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.
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.