The Rise of Football (Soccer) as the New Market Trend in the US: Opportunities and Insights

April 27, 2024
9 min read
Jair Lucena
Written by
Jair Lucena
The Rise of Football (Soccer) as the New Market Trend in the US: Opportunities and Insights

In a cultural landscape where American football, baseball, and basketball have long reigned as the sports kings, a new contender is rising: Soccer. The resurgence of the popularity of soccer in the US represents a significant shift in the nation's sports landscape. Throughout different periods in history, icons like Pelé, David Beckham, and now Lionel Messi have championed the future of the world's most popular game on North American soil.

But how did this transformation occur? What social dynamics paved the way for soccer's ascent in American culture? What were the influences that propelled this professional sport into a hip market? This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the growing popularity of football in the US, delving into its historical evolution, market potential, business opportunities, and trends.

Additionally, we aim to offer valuable insights for business founders and professionals across industries keen on understanding the dynamics of the football industry in the US.

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The Rise of Football (Soccer) as the New Market Trend in the US: Opportunities and Insights

The Rise of Football (Soccer) as the New Market Trend in the US: Opportunities and Insights

April 27, 2024
The Rise of Football (Soccer) as the New Market Trend in the US: Opportunities and Insights

The Origins: Too Much, Too Soon

Football's journey in the US dates back to the late 19th century, primarily within immigrant communities. However, it wasn't until the latter half of the 20th century that the sport began to garner broader recognition and appeal. The establishment of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1968 aimed to lay the groundwork for soccer to become a significant player in the sports industry.

In 1975, the New York Cosmos made a bold move by signing Pelé, one of the greatest of all time (GOATs) of the game, in an attempt to showcase the league's formidable financial capacity. Over the next 18 years (until 1985), the NASL attracted world-class stars to the US, including the legendary German Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup winner Carlos Alberto, English striker George Best, and Portuguese striker Eusébio, among others.

Considerable investment was made during this period, spanning player signings, infrastructure development, and marketing efforts. However, social factors such as the economic recession in the 1980s, the slow shift in American society's perception of soccer, and subsequently dwindling attendance numbers in stadiums during the 80s, contributed to its eventual collapse.

Source: Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

MLS: A New Hope Emerges Just Before the 1994 World Cup

In 1994, the United States hosted the World Cup to reignite enthusiasm around soccer, and Major League Soccer (MLS) was established in 1993. Surprisingly, the reception from American culture towards soccer during the 1994 World Cup was pivotal.

According to Statista, more than 3,568,567 people attended stadiums, with an average attendance of 68,626, marking the highest figures in history.

Since then, MLS, especially its current CEO Don Garber, has embarked on a step-by-step plan to solidify the league, invest in forming clubs (areas where NASL fell short), and attract top players and more followers to the stadiums to finally become one of the best leagues in the world. Finally, these strategies are yielding results.

Exploring US Soccer's Growth Potential: 8 Key Factors

Today, MLS ranks as the sixth-largest active contributor of soccer players to the last World Cup in Qatar, even more so than the Qatari and Saudi leagues. MLS is no longer a destination solely for footballers to retire, as it was perceived during the last century and the beginning of the 21st. How did this transformation occur, and what factors contributed to its meteoric rise in the last few years?

Here are some reasons why:

1. Baseball and NBA Reached Their Growth Peak

The saturation of traditional American professional sports like baseball and basketball has created space for soccer to rise as a new favorite among sports enthusiasts. While baseball and the NBA have long dominated the sports scene, their growth has plateaued in recent years. This leveling off has allowed soccer, with its global appeal and dynamic gameplay, to capture the attention of fans seeking fresh and exciting sporting experiences.

2. The Hispanic Population in the US Has Increased

The growing Hispanic population in the US has been instrumental in driving the widespread appeal of soccer. With deeply ingrained cultural ties to the sport, Hispanic communities view soccer as more than just a pastime—it's a fundamental aspect of their way of life.

According to a 2020 study by Census Data, the United States is home to 62.1 million Hispanics, comprising 18.9 percent of the total population. This demographic constitutes the nation's second-largest racial or ethnic group, following non-Hispanic whites. As the Hispanic population continues to expand, so too does the influence and prevalence of soccer in American society.

Now schools include programs that encourage playing soccer from a young age, making it an integral part of the nation's sports culture.

3. Before PPV, Now Apple TV

The shift from traditional pay-per-view models to digital streaming platforms like Apple TV has democratized access to soccer content. No longer bound by costly subscription fees or limited broadcasting options, fans can now enjoy live matches, highlights, and exclusive content at their convenience. This accessibility has broadened soccer's reach and appeal, attracting a diverse audience of fans from all walks of life.

4. Gen X: A Key Player

Generation X, characterized by its openness to global influences and cultural diversity, has emerged as a key demographic driving the rise of soccer in the US. Unlike previous generations, Gen Xers grew up in an era of globalization, where exposure to international sports and cultures was commonplace. Their affinity for soccer, shaped by childhood memories of World Cup tournaments and FIFA video games, has helped propel the sport into the mainstream.

5. A New World Cup Is Coming Soon

The anticipation surrounding the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup, co-hosted by the US, Canada, and Mexico, has reignited enthusiasm for soccer in the US. As the world's most prestigious sporting event, the World Cup captivates audiences globally and serves as a catalyst for growth and innovation within the soccer industry.

The prospect of hosting the tournament on home soil has sparked renewed interest in the men's national team and investment in soccer infrastructure, development programs, and fan engagement initiatives.

Source: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Deed, via flickr

6. The US Women's Team Rocks

The success and visibility of women's soccer, epitomized by the dominance of the US Women's National Team, have shattered gender barriers and elevated the sport to new heights.

With multiple World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals under their belt, female soccer players have become role models and trailblazers for aspiring athletes of all genders. Their achievements have not only inspired a new generation of female players but have also attracted widespread attention and support for the National Women's Soccer League and women's soccer across the country.

7. FIFA Video Games and Influencers

The popularity of FIFA video games and the rise of social media influencers have helped cultivate a vibrant online community of soccer enthusiasts. Through gaming platforms and digital channels, fans can connect, compete, and engage with their favorite teams and players on a global scale. Influencers, with their ability to reach millions of followers, have become influential ambassadors for the sport, driving conversations, trends, and fandom around soccer-related content.

8. A Hip-Rising Fan Culture in the Local League

The emergence of a hip and vibrant fan culture within the local MLS clubs has breathed new life into American soccer. From chanting supporters to creative tifo displays, MLS matches offer an electric atmosphere that is starting to compete with the fervor of European leagues and stadiums. This grassroots movement has galvanized fan communities, fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie among soccer fans. As MLS continues to grow and evolve, so too does its passionate fan base, shaping the future of soccer in the US.

In terms of market potential, the MLS, in particular, has experienced significant gains in viewership and attendance in recent years, with average attendance figures surpassing historical records.

Top Players: Industry Boosters

From the early days of the NASL to the modern era of MLS, one thing has remained constant: the allure of top talent. For these professional soccer leagues, attracting star players wasn't just about their skills on the field or the trophies they brought—it was about the buzz they created and the followers they brought along. Their arrival to MLS teams signaled to the world that American soccer culture was on the rise, drawing attention and investment from across the board, including capital, finance, and tech industries.

Let's delve deeper into the influential players who have left an indelible mark on the American soccer landscape and helped shape the dreamlike scenario we see today.

Source: Payayita, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Deed, via flickr


The Brazilian legend, widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, made a groundbreaking move to the New York Cosmos from Santos in 1975 in a three-year contract worth $2.8 million, making him the world's highest-paid athlete at that time. Pelé's decision to join the NASL was a bold statement, showcasing his belief in the potential of soccer in the US. His arrival not only elevated the profile of American soccer and put it on the map but also attracted global attention, demonstrating the market's viability on an international stage.

David Beckham

The English midfielder's high-profile transfer to LA Galaxy in 2007 from Real Madrid in a five-year contract deal marked a turning point for MLS. Beckham, at just 31 years old, brought not only his exceptional skills but also his star power and business acumen to the league. His arrival signaled MLS's emergence as a destination for top young talent, transforming the perception of American soccer leagues and paving the way for future growth. Beckham's current role as the owner of Inter Miami CF further cements his legacy as a key figure in MLS's evolution.

Megan Rapinoe

As a vocal advocate for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, Rapinoe has transcended the realm of sports to become a cultural icon. Her leadership on and off the field, coupled with her accolades as the Best FIFA Women's Player in 2019, has propelled women's soccer into the spotlight. Rapinoe's influence extends beyond the pitch, inspiring a new generation of athletes to use their platform for social change and effect meaningful progress in society.

Gareth Bale

After a successful career with English club Tottenham Hotspur and Spanish giants Real Madrid, Bale's move to MLS's Los Angeles CF in 2022 generated significant excitement. His decision to join the league underscored its growing appeal to top European talent, further solidifying MLS's status as a destination for elite players seeking new challenges. Bale's arrival brings immense talent and experience to the league, elevating its competitiveness and attracting global attention.

Thierry Henry

The French World Cup winner and Arsenal icon's tenure with the New York Red Bulls in 2012 marked a significant chapter in MLS history. Henry's impact on and off the field helped raise the league's profile and cement its place in the global football landscape. His leadership, coupled with his remarkable skills, inspired a new generation of players and fans, leaving a lasting legacy in American soccer.

Lionel Messi

An eight-time Ballon d'Or winner, World Cup champion with Argentina in 2022, and widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Messi's recent acquisition by MLS's Inter Miami CF sent shockwaves through the football world. Coordinated by billionaire owners Jorge Mas and David Beckham, with support from multinational corporations like Adidas and Apple, Messi's presence in the league is a testament to MLS's growing stature. His arrival not only elevates MLS's reputation but also serves as a catalyst for business growth across all industries, further solidifying the league's position on the global stage.

Business Opportunities in the Football Industry

The football industry offers a diverse array of revenue streams and opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. Merchandising, broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and ticket sales stand out as primary sources of revenue within the football ecosystem. Moreover, niche markets and untapped opportunities abound within the industry, offering potential for innovation and growth.

Hollywood celebrities have capitalized on this soccer boom by investing substantial amounts to become team owners. Notable figures like Will Ferrell, Mia Hamm, and Magic Johnson are among the part-owners of Los Angeles F.C, while Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Sophia Bush, Abby Wambach, Eva Longoria, and Serena Williams co-own Angel City FC, the first women's professional soccer team in the Los Angeles area since 2010.

This surge in investment extends beyond American soccer borders. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney own Wrexham A.F.C, a third-division team from Wales, while LeBron James invested in Liverpool F.C and Tom Brady in Birmingham from the Premier League and Premiership accordingly.

Investing in Football: Risks and Rewards

While the football industry presents substantial opportunities for growth and profitability, it also entails inherent risks and challenges. Fluctuations in player performance, regulatory changes, and market volatility are among the factors that can impact the success of football-related investments.

According to John Mullins, an associate professor of management practice at London Business School, celebrities and business conglomerates are "not investing to make money on a day-to-day basis. These are not highly profitable businesses. But they think it’s going to be worth tomorrow way more than it’s worth today." By conducting thorough due diligence and staying abreast of industry trends, investors can mitigate risks and maximize returns in the football market in the US and abroad.

The Future of Football in the US: Trends and Predictions

Looking ahead, the future of football in the US is characterized by continued growth, innovation, and technological advancements. Emerging technologies such as augmented reality and blockchain are expected to revolutionize the way football is consumed and experienced, offering new avenues for fan engagement and monetization.

Additionally, the globalization of football and the rise of digital media platforms are anticipated to fuel further expansion and diversification of the US football market.

The rise of football in the US presents a wealth of opportunities and insights for business founders and professionals across industries. By understanding the historical evolution, market potential, and future trends of football in the US, entrepreneurs and investors can position themselves strategically to capitalize on the dynamic and rapidly evolving football industry. As the American Association football scene continues to capture the hearts and minds of fans around the world, businesses, and creative professionals must embrace the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in this exciting and dynamic market landscape.

Jair Lucena

Jair Lucena

Jair is a traveler, writer, and yoga-meditation teacher-practitioner. Who loves to explore different lands, cultures, and ways of being. Connect with him on Linkedin

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