Soccer in the US

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Football is the king of sports, is the most popular and playable sport in the world. In the USA they play the same exact sport but with different name soccer, which is an acronym of the word Football Association. Although soccer was not very popular in 50’s or 60’s, in the 70’s and 80’s it gained some publicity from the creation of New York Cosmos and the arrival of some of the greatest soccer players of that time. In the early 90’s though soccer was recognized as the fastest growing college and high school sport in the US To begin with in 1992 the highest division in the American Soccer Pyramid was the APSL (American Professional Soccer League).

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David Litterer reports in his article that APSL in 1992 struggled with expenses and as a result 3 teams were dropped from the league, Albany, Penn-Jersey and Maryland. The league continued its existence with 5 more teams, Colorado Foxes, Tampa Bay Rowdies, San Francisco Bay Blackhawks and Ft Lauderdale Strikers. In the end Colorado Foxes won the championship by defeating Tampa Bay 1-0 in the APSL final. After the 1992 season Miami folded and San Francisco dropped out to join the USISL, leaving the league in a very precarious situation (Litterer). The League average attendance in 1992 was 2,104 during the season and 1,502 during the playoffs; these low attendances of people tell that even the top division of soccer in the US was still in the development stage of the sport with no proper publicity and with limited or no media coverage of the games. A main problem that APSL soccer clubs had in that time was revenue. Soccer clubs in 1992 did not have stadiums designed exclusively for soccer so they had to rent football or baseball stadiums. The fans could not fill up the stadiums and people always complained about the long distance between the stands and the field mostly in baseball games. Therefore the teams couldn’t take advantage of the tickets to the extent they wanted. The lack of soccer stadiums created frustration among the soccer fans across the country and didn’t benefit the development of the sport.

There were also indoor soccer leagues, the NPSL (National Professional Soccer League) was the top professional indoor soccer league in the US in front of MSL (Major Soccer League) in 1992. This league was consisted by 9 teams, 4 in the American division and 5 in the National Division. The league averaged 3,619 fans per game this year, marking eight years of slow, but steady growth. More importantly, the league was winning the bidding war against the MSL. Although they weren’t bidding as high as MSL for top players, they were able to keep their teams in much better financial shape, by going after high-quality second-string players with more modest salaries. (qtd. in “A History of USA Indoor Soccer”)

The teams were good financial-wise and the league gained some reputation after 8 years of existence, While MSL indoor soccer had a steady growth in that year Indoor soccer in general faced a decline, Mainly because of the revival of outdoor soccer and the weakness to provide the US national team with indoor soccer players as it used to in the early 80’s.

Although professional soccer in the US was in the very start the US national team had an incredible success winning the inaugural USA Cup in June 1992 defeating Ireland and Portugal and tying the three-time World Cup Champion Italy. The tie was good enough to ensure US the title. John Harkes the goal scorer of the game showed his excitement after the game in The New York Times stating that they had to seize the opportunity of winning the best team because that game was being televised around the world. This result showed that Americans should be taken seriously from now on. After that result European Football Clubs started to appreciate American soccer players and many of them pursued a successful career in the European Leagues.

Moving to the year 2013 many things had changed and a new era for US soccer had began. The highest division now is the MLS (Major League Soccer), a league that was introduced in 1991-1992 and started in 1996. MLS is consisted of two conferences, the Eastern Conference with 10 teams and the Western Conference with 9 teams. The Champion of each Conference proceeds to the MLS Cup Final, with the winner to be the champion of the highest tier in US soccer.

The league in 2013 regular season achieved an average of 18,594 and the Seattle Sounders to have the highest average attendance of 44,038 (Mike Prindiville). This big difference between these chronological periods showed the massive development of the soccer industry in the US. In addition The Economist published an article stated that the attendance at the MLS matches was 5% higher than last season and is higher the attendance of NHL and NBA. This growth of spectators it’s a result of a business plan that created for future revenue and profitability.

Lode Kirk Junior stated that

By owning and operating their own stadiums rather than sharing profits with an outside source, MLS teams could control revenue from parking, concessions, tickets sales etc. These stadiums improved the MLS-going experience for fans with their regulation size soccer fields, seats that offered a better view thanks to their proximity to the pitch and an atmosphere which is similar to what soccer fans will find in European stadiums. Additionally, a crowd of 15,000 inside a 20,000-seat stadium looked much fuller than the same crowd at a 60,000-seat venue, improving the public’s impression of the game (qtd. in The American Soccer Guide 4).

Instead of renting facilities as the soccer clubs used to do in the 90’s now most MLS teams have their Soccer Specific Stadiums and each team creates an amazing atmosphere that no other sport in the US can create.

Furthermore now all the MLS games are being televised with the broadcast rights deals to be valued $20 million, ESPN/ABC $7 million through 2014, NBC/NBC Sports Network $10 million per year through 2014, Univision/TeleFutura $10 million through 2014(Miller, Washington 219). Also MLS was the first professional sport league in the US to authorize advertising on game jerseys just like the clubs in Europe. These various deals with Adidas, Herbalife, Microsoft and many more brand companies gave a great financial comfort to MLS teams and to the effort of improving the league to the maximum.

As I said many things have changed in the soccer industry. One of the most important and obvious is the average player salary cap. Official information by NBC Sports journalist Liviu Bird stated that the average salary cap in the MLS is $148,693.26 with Clint Dempsey to be the highest paid soccer player with $5 millions a year. It’s almost ten times the amount that of the average salary of a player in 1992. This increase has given some publicity to the MLS worldwide with many international top players wanting to play in the US. A focal point in the history of US professional soccer was the “David Beckham Rule”. This rule gives the freedom to every MLS team to sign any player with no limitations in terms of salary. Therefore this new policy contributed to step closer into the MLS ultimate goals: improvement of the sport’s quality and also the signing of world-class international players (Kirk 4).

Another evidence of the huge development of US professional soccer is the list published by the World Soccer magazine one of the best sport magazines in the world about the Top 10 soccer leagues in the world. This magazine ranked USA-MLS in 7th place ahead of many great countries with prestigious leagues such as France, Netherlands, Argentina and Portugal (Benli). That’s a great recognition for the US soccer that shows the huge improvement of the level of play and also the media spotlights that started to shade the MLS from all over the world.

The US soccer is still evolving but undoubtedly there is a huge difference between the two periods (1992-2013). Back then soccer teams were struggling to find a fan base and to develop the sport in a decent level with no media coverage and sponsorship. 2013 found the US soccer in its best with a well-established professional league, media coverage and huge deals in terms of sponsorship. The development of US soccer brought many people into sport and according to FIFA (F?©d?©ration Internationale de Football Association) it has more registered players than any other country in the world making soccer the fastest growing sport in the US.

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Soccer in the US. (2020, Mar 15). Retrieved from