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Soccer Is Catching On In America, While Baseball Attendance Declines

yankee stadium soccer
Image by Jay Sanin

For years, people have been claiming that soccer is catching on in America, eliciting skeptical reactions from those who do not consider themselves fans of the sport. However, with television ratings climbing and attendance healthy, those people many considered to be crazy may be right.

This weekend in New York was a prime example of a potential shift in interest for some Americans. On Saturday, an exhibition match between English Premier League teams Chelsea FC and Manchester City drew 39,462 people. Over at Citi Field, the first game of the Subway Series between the New York Mets and Yankees drew 32,911. Over 6,500 more people paid to see two English soccer teams than America’s pastime featuring two teams from New York.

Even in the lowly MLS, often a punchline in soccer discussions, Americans are turning out in droves for many franchises. The Seattle Sounders are drawing over 39,000 fans per game, which is higher than all but four Major League Baseball teams. While other MLS franchises do not draw as high a number, they also play in soccer specific venues that hold a maximum of roughly 20,000 people. Teams like the Cleveland Indians, however, do not have that same excuse, playing in a large stadium that has been empty despite their first place performance this season.

Is there an explanation for this? Of course there is. One can easily point to the decline in offense in Major League Baseball since the steroid boom slowed down, which would be 100% valid. I don’t think that I am in the minority when I say that I don’t want to pay the same amount of money to watch teams score less.

The framework of the sports themselves may be another reason for the upswing in soccer appreciation and the decline in baseball attendance. Would you rather watch a sport that takes two hours, where the players don’t stop (save for a fifteen minute halftime) at all, or a three hour game where there are regular breaks in that action, disrupting your engagement in the game being played? This hasn’t been determined to be the reason for these trends, but is certainly why I prefer soccer over baseball.

Finally, the media is giving soccer a push, putting it into living rooms with far more regularity. Games from the English Premier League, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, UEFA Champions League, and MLS are regularly televised on American TV, and have done well from a ratings perspective despite their awkward air times.

The link posted above was ratings information from a tape delayed English Premier League broadcast from this season, which was aired against multiple NFL games and a NASCAR race. It did a 1.5, despite not being aired live. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball games on FOX have shown abysmal ratings so far this year, with half of their weekly showcase games failing to meet that mark.

Throw in the fact that online streaming services such as ESPN3 and numerous illegal online streaming sites offer up coverage on everything else that isn’t televised, and soccer is reaching American eyes like never before.

Now, is soccer going to be America’s new pastime anytime soon? Of course not. But there is a trend developing, showing that soccer is catching on in this country, and that alone is a victory to start out with, given where the sport was a few years ago.

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