Gaining Ground: Major League Soccer Popularity in the U.S.
Major League Soccer (MLS) has come a long way over the past decade. While “football” continues to dominate as the most popular sport globally, soccer has been fighting an uphill battle to match the interest of American football in the U.S.
However, a combination of factors has significantly helped boost the popularity of soccer in the U.S. Soccer participation rates are on the rise. In addition, Hispanics, who accounted for 68% of soccer viewership in 2017, are a growing segment of the population. At the same time, the rise of additional franchises, influx of international stars and widespread game telecasts have increased access and attention to the games.
According to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink, MLS has experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012.
According to Nielsen Scarborough research, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Philadelphia and Seattle/Tacoma are the top local markets interested in MLS as a percent of the total designated market area (DMA) population. Outside of these top local markets, Miami is the highest ranking market, by percent of those interested in MLS, without a franchise at this time. However, the city is slated to get a MLS franchise in 2020 when David Beckham brings an MLS team to the metropolitan area. And support for that future team bodes well, as more than 500,000 adults in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market are interested or somewhat interested in MLS.
Supporting this rise in interest, the average national television audience for an MLS game broadcasts is up 13% year over year, and the sport is getting attention online as well. On average, so far this season, MLS teams have received a 46% uplift (on top of their TV value delivered to sponsors) via social media, according to Nielsen Sports Social24.
In a recent study of the social media value for an average MLS team, 51% came from owned and operated team channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube), while the remaining 49% came from earned exposure value, driven by MLS league office posts and additional soccer-related media handles, like 433, ESPNFC and Sports Illustrated.
MLS comprises 23 teams this year, with 20 in the U.S. and three in Canada. The MLS regular season goes from March to October this year, with the MLS All-Star game taking place Aug. 1, 2018, in Atlanta.