americans simply do not care what happens in the rest of the world with regards to sports or most other things for that matter. And no survey with true relevance and validity has ever demonstrated otherwise without multibillion dollar media pep rallies designed to gain momentum for a limited time.


Soccer will continue to gain popularity in the US as Millennials and younger cohorts age up. In towns across the US, many boys and girls are playing on local soccer teams for the fun of it. Great activity level, team sport, etc.

Soccer is fast, engaging, multicultural, and may attract increasing interest. This is a great space for on-trend retail marketers to to develop a US fan base of socially connected viewers.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

notcom nailed it. Professional football, baseball, and basketball are played at an extremely high level in America, like no other place in the world. When it comes to sports, we seem to live in a bubble, playing games that were invented in America.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Fox has invested heavily in the sport. There will certainly be enough eyes on the games to justify the investment. Kids are playing soccer at record levels; it's easier to compete at the young ages as compared to football, baseball and even basketball. Although it's easy to write this World Cup off as an "Olympic" type event, the demographics of the USA show an increasing larger Latin and Hispanic population; this bodes well for soccer ratings.

Just a purely personal comment; hockey is still the most exciting sport; especially the playoffs.

Alan Cooper, Training Consultant, Independent/Freelance

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