Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. There is no doubt about it. However, it continues to struggle for the limelight with more popular sports in the United States of America. As per statistics, Soccer in the US is the fourth most popular sport.
The country hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, which was expected to be the launching pad for the game in the country. However, even though the game’s popularity has increased in the country since then, it still pales compared to other major sports such as Basketball and American Football.
This feature will look at significant statistics about soccer participation statistics and soccer popularity in America. We will also compare soccer to other major sports in the country.
Soccer Participation in the US – Indoor and Outdoor
As evident from the graph above, Soccer in the US has witnessed a decline in recent years after hitting its peak in 2009-10. The ’90s and the ’00s were the golden decades as it reached new heights of soccer popularity in the US.
This rise in the popularity of soccer in the US can be attributed to the MLS’s success and the success of both national teams – men and women.
However, the same hasn’t been replicated into on-pitch participation among US soccer fans, especially in the last decade.
A NY Times report in 2018 mentioned that between 2015 and 2018, the participation rate among 6-12 year olds dropped by 14%. The report explores that the birth of the ‘pay-to-play’ culture has made the game inaccessible to a large part of the population, especially underprivileged communities. Furthermore, there is also a lack of structure at the youth level.
“My family would not have been able to afford to put me in soccer if I was a young kid today,” Hope Solo, the former US goalkeeper, admits. “That obviously alienates so many communities, including Hispanic communities, the black communities, the rural communities, and underrepresented communities. Soccer, right now, has become a rich, white kid sport.”
Another plausible reason for the decline in soccer popularity is the general decline of interest in outdoor sports among the youth. A study from the Aspen Institute claims that the interest in outdoor sports is at an all-time low in the United States.
It is very evident in the above graph that even basketball has witnessed a steep decline in numbers during the period. On the other hand, baseball has broken the trend as it has seen a steady increase since 2015. However, this increase has come after a long period of gradual decline.
Indoor Soccer vs Outdoor Soccer
In the Indoor vs. Outdoor comparison, we see that outdoor participation has decreased gradually since 2008-09.
In 2008, outdoor participation topped at 13,960,000. And in 2018, it has dropped to 11,405,000. This means that the participants had reduced by more than 18% in the period.
In terms of the share of the entire population, the figure has dropped from 5% to 3.8%.
Youth Soccer Statistics
From the State of Play 2020 report from the Aspen Institute, we see that the share of kids aged 6-12 who regularly play soccer has gone down in the last decade.
In 2008, 10.4% of kids aged 6-12 regularly played soccer. However, this figure went down to 7.4% in 2018. In 2019, it slightly increased to 7.7%.
Regardless, it’s a decrease of 26% from 2008 to 2019. In terms of actual numbers, 2,216,000 kids aged 6-12 regularly played soccer in 2019.
When we look at the age group 13-17, the decline is still present. However, it’s not as drastic as it is in the case of kids aged 6-12.
In 2018, 7.9% of kids aged 12-16 regularly played soccer. This figure went down to 6.8% in 2018 and then increased to 7.1% in 2019. So it’s only a drop of 10%, which is relatively less than the drop we see for ages 6-12.
Hence, the decline in youth soccer participation statistics has been felt more in the age group 6-12 than in the group 13-17.
High School Participation
According to data from the NFHS High School Athletics Survey, soccer participation has steadily increased among high school students.
In 2009-10, 3,91,839 boys and 3,56,116 girls participated in soccer at the high school level. Overall, 7,47,955 high school kids played soccer.
Check out our wide range of articles on women’s soccer.
In 2018-19, 4,59,077 boys and 3,94,105 girls played soccer in high school. The boys’ participation increased by 17.2%, and the girls’ participation increased by 10.7%
Overall, the number has increased to 8,53,182 – an increase of 14%.
Cost of Playing Soccer in the US
According to another study from Aspen Institute, on average, a family spends $537 per kid in soccer. This comprises various costs such as registration, equipment, travel, lessons, and camps.
When we compare it to other major popular sports in the US, soccer lies somewhere in the middle. It is more expensive than Basketball, Tackle Football, and Track & Field events. However, it is slightly cheaper than baseball and significantly cheaper than sports like Ice Hockey.
Soccer Fans in the US
According to a survey from Morning Consult, the soccer popularity statistics in the United States is inversely proportional to the age group. Therefore, it is the game of the young in the country.
It is most popular in the 18-29 age group and the least popular in 65+. Furthermore, we see a gradual decline as we move up in age groups. This is a clear indicator that soccer has increased in popularity gradually in the United States in the last few decades.
This clearly shows that soccer is most popular in the Hispanic community in the United States. According to this survey, 46% of the Hispanic community is interested in the game, with 13% being avid fans. This is not surprising looking at the popularity of the game in Latin America. Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Latin America.
31% of the Black community said they are fans of the game, with 10% classifying as “avid fans.” This means only one out of ten black people in the US avidly watch soccer.
The game is least popular in the white community. Overall, only 26% of the respondents, identifying as white, admitted an interest in soccer. Furthermore, only 7% identified as avid soccer fans.
Read more on USA soccer players.
After a period of gradual success, it seems like soccer is going through a moment of crisis in the United States.
The interest levels among kids have gradually decreased during the last decade. Furthermore, playing soccer has become expensive in the country. When compared to other sports, the cost of playing soccer is still not astronomical. However, the game is more prevalent in the nation among underprivileged communities such as Hispanics and Blacks.
This has had an adverse impact on the game’s development because it has become inaccessible to a significant number of kids in these communities.
In the year before the Covid, we witnessed an uptick in the interest in the game in the community. This report also claims that soccer participation is once again on the rise in the United States.