Soccer Will Become America's Favorite Sport

The nice thing about having a website that stretches back fifteen years is you can see how your opinion has evolved. Back in 2007, I wrote a blog post about the sport of soccer. Twelve years ago, I was a little confident that soccer would continue to grow in America. Now I realize I undersold it.

In my lifetime, soccer will become America’s favorite sport.

I have numerous reasons supporting this opinion, but a recent event with my hometown soccer club will best illustrate how it will get there.

Cincinnati had a line of many failed soccer franchises over the years, so I was a little skeptical when FC Cincinnati was announced in summer 2015. But the club was a phenomenon, breaking lower league attendance records and growing a rabid fanbase. As much as this meteoric rise can be attributed to ownership, it’s as much a reflection of the growth of the sport in this country.

The club set its sights on earning a bid to Major League Soccer and developed a stadium plan (privately funded) to cement the deal. So this Sunday, a club that didn’t exist until 3.5 years ago will play its first home MLS match.

But this past week, the club made a peculiar announcement. Since MLS doesn’t have an exclusive broadcast partner, teams are permitted to negotiate individual television rights. In the local market, FC Cincinnati struck a deal with one of the smallest TV station. Since the range of this station is limited, they also signed a deal with a streaming company called FloSports. This digital broadcast company has garnered a negative perception as their partnership with DC United has delivered frustration to fans; not only is the service expensive, it lacks a consistent, quality stream.

When FCC announced the deal, the club faced its biggest backlash in its history. The cost of subscribing to FloSports is more than some of season tickets. It wouldn’t seem like a big deal since most FCC fans can watch for free on basic television; this would most impact fans outside of the metro area. But nearly every FCC supporter group has come out against the partnership. It was such a contentious issue that the team President scheduled a press conference to discuss the deal. Remember that this streaming situation impacted a minority of fans. But fans felt united that no one should be left behind.

And this is why that soccer will continue to transform America’s sports landscape: fans are more than fans.

In many ways, American soccer culture is beginning to mimic the soccer culture that exists in other countries. Unlike basketball, football, and baseball, soccer clubs keep a symbiotic relationship with their supporters; in some ways, soccer fans can be as influential as team owners. Their voice that can force the club to action.

Two more examples of this. First, when FCC changed the design of the logo, a Reddit user randomly claimed that the lion in the logo was named “Gary.” At the logo unveiling, fans were chanting his name so when the club finally revealed a new mascot, the club gave in and adopted the name. Then, there was the situation in Columbus when the owner wanted to move the club to Texas. Local fans united and eventually kept the franchise from leaving town.

It’s this power, this voice, that will attract future generations of fans. As a soccer fan, you’re not just supporting the team—you’re a part of it.

I’ll admit that I’ve bought in to the hype. We’re season ticket holders and I truly feel as if our family has a partnership with the FCC. I’ve always loved the Cincinnati Reds, and have an emotional connection with the club. But the relationship we have with the FCC, though only a few years old, is far more robust. As an expansion club, I know we’ll see some poor performances on the field this year, but I’m excited regardless. Yes we’ll lose, but we made it to the major leagues together.

Soccer is tapping into the American psyche and providing an experience. I’m not sure the current major American sports will ever be able to reclaim this culture.

I’ll be interested to read this post twelve years from now and see if I oversold it.