By Michael Battista
In last week’s article, I wrote about how the United States’ interest in soccer has been increasing every year thanks to events like the World Cup and outside influences like the Barclay’s Premier League. Recreation, or youth soccer, has also had a steady growth in popularity over the last few years.
Compared to other youth sports in the states, soccer ranks second in overall players, trailing behind basketball, but ahead of baseball and football, according to Forbes. According to a 2007 FIFA study, the U.S. ranks first in the number of youth soccer players in countries that made the World Cup this year, with 24.5 million players, ranking second behind China.
This doesn’t even include education programs, which have also seen a rise in popularity over the last few years. A New York Times article published after 2010’s World Cup states that the number of high school soccer players has more than doubled since 1990 to 730,106 athletes, which is the fastest growth rate among any major sport, according to statistics gathered by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
Even the number of women’s college teams has jumped 115 percent since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, and the number of men’s teams rose 27.6 percent over the same time, according to the NCAA.
So, what is it that attracts youth to the sport but doesn’t keep their interest to watch it regularly like so many other major ones? Well, one very simple idea may be the cost of entry to play.
Soccer doesn’t require much equipment to play, with the only major things needed being a ball and cleats. A quick look at sporting retails such as Modell’s and Dick’s shows that a basic soccer ball costs around $15, while a basic pair of cleats varies by brand and costs around $35. Now, if it’s a team organization, paying for a uniform would also be in order, but compared to other sports, this isn’t that bad. With sports like football and hockey where all the equipment can add to hundreds of dollars, soccer is a low cost option that has the same team skills parents want their kids to experience.
Kids aren’t just playing soccer on the field anymore either. The annual FIFA video game franchise published by EA Sports is one of the world’s most successful video game series. The game is already the best-selling sports video game in history, according to CNN Money, with well over 100 million copies sold since 1993.
In the U.S., the 2014 edition of the game “FIFA 15” had a total of 66,287 pre-orders before the game was released in September of 2014, according to VGChartz.
With all these kids playing the sport, both on the field and on the television, the question is will this affect the sport’s television ratings in the future? These players spend hours practicing and having fun with friends and teammates, so shouldn’t they watch the sport they spent so much time with?
A report by the Huffington Post claims that the two most passionate fans about soccer are Hispanics and young adults ranging from ages 18 to 19.
Still, the growing shifts are promising signs in a country with an abundance of sports to watch. These large numbers of players may not have an impact now, but it could keep growing over time.
Soccer’s advancement in America is covering almost every medium, from the youth leagues to the video game scene. If this sport wants to advance from hobby or interest into big-league player in the U.S., it all depends on how spread out it is. With this much possible exposure, soccer is definitely going to get larger as time goes on.