According to the latest data, soccer is now the fourth most popular sport in the US, overtaking ice hockey. It still languishes a long way behind the NFL in the hearts of the American public, but its surge in popularity may see it reach the same level of fan engagement as baseball in the coming years.
The World Cup in 2026 will also help the sport to build its popularity in the US. So, the future is looking good for US soccer, but improving fan engagement levels will be key to increasing the revenue of the MLS and helping the business of soccer to thrive and grow.
We spoke to Jason from Justgamblers, who is an expert in US soccer. He told us:
“You can tell a lot about how MLS fan engagement still has a long way to go to reach the heights of the major leagues in the world from the sports betting statistics. The UK is the home of the most valuable soccer league in the world, the English Premier League (EPL). You can see how big the sport is in the country because the total revenue from soccer betting in the UK from April 2021-March 2022 was £1.34 billion ($1.6 billion). There is no direct comparison figure for the US, but the total revenue for sportsbooks for 2021 was $4.29 billion. That figure is for a country with a population almost five times that of the UK. So, you start to understand how big soccer is in the UK. That being said, it’s certainly growing in the US, and fan engagement is playing a big part in that growth.”
To see how the MLS is growing and why engaging with fans is key, it’s useful to start by comparing it with top world soccer leagues, especially the EPL.
The current revenue of MLS compared to the top leagues globally
The richest soccer league in the world is the EPL. For the 2021/22 season it had revenue of €6.2 billion. This compares with the second richest soccer league in the world, La Liga, with revenue of around €2 billion over the same period. More than half of the richest clubs in the world are in the EPL including the richest club Manchester City and the third richest club Liverpool.
When you compare these figures with the MLS revenue of $1 billion (€944 million) in 2021, you can see there is a substantial gap. Given the huge popularity of the NFL in the US, it’s unlikely that soccer will ever become the most popular sport in the country, and achieve the same revenues as the top leagues, but with effective fan engagement, the MLS has the chance to thrive and grow.
Why is fan engagement important?
If the business of soccer is to keep growing in the US, people in the country need to engage with the sport. The reason this is so important is that fans bring money into the game, through attendance at matches, watching games on cable or streaming channels, and buying merchandise. This money is vital to the growth of soccer as a business.
Already, more teenagers than ever are playing soccer in the US. This increase in people playing helps to enhance the popularity of the sport overall. Those involved in the business of soccer are also taking other steps to promote fan engagement, including:
- Leveraging technology in stadiums to enhance the fan experience such as the development of seat food ordering.
- Communicating with fans across social media.
- Bringing top international players like Xherdan Shaqiri and Giorgio Chiellini into the MLS.
The business of soccer in the US will also be helped by the fact that the World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. Having the best players in the world performing in front of home fans can only be good news for those involved with optimising the potential of soccer as a business in the US.