Soccer is experiencing the best period of its history in the United States. After years being relegated to a secondary role in relation to the much deeply rooted football, basketball or baseball, its popularity has boosted in recent years to the extent of being currently competing with baseball in popularity.
The more usual presence of European teams in American territory, thanks to tournaments such as the International Champions Cup, has played and important rol invigorating this process. Unlike what happens in other parts of the world, where soccer grows thanks to the power of the big global clubs and their stars, in the United States it is the Major League Soccer, national league, the one acting as the crowds’ locomotive.
According to a recent Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink report, the audiences of the national American league have grown to 27% since 2012 in the United States, where the MLS is the national competition which records the biggest growth in terms of audience attendance to the stadiums with over 22,000 average spectators in the past campaign, figures which are very similar to the Italian Serie A or the French Ligue 1.
Propelled by the presence of international stars such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Carlos Vela or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the assistance has grown to 55 per cent since Don Garber, an essential figure in this process, left his position as NFL Vicepresident in 1999 to become a MLS Commisioner. By then the league was facing a major risk of disappearance.
The competition, which started in 1996 with 10 teams, currently has 24 and will reach 30 in 2020, when, among others, David Beckham’s awaited Inter Miami CF will join. Even though creating a new franchise demands a multimillionaire investment, promoters are queueing at MLS’ gates.
Everything points towards the growth’s continuation since the big brands are betting very big for soccer, while the country is getting ready to host its second World Cup in 2026 along with Mexico and Canada.
This growth goes beyond the American market. Even though there’s still a long way to go, the MLS is already a competitor for the omnipotent European soccer. A credible proof is found in the WFS Industry Awards, awarded every year during the World Football Summit, the international event of the soccer industry which annually takes place in Madrid. The winners will not be unveiled until early September, but four of the finalist candidacies come from the MLS. Among them, Darren Eales, finalist in the Best Exectutive category presented by Nolan Partners. The Atlanta United’s President, which has already surpassed Los Angeles Galaxy as the league’s franchise with the greatest value, led the team to win the MLS Cup in 2018, only four years after its establishment.
In one of the categories, the Best Venue presented by Mondo Stadia, the three finalist candidacies are American: Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the National Soccer Hall of Fame Experience (an addition to Frisco’s Toyota Stadium) and the Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s 49ers, which has hosted some of the most popular matches of the International Champions Cup and the American national team.
The state-of-the-art stadiums have turned into an identity sign for American soccer. Since 2010, nine different stadiums have opened up and in six will follow in the upcoming years in cities such as Miami, Nashville or Austin.
“The carried out efforts to boost soccer in the United States during the past years have borne fruit. The MLS is nowadays a very consolidated competition who can brag of having the best of the soccer’s essence and, at the same time, the spectacular aspect which always distinguishes American sports competitions. It currently is a national model in some aspects, such as the insertion of last generation stadiums and with the perspective of 2026 World Cup we can only trust it will continue growing” Jan Alessie, World Football Summit Director, explained.
The WFS Industry Awards, which since their creation in 2017 have rewarded big names such as Gustavo Silikovich (River Plate’s former President) or Guiseppe Marotta (Juventus’ former CEO), stadiums such as Athletic Club’s San Mamés or Club Atletico de Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano and companies such as Iberdrola or MasterCard, will be given on the night of September 24th at the end of the of WFS19’s first day.