Soccer will be the next mainstream professional sport in America in the next 20 years. There. I said it. Only some context is due.
Let’s start with an admission – I’m a footie. I love the beautiful game. It started with the World Cup in 1994 on American soil. Then, it was the women’s team – winning the World Cup and Olympic gold. Then, I had the chance to meet the players, and went to a few Tampa Bay Mutiny games with my Dad.
Admittedly, I’m not coming at this from an unbiased perspective. I didn’t grow up with hockey. I grew up playing soccer, as did you, your friends, neighbors, with the whole soccer Mom, Capri-Sun and orange slices package. But now – for me – this feels different.
As we get set to enjoy the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil, I get the feeling that we as a sports society are ready to accept “the real football” in a way we haven’t before – and this isn’t just lip service.
MLS just inked a new tv deal that will bring the league more than half a BILLION dollars. That’s American soccer. Not Manchester United. The Americans’ games in the last World Cup set ESPN ratings records. And last but not least, the aforementioned domestic league has surpassed the 20 team mark, with new franchises set to debut in coming seasons in Atlanta, New York, and Orlando.
Meanwhile, hockey has stagnated. Key playoff games are getting swallowed by the NFL Draft and NBA Playoffs, respectively. Last week, NHL semifinals averaged a 0.9 – and for the rating challenged, that’s not good.
We Americans don’t seem to like change all that much. But I’m here to tell ya – change is coming in the form of a dramatic increase in popularity in soccer. It’s already passed MLB in terms of identifiable stars among kids 14 and under.
Embrace it. Accept it. After all, aren’t we a nation of immigrants? Isn’t “their” game really “ours?”
Follow Marc on Twitter – @MarcRyanOnAir