How is soccer trending in the United States? Anecdotally, it seems like the World Cup is generating a lot more interest here this year than it did when it was hosted here twenty years back.

I'm not seeking opinions ("I think it's a lot more popular, and so does my pet lizard!") as I already have my own one of those to not trust. My question is this:

Are there any metrics that can indicate whether US interest in soccer is rising faster than just the rate of US population growth?

I'm open to any source of data that might reasonably be measured against a baseline:

  • Growth rate of participation in soccer leagues over time vs. other sports
  • Soccer equipment gross sales vs. that of other sports
  • Etc.

TV ratings struck me as one good proxy, but just going off TV ratings may be tricky, due to confounding factors - Sunday's US vs. Portugal match was watched by 25 million people in the US, beating out the previous record for a soccer game (1999 Women's World Cup final) by about 7 million viewers. It also beat out viewership of the latest World Series and the NBA Finals, by about 10 million viewers each. And US TV ratings for the 2014 World Cup are ~50% greater than they were for the 2010 World Cup. But... that World Cup was in South Africa, which was 6 hours later than New York, and 9 hours later than LA. Plus, the US wasn't in the hyper-competitive "Group of Death", with no Ronaldo star power to keep casual fans glued to their TVs.

TV ratings may help to determine a general trend for football's (soccer's) popularity in the United States, but can anyone find or point me toward other stats that may paint a more complete picture?

  • 2
    Any/all of the above would be helpful @waxeagle. Anything to help gauge momentum for soccer perhaps vs. momentum for the other "big 4" in the US. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 19:23
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    not only is this question too broad, it's also opinion-based... whether or not something is more popular now is going to be dependent on the observers point-of-view
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 12:17
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    I edited this to focus in on the key ask and eliminate the phrasing that made it seem to be possibly soliciting opinions (or a too-long list of possible sources). I'd vote to re-open it now, but don't want to steamroll the community given my power-vote, so I'm just submitting it for your consideration.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 17:56
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    In the light of the edits, I lifted my down-vote but I still think it would be pretty hard to give an accurate answer to this question. My point is that it's hard to define a metric by which you can objectively measure "popularity". If the it's the viewership/public exposure you are after then the OP already gave that answer with a good statistic, this WC has gotten more viewership than many other events. If you judge it by relative strength of the U.S. team, then sure they have gotten much better compared to how they were 10-20 years ago. (TBC...)
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:14
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    ... but if you judge it by the relative position of the sport compared to other sports in the U.S., or the cultural impact of the sport on the society I would argue against a significant change. Now, I don't live in the U.S. so perhaps I am not the best person to judge this, but in my eyes many of my American friends are just as ignorant of football as they have ever been... Likewise, a majority of the questions we recently got here on Sports.SE indicate a fundamental lack of knowledge of football. So to answer, it's hard to say for sure :)
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:22

1 Answer 1


According to Google Trends there has not been a significant increase in popularity over time, although the world cup certainly generates unusually high interest (search term "soccer"; graphs limited to US region):

US Soccer trend

Here is the same trend compared with basketball (search term "soccer" in blue, "basketball" in red):

US Soccer vs. Basketball trend

Basketball has increased in popularity over the years, while soccer has remained mostly stagnant.

Searches for "MLS" (Major League Soccer) actually show decreasing interest in professional soccer:

US MLS Interest Decreasing

For comparison, "NFL" (blue) and "NBA" (red) have had a strong increase in recent years:

US Searches NFL and NBA

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    But do these search results really reflect popularity? What if someone has bookmarked the mls site? Maybe they stopped searching the internet, and started playing or drinking in a sports bar? The search term is hard to define, and "world cup" shows a trend going up for the US. I don't think we can conclude much from These two trends
    – Fillet
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 6:45
  • @Fillet I agree with your perspective, but this is one objective measure, albeit crude. Thus, several objective measures could be, to name a few: search results, viewership (TV ratings), sales, and involvement in extra-curricular activity...but aren't they also crude measures?
    – user527
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 13:44
  • @Fillet statistics are rarely perfect, however, I would imagine the proportion of people not searching "MLS" for those reasons would be roughly the same as the proportion of people not searching "NBA" for similar reasons, especially given the large sample size.
    – Muhd
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 18:17
  • I have added a graph of NBA and NFL search terms for comparison. Both show a sharp increase in recent years.
    – Muhd
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 18:26

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