How Football Becomes A Major U.S. Sport

How Football Becomes A Major U.S. Sport

It seems that people have been debating the merits of football in the United States for decades - and perhaps they have been. Once every few years there seems to be a swell of optimism that football is “catching on” with the American audience, and many have projected, at many different points in time, that it will ultimately join the ranks of the “major sports” in the U.S. More often than not these are overblown projections and people who want football to be a bigger deal in the United States end up being disappointed.

Not Another Prediction

This is not another prediction that football is on its way to joining the ranks of basketball and American football. Perhaps one day, but in the near future this just isn’t feasible. However, football is beginning to show some data-backed growth that is no longer deniable. The U.S. teen population polled as being 37 percent interested in the MLS in 2012, and is up to 47 percent as of 2018, having shown steady upward trajectory in that five-year span. This indicates that this is a trend rather than a blip, and it means that roughly half of the current American youth cares about professional football (or soccer, as they know it) in the U.S. It’s real progress, and it at least makes it more appropriate to discuss how football ultimately could become one of the major sports in Americans’ eyes.


The most important factor that can come into play is further advertisement. It’s not a particularly creative point, and it does require massive investment, but given that the American populace appears more receptive to the sport than ever, now may be the time for this kind of investment. You can imagine, for instance, a young adult American who’s come to appreciate football and enjoys watching it, but still isn’t familiar with the intricacies or timing of the MLS. Advertising can give this person the information he or she needs to effortlessly follow the sport more closely.  Another thing that couldn’t hurt is additional betting interest generated around football - which can be driven to some extent by games and odds listings being made more available. When you consider American football for instance, and the NFL in particular, there are almost too many options. Ordinary markets are available for straight-up betting; tips and guides surround odds listings; fantasy football (American football) has long been extremely popular in the U.S.; and daily fantasy sports also revolve around American football to a great degree, and involve real-money betting. Football exists on the fringes of most of these activities, which means it’s not benefitting as much as it could be from betting interest.

Stadiums may also come into play

Stadiums may also come into play. One thing that’s essentially been proven in the MLS is that stadiums built specifically for professional football inspire more enthusiasm and engagement from fans than, say, all-purpose venues or converted baseball or American football stadiums. Banc Of California Stadium was built specifically for Los Angeles FC and is now known for having one of the best atmospheres in the U.S. Cities in North Carolina led their bids for MLS expansion franchises with stadium concept designs, proposing brand new venues rather than lazy conversions. It certainly seems that the more football-specific stadiums we see in America, the better the fan experience will be, and the more football may thrive.  Finally, and maybe most importantly in the end, the U.S. will need to benefit from professional success on the international level for football to truly take off. We’ve seen before that American fans get extraordinarily passionate about the World Cup, and the sport needs something to make that passion - or part of it, anyway - stick. The fact that the U.S. is hosting the World Cup in 2026 certainly helps manners, as it could drive up lasting excitement just as roughly 50 percent of the young population is starting to care about the sport. The emergence of Christian Pulisic on the international stage could also play a role, as the young star who may be bound for the Premier league is poised to become the most successful American abroad, potentially of all time.  Again, this isn’t another prediction that football will soon be a “major” U.S. sport. But it’s getting bigger, and these are some of the factors that can help the growth continue.