New York – With about 20 million youths involved in some form of soccer, strong ratings and revenue tied to the last airing of the FIFA World Cup and the changing socio-economic status of Hispanics in the country, soccer could rival other tentpole sporting events in the U.S. in the next several years, according to a presentation at the Hispanic TV Summit here.
TV Sports Market editor Frank Dunne believes there are four factors driving soccer’s growing acceptance in the U.S.: the organized development of the sport itself; underlying socio-economic trends in the country; the TV market and the cultural or symbolic value of the sport.
Dunne pointed to the more than 20 million American youth that are participating in some kind of soccer activity today, making the U.S. the biggest country in the world for youth soccer. In addition, America bought about 200,000 tickets to that last FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil – second only to Brazil itself, Dunne said. Add to that a growing Hispanic middle class, themselves among the most rabid traditional soccer fans, and a growing acceptance of the sport by Caucasians, which proves the growing popularity of the sport.
The birth of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1999 and the advent of soccer-specific stadiums being built in the U.S. also led to the growth of the sport’s popularity, he added. Culturally and symbolically, Dunne said, soccer scored a coup when it began insinuating itself in TV shows like the Sopranos, where the lead character’s children played the game.
“Soccer is not coming, it’s here,” Dunne said.
TV also is beginning to take notice. Dunne said that TV rights for the English Premier League in the U.S. has grown from just $4 million in the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 seasons to some $250 million -- $83.3 million annually -- NBC Sports paid for the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. FIFA World Cup U.S. TV right fees were just $33 million for ESPN in 1994 and 1998, but reached $1.025 billion for Telemundo ($600 million) and Fox ($425 million) for the cycle extending from 2015 through 2022, including the men's tournaments in 2018 and 2022.
Other properties are gaining traction on TV as well, Dunne added. For example the UEFA Champions League U.S. TV rights rose from $4 million in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 season to $19 million by the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons.
“Will the MLS be as big as the NFL?” Dunne asked. “Not in my lifetime. But could the World Cup be bigger than the Super Bowl? I think yes it could.”