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Part
01

US Soccer overview

The US Women’s National Team has generated more revenue than the men’s team, but the players received lower salaries than the men. Among millennials and Gen Z, the Major League Soccer is more popular than Major League Baseball. The ‘pay-to-play’ youth development system has resulted in many families spending over $10,000 a year to pay for apparel, equipment, team fees, coaches, trainers, and tournaments. Below, I will provide an overview of soccer in the US, including gender disparity in revenue and salary, how its popularity is driven by millennials and Gen Z, and limitations in its youth development.

GENDER DISPARITY IN REVENUE AND SALARY

According to the US Soccer Federation, for the 2016 fiscal year, national team revenue was $44,617,542 while non-national team revenue was $69,860,193. The revenue was generated from channels such as broadcast and sponsorship, events, coaching and other educational programs, fund-raising, international games played in the United States, and regional and international competitions.
The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) had generated $2 million more in revenue than the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) in 2016. The women’s team generated $23 million, while the men’s team generated $21 million. The women’s team was also projected to make $8 million more in revenue than the men’s team in 2017 ($17 million to $9 million).
However, it was reported that the women’s team would receive only 37 percent of the salaries that the men’s team would receive if both teams win all of their 20 annual scheduled friendlies. In a 96-page lawsuit filed by the USWNT against the US Soccer Federation, it noted that the women’s team would still earn less than the men’s team even if they won every match while the men lose all 20 matches. Additionally, only the men’s team would receive a bonus if they play more than the 20 scheduled games.

POPULARITY DRIVEN BY MILLENNIALS AND GEN Z

Soccer is very popular among the millennials and Gen Z in the US. In 2016, there are around 3 million kids playing in US Youth Soccer leagues. According to a 2015 ESPN Sports poll, the Major League Soccer is more popular than Major League Baseball among millennials and Gen Z and is only behind the National Football League in terms of popularity. The average age of an MLS television viewer is 40 years old, ten years younger than the average NFL viewer. David Beckham had recently launched an MLS team in Miami, and this would likely lead to a growth in the popularity of the game in Miami and the rest of the country.
There are some surprises regarding the popularity of soccer in certain cities/states. Grand Rapids FC, which is playing in the fifth division, drew an average of 5,000 fans and had attracted the nation’s most recognizable player, Landon Donovan to hold a soccer camp there. There are 92,022 kids playing soccer in Michigan even though it is the largest state without an MLS franchise. The biggest surprise of all is that newly formed Atlanta United drew an average of 46,318 fans per game in 2017, the highest average home attendance in MLS history and also higher than the average attendance of any teams in the NBA, NHL, or MLB. The composition of the crowd at Atlanta United’s home games are as diverse as the city, and many fans came from countries where soccer is their first sport. Besides “diverse,” its emerging fan base was also described as “young” and “progressive.”
North America is considered one of the fastest-growing markets for the FIFA soccer video game series. It is believed to have played “a vital role in America’s youth culture, especially in colleges and universities, where students congregate around the games console.” FIFA has been seen as the “perfect dorm game” that helped raise the popularity of soccer in the US.

LIMITATIONS IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

Some analysts claimed that the men’s team’s failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup due to the ‘pay-to-play’ youth development system and the lack of ‘street soccer culture.’ It was believed that the US youth soccer system excludes low-income and non-suburban families from participating at the same rate as their higher-income counterparts. American kids are known to play soccer in high-tech boots. To aid their development, many families spend over $10,000 a year to pay for apparel, equipment, team fees, coaches, trainers, and tournaments. Forty percent of youth players (ages 13 to 18) leave the sports, most of them due to financial reasons. Unlike soccer, there are low-cost options for playing basketball, and thus low-income kids are 50 percent more likely to play basketball than soccer.
It is widely believed that the world's best players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have honed their skills while playing street soccer during their youth. Iceland, which had qualified for both the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup, has attributed its recent success to placing small-sided soccer fields in every schoolyard. As mentioned above, the youth system in the US involved players playing in 11-a-side games on the field instead of five-a-side games on street soccer courts where a tighter confine allowed them to hone their technical skills better. The US Soccer Federation has recently made street soccer a key part of its under-13 and -14 age groups development. However, the US is still a long way from its South American and southern European counterparts where street soccer has already played a big part in the development of their players for several decades.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, there is a disparity between the women’s and men’s team in terms of revenue generated and salaries received by the players. Soccer is very popular among the millennials and Gen Z, and the FIFA video game series has been seen as the “perfect dorm game” that helped raise the popularity of soccer in the US. The ‘pay-to-play’ youth development system and the lack of ‘street soccer culture’ were blamed for the men’s team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Part
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Part
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Professional Soccer - US

Professional soccer players in the US generally come from less diverse backgrounds that players of other global regions. In the US there is a known issue of young players being prevented from progressing in the sport due to ethnicity, economic status and other factors. Whereas in the rest of the world, Europe in particular, players are from diverse backgrounds are supported. US professional soccer players are also far less famous and recognized than international players.

FINDINGS

CULTURAL INFLUENCE

The US has been trying to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of soccer (football) for decades. While they have the largest number of youth players in the world, they are still failing to place them in international clubs. This article suggests that "America’s competitive limit has to do with the lack of experience and expertise that their system is producing." Suggesting that their professional players are less skilled in comparison to those from other global regions. "In America, the most skilled go on to play for universities because personal development outweighs sole athletic training." However, in Europe, the mentality is to "produce as many first team players as possible." Overall, this evidence points to the culture in the US cultivating a less competitive set of professional soccer players.

In addition to this, US Soccer players are seen as playing in a less competitive atmosphere. In Europe, for example, every soccer league is made up of several tables and has relegation. In the US this is not the case. Also in the US there are playoffs, which again reduces the competitive spirit, as it puts less emphasis on the importance on where a team finishes in the league at the end of the season.

It is estimated that around a third of young Americans are playing soccer, but the country is failing to develop soccer stars for the world. For the last couple of decades the US has been implementing reforms that mimic those that have taken place in Europe. However, their professional soccer players are still not reaching the stardom that international players are reaching. Critics believe that this is because to "make it pro" in US soccer kids often have to have well-off parents. The pay-to-play model means that parents are having to pay somewhere in the region of $1,000 to $1,500 per year for their kids to play soccer. This limits the diversity of the children who grow up playing the sport and therefore limits the talent pool that is reaching the professional level. From this, we can gather that US professional soccer players are in general less talented than they might be, and this puts them at a disadvantage in comparison to players from other regions.

Professional soccer players in the US are more likely to be white. This article tells us how US soccer is ignoring talent from Hispanic or African-American communities. Then reasons for this are merely speculated on, but the result is that those who make it to the professional level of soccer playing in the US have been selected from a narrower talent pool. This perhaps results in US professional soccer players being of a lower caliber than those of the rest of the world, where race and background do not play a factor.

Moreover, in the US soccer is seen as a sport "played by middle-class suburban kids". This article explains that the sport has "historically been rooted in suburbs" in the US, and the steep costs of playing prevent a wider demographic from participating. An article in Vice Sports tells us that "the visible foundation of American soccer has been largely consolidated in the 'yuppie confines' of the upper-middle class." This means that in the US only soccer players from a certain kind of background make it to the professional level. Immigrants are another minority that are left excluded from developing their soccer skills in the US.

A lack of diversity is certainly not something which is seen in professional soccer players worldwide. England, for example, are celebrated for the diversity of their national team. The Premiership league in the UK has seen diversity increasing steadily over the past decades, and the league is known for judging players on their talent and nothing else. “In any club or academy these days black players are judged on whether they can play football and nothing else. That’s a real sign of how things have changed.” This means that football players in the British league are likely to be more diverse than those from the American league.

In fact, diversity, inclusion and accessibility are the hallmarks of European football. UEFA have been leading the way in pushing these values in football across Europe, particularly with their campaigns ‘No to Racism’, and more recently, #EqualGame. UEFA focus on including all players in the game, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. This means that talented players are put on a more equal playing field than their American counterparts, allowing their talent alone get them through to the professional level.

Overall, it can be concluded that US professional soccer players are likely to come from a less diverse background than players from other global regions. They are also seen as less competitive, and potentially do not have the same talent levels as players from Europe, for example.

LEVEL OF FAME
Overall, professional US soccer players have not reached the level of fame as players from around the world. Take, for example, this list of the greatest footballers (soccer players) on the planet right now (published in 2017). Not one player on the list is from the US. This list ranks the best soccer players of all time, and again, not one is American.

US soccer fans admit that it is European football that they are interested in. Fans believe that the way professional US soccer players play the game is uninteresting in comparison to their European counterparts. "I don't support a local team because the way they play, it doesn't excite me, it doesn't get me out of my seat." Perhaps professional US soccer players are not reaching the stardom of other global players because their league is seen as less interesting, even by US soccer fans.

CONCLUSION

To sum up, I have found that due to cultural differences in the way young soccer players learn to play the game, American professional players are generally from a less diverse background and come from a narrower talent pool than players from other countries. In addition, they are far less famous and recognized than international players.
Part
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Part
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Soccer - US Media and Commercialization

In the United States, soccer is not heavily broadcasted on television channels or other media platforms for three major reasons. One, soccer is not a historically American sport. Two, soccer is a low-scoring sport trying to make it in a society where fans depend on scoring for entertainment. Three, there are a lack of "stars" for viewers to grasp onto, which is presently vital to the success of sports in the media in the U.S. In spite of the low popularity of soccer in the U.S., there is a growing interest in the sport as coverage channels like ESPN, NBC, and even Facebook are throwing money into streaming Major League Soccer games and European soccer games. Below you will find a breakdown of the differences between media consumption and commercialization of soccer in the U.S. and the rest of the world, in addition to how soccer is currently changing to become more popular in the United States.

Global Broadcasting Behaviors

On a global scale, soccer is considered to be the most prized and popular sport around. With a deep heritage in multiple cultural backgrounds, the game is known to get viewers emotionally invested. The game provides fans with two 45 minute halves of uninterrupted game play, something that American football will never be able to offer. There are no natural breaks in a soccer game, making it widely accepted that commercials are not shown during the actual match. This is what gets viewers so invested. By avoiding the overcrowded use of commercial breaks and giving users nonstop coverage of the game, the U.S. often envies the way that soccer is covered around the world. Games are usually presented through multiple broadcasting channels, which receive heavy traffic from viewers across all backgrounds.

American Lack of Interest in Soccer

The largest factor contributing to the lack of media coverage of soccer in the United States is the lack of interest in the sport in comparison with other sports like football, basketball, and baseball. Football is considered to be a "traditionally American" sport, and football fans and other sports fans often enjoy the big "stars" that come out of them. Soccer does not have many individuals that are heavily covered in the media, which, for Americans that are used to having a star player, can be difficult in providing them with something to latch onto. In addition, soccer is not a high-scoring sport, and for Americans, the rate of success for a game is often times based on goals, scores, and other similar processes. However, in soccer, the role is reversed, where the highlights of the game do not always coincide with scoring a goal — this is what is considered to be the beauty of the game, but to the American audience, it is a foreign concept.

When it comes to the individuals in the United States that are truly interested in following soccer, whether American or Foreign, there are other factors to take into consideration. For example, due to the lack of interest for most of the American population, soccer is not regularly covered in most media outlets. Thus, followers of the sport have grown accustomed to finding information regarding the sport elsewhere. In addition, newspapers and online journals that may generally have specific reporters and writers for other American sports like football and baseball, do not have any such individual for soccer, so there is little to no coverage of the sport on that platform at all. The rise of social media has also played a role in deterring individuals from viewing broadcasts of soccer games in the U.S., as they can more easily view real-time highlights or play-by-plays straight from their phones at their own convenience, as opposed to tuning into the television at a specific time of day.

Growing Interest & Broadcast Patterns in the U.S.

In spite of the perils that have, for so long, kept soccer as a minor sport in America, it is beginning to grow in popularity. Unlike other major sports in the United States, soccer provides the largest opportunity for sponsorship rights. In 2015, the sport brought in $20 billion in sponsorships, even more than American football with only $13 billion. In 2016, sponsorships for U.S. soccer, Major League Soccer (MLS), and North American Soccer leagues grew by 9.2% to a total of $333 million. This was associated with a 95% jump in MLS social media followers and a 21% increase in MLS-related products in the same year.

As for broadcasting and streaming of soccer in the United States, the number of viewers of tournaments and major games have only increased in the past few years. In 2015, the ratings for viewers of the Women's World Cup increased by 45% from the previous series in 2011. The viewership for this game beat out the NBA Finals with 19.94 million viewers, and the Stanley Cup Finals with 5.5 million viewers.

In 2014, the MLS Title game had their largest viewership in 17 years, with over 1.6 million viewers. In 2016, regular season MLS games had an average of 277,000 viewers on platforms like ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision. As a comparison, NFL games had an average of 16.46 million viewers per regular season game, the NBA a 1.26 million viewers average, and the MLB had an average of 505,000 viewers per game. While the viewers for soccer seem low compared to the top sports in America, MLS broke their attendance record for games, with a total of 7.4 million people for the whole season and an average of 21,692 per game, equating to a 40% increase from 10 years earlier.

Sports networks have also begun to invest more in broadcasting soccer in the U.S. For example, in 2015, the number of television networks that broadcasted soccer games in the U.S. grew from 5 in 2010 to more than 13 networks. This large increase in networks led to a 34% growth in social media conversations about the sport between then and 2014. Furthermore, in 2017 the following networks had relative increases in their viewer base of soccer games that were being broadcasted from the previous year within the first five weeks of the season:

— Fox Sports 1: 44% increase
— ESPN: 42% increase
— ESPN2: 45% increase
Univision: 11% increase
— Fox Deported: 29% increase
— TSN: 21% increase

Considering that no ads are generally shown during the duration of each half of a soccer game, the sport still managed to produce ads that were worth more than those during other large sporting events in 2015. For example, a 30-second ad during the women's soccer final was worth more than $210,000 — more than ads during the Stanley Cup Final. The broadcasted game of the World Cup Final in 2014 also managed to leverage the same length ad for $465,140, which was more than that of ads during the NBA Finals. There have been debates about NBC potentially throwing in ads during game play, but questions have been raised as to whether this would decrease viewer rates.

Companies such as Audi, Heineken, Coca-Cola Co., and more are beginning to invest in MLS as of 2015, with hopes of jumping onto something that is only going to get larger over time. Facebook has even struck a deal with MLS, ensuring that at least 22 games will be streamed live on the platform every season.

Conclusion

Although the broadcasting availability and popularity of soccer in the rest of the world is much more centralized and widely known, the sport is growing to become more widely viewed in the United States. The trouble of soccer being a slower and more low-scoring sport did hold the country back from broadcasting too widely. However, more and more viewers are both attending games and watching live streams every year through a growing number of platforms. There are questions regarding whether the U.S. will stick with the global scheme of no ads during game play, which could have major effects on the outcome of total game viewers in the long run.
Sources
Sources