The youth of this world defines what is and what will be popular. They are the ones that are determining how our world will grow and what society deems important, or at least what will be important. They are the ones that have the time to decide on what they want to do and what they want to become, and their generation will soon become the working force.
America, for example, has never been fond of professional soccer. This could be because of the lack of a youth program capable of developing world class talent in the sport, or the fact that the other three major sports (football, basketball, and baseball) take up too much time for there to be a large interest in the sport. The MLS (Major League Soccer) has taken strides in bringing in bigger names from Europe and trying to make their brand of soccer more appealing to the casual fan. It all started when David Beckham decided to finish his career in Los Angeles after the Galaxy offered the English superstar a reported $250 million over five years in 2007.
Even as the MLS continues to progress, it’s hard to imagine the league obtaining the quality of play of the elite leagues in Europe. Hell, it’s hard to imagine even our international talent becoming a legitimate contender with the premier countries of the world.
But what this 2014 USA squad is doing in Brazil is defining what track our country is on in terms of the popularity of the sport. The USA, Portugal fixture had about 25 million viewers across the United States, which outdid any NBA finals or World Series game. The passion of expressing our patriotism is an easy way of explaining these numbers, but I believe there is more to this sudden interest in soccer.
Our youth has embraced and obsessed over social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many other platforms have allowed people to interact instantaneously with people across the world. So what happens when you introduce social media to the biggest sporting event on the planet? Interaction and communication on a specific topic for which Americans and other countries have a passion. Never before has it been this easy to interact in a discussion that everyone is in some way engaged in.
What makes something grow, especially this quickly, is the population learning about something with relative ease. Many Americans went into this World Cup only knowing that Landon Donovan, the greatest USA soccer player ever, was not on the team. Now that the team is having success in a group where we had no chance of advancing, we are getting to know the names of players like Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and Kyle Beckerman. ESPN is doing a great job in covering this World Cup in a way that even the casual fan that never watches soccer can enjoy.
This isn’t the only reason why soccer is growing in America. Younger generations are setting the standard for what we find entertaining in sports, and this is the main reason why I feel soccer will become one of the top 3 most popular sports in America in the next 10-15 years. These generations aren’t obsessed with high scoring events. They want a game that delivers the most time spent on the edge of their seat watching a fast-paced sport that at any minute could deliver a defining moment.
Football gives you this because of the threat of a scoring play on any snap of the ball. Basketball does this because of the flow of the sport, the athleticism shown on drives to the hoop, and the anxiety felt in the 4th quarter. Hockey, another sport that is growing, is the most comparable to soccer as at any moment a team can be on the brink of conceding a goal then quickly turn it the other way.
Soccer is arguably the most compelling sport in what the younger generations are looking for. Critics will say, “there is not enough scoring, so it is boring”, but that is precisely the reason why soccer is so great. With the flow of the sport being similar to hockey, soccer transitions from offense to defense so quickly that it keeps the fan engaged from start to finish, and when your team scores, it is such a jubilant moment because of the difficulty of actually scoring.
Baseball is Americas past time, and I feel that is the perfect way to describe it. Yes, the sport continues to make money through huge television contracts, but the popularity of the sport is dying in the younger generations. The pace of the game is too slow and the season is far too long to actually stay on top on whats going on in the league.
With that said, the time soccer will reign at the top of American sports is far away. It is so hard to grow the popularity of something in America when it isn’t being done in our backyard with world class. Will we ever see players like Messi or Ronaldo in their prime decide to spend their prime with clubs in the US? Only time will tell. But for that to become an option we, first, as a nation, need to show that we will fully support the league with similar passion of European countries.
How does that happen? Homegrown world class talent that grows through our youth programs and plays professionally in America. That takes a lot of time, but our country is making strides.
I believe we have shown as a nation that we can become fully supportive of the top talent of soccer. As our younger generations become more involved with European leagues, this will encourage some of our top athletes to pursue soccer as their primary sport of interest. One day we will prove our ability to support the sport professionally like we do football and basketball, and if our youth programs can continue to progress and make statements like we are in Brazil right now, then don’t be surprised when we start calling soccer a top market in sports.