The Sports Archives – ‘True’ Football’s Place in the United States

No one can deny that baseball and American football are the two most popular sports in the United States; they have both been a huge part of the nation’s sociocultural development for over a century, and their respective followings are only climbing over time. Yet, despite how popular each sport may become within the borders of the United States, neither of America’s most followed sporting phenomena are anywhere close to the Top 5 Sports Worldwide. Incontestably, the most popular sport on the planet is football, and, while this may come as a surprise to many Americans, the numbers don’t lie; football’s global following numbers in up to 3.5 billion people – almost 50% of the population! Even as the world progresses on the road to globalization, football (known as soccer in the U.S.) is one subject that has been continually alienated in the United States. Will America ever come to a point where they embrace football for what it is in the rest of the world?

football-vs-soccer-ball

The ball in the top left is acknowledged internationally a traditional “football.” In America, it is called a soccer ball. The ball in the bottom right is an American football. Could one reason that America is not embracing soccer as internationally as the rest of the world be simply because of a name disagreement?

It would by untruthful to say that nothing has changed for soccer over the 100+ years that the dominance of baseball and football has increased its hold on the American public. Perhaps the most prominent influence on soccer interest in the U.S. has been the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or “FIFA.” Established in 1904, FIFA is an international association dedicated to the large-scale promotion and organization of football. Perhaps their most crowning achievement is the FIFA World Cup, first implemented in 1930, that features a worldwide football competition between competing nations’ football teams. As of 2015, the FIFA World Cup permits 32 national teams to compete, but only 1 can rise to be the victor of the tournament. Through the World Cup itself and videogame channels, FIFA and its organized sporting events have done especially well in increasing the public interest of football in the United States, both directly and indirectly.

What, then, is holding the United States back from accepting soccer the same as most other nations of the world? There is no single answer to this question, but the primary reason that soccer is just not getting anywhere in the U.S. is because of the weight of the sport on American society.  While today soccer is still a perfectly prominent sport following in the U.S., America’s relationship with sporting activities has always been very nationally-focused, contrary to the international focus of most other countries around the world. The National Football League and Major League Baseball are the forerunning organizations involved in bringing sports coverage to the American public, and it is the nature of the United States populace to have more interest and give greater publicity to its national sporting powerhouses. The unfortunate side-effect of this “sports-nationalism” is that the United States Soccer Federation, comparable in role to the MLB and NFL for soccer, is often left in the dust by the media. Much to the dismay of U.S. soccer enthusiasts, American ‘football’ and baseball will remain the top dogs in the United States for the foreseeable future. The sociocultural influence and roots in American history owned by these two national pastimes are too significant to be overcome for now, even by an international phenomenon like football.

USSF_logo

The U.S.S.F. is committed to helping the American public embrace soccer as both an national and international sport.

America’s universal focus on national sports is the most consequential basis for the slow, petering climb of soccer’s popularity, though the cause of most secondary reasons can be traced back to this central point. America’s international soccer team, responsible for representing the United States in the FIFA World Cup every 4 years, is one of notably few areas where the U.S. does not stand out in performance. According to the FIFA/Coca-Cola rankings leaderboard, the United States is not even in the top 10 team positions, coming in more at the center of the pack at 27th place. This does not compare well with the U.S.’s 2nd place rankings for both the World Baseball Classic (baseball’s “world cup”) and the International Federation of American Football’s quadrennial world championships, respectively.

soccer stats

The top graph tracks the popularity of America’s top-tier sporting leagues in 2012 via % of the U.S. population. Major League Soccer is, sadly, still trailing behind the National Hockey League in terms of popularity. However, while this may seem bleak, the bottom graph demonstrates the casual growth rate of MLS followers (also by population percentage). The trend demonstrated is an increase of about 10% over the first 10 years of the 21st Century. Soccer is slowly getting more popular!

Ultimately, the United States is making national progress in embracing football, albeit slowly. Globalization has already taken hold of nearly every industry in existence, manifesting in the international production and distribution of goods, the enormous progression of worldwide communication and technological development over the last few decades, and many similar channels. The gaps between the nations of the world are in a constant state of decay, only becoming smaller over time. This is no different with the sports industry, which means that the rise in the U.S.’s international status in football is inevitable. It is only a question of when this status will fully come to fruition.

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