If there is any season for soccer to shine in the United States, it’s summer. This summer in particular may just be the perfect storm for soccer to enter the periphery of non-soccer fans in America. There are several factors that are helping the sport grow this summer and it certainly did not happen overnight. Stadiums are filling up this summer season thanks to the planning and efforts of US Soccer and other soccer organizations.
Fresh off of winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team drew an incredible amount of interest from all sports fans. The overwhelming support of the team shows in the television ratings and in the stands. The final between the U.S. and Japan shattered the previous record for the most watched televised soccer match in the U.S. – regardless of who was playing. According to Sport’s Illustrated, 25.4 million people tuned in to watch the U.S. beat Japan 5-2.
This historic third World Cup win for the U.S. women could not have come at a better time. The National Women’s Soccer League is the most recent iteration of a U.S. professional women’s soccer league, which have had a rough history of mismanagement and low profits which led to several collapses. The NWSL is looking to reverse this trend through investments by the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and Major League Soccer (MLS).
The World Cup win and groundswell support from the media has increased the attention to soccer in the United States, especially for the women’s game. Portland Timbers (MLS) and Portland Thorns (NWSL) owner Merritt Paulson tweeted Sunday night that around 15,000 fans will fill BBVA Compass stadium when the Houston Dash take on the Chicago Red Stars.
Another piece to the soccer frenzy this summer comes in the form of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which MLS will benefit from, just as it has for its investment in NWSL. For example, Chicago Fire’s Toyota Stadium saw 22,357 fans attend the opening matches of the tournament between Panama and Haiti followed by the United States and Honduras, markedly higher than it’s 2015 season average attendance, which has hovered around 16,000. The LA Galaxy, New England Revolution, Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, and Sporting Kansas City are also benefitting from the Gold Cup as they get the chance to gain revenue from hosting matches in their stadiums.
Through the first eight matches of the Gold Cup, the average attendance is 36,463, the most attended games involving either the United States or Mexico. Even still, drawing a wide variety of fans to watch soccer benefits the clubs that host through matchday revenue while also raising the profile of the game. The Gold Cup is not necessarily a household name, even among soccer fans in the United States, however, the tournament is a great way to fill stadiums during the week when the stadiums typically go unused.
It is no mystery that the United States is a desirable market for European clubs. More and more high profile European clubs are finding ways to play preseason matches in front of U.S. crowds. The International Champions Cup for example, is just one way that fans can enjoy soccer in the United States, a tournament that saw LA Galaxy’s latest signing, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, debut on Saturday July 11th in front of a crowd of 27,934 at the StubHub Center vs. Club America. The Galaxy will face Barcelona on Tuesday, July 21st at the Rose Bowl which will also likely draw large crowds.
These events will become staples every summer (or every other summer for the Gold Cup) in the United States moving forward as big foreign clubs continue to try and build a presence in the U.S.’s rapidly growing soccer market. Surely the stakeholders of soccer in the U.S. will continue to find other ways to make the game more attractive in a nation where soccer is not (yet) the “preferred” sport. This summer will be one of the best, if not the best, opportunities to watch live soccer in the U.S. in recent history, and soon soccer will be hard for anyone to ignore.