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Football Fever is Spreading as Major League Soccer Kicks Off a New Season

2 minute read | March 2019

Football fever is spreading across the U.S. and it’s come a long way since the days when soccer was primarily a participation sport for kids or a phenomenon to be exposed to during international travel.

As Major League Soccer (MLS) enters its 24th year, 47% of adults in the U.S. say they are interested in MLS, according to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink.

Diving into U.S. markets that received their first MLS team between 2015 and 2018 (Orlando, Atlanta and Minnesota), we’ve tracked sizable growth in local interest. On average, MLS interest has grown 40% in these three markets since 2012, according to Nielsen Scarborough research, and general soccer interest has risen 29% in these markets over the same time period.

In addition to MLS expansion, factors driving the growth of soccer fandom in the U.S. include:

  • Increased youth participation
  • Increased diversification of the U.S. population
  • Television access in the U.S. to local and global football competition
  • Performance of the USA Women’s World Cup team

“The U.S. soccer market continues to develop at both a talent and commercial level, which is driving increased attention with consumers, media and advertisers locally and nationally,” said Jon Stainer, Managing Director, Nielsen Sports Americas.

“We’re also witnessing greater international attention of U.S. homegrown and MLS roster talent, which is fueling  global appeal for the sport, the MLS and the teams. The future continues to look bright for soccer.”

Five MLS teams have national fan bases that exceed 10 million fans, all from large U.S. markets (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) and Atlanta United is a fast riser, falling just under the 10 million mark. The LA Galaxy lead the way for fan base size, and rank 20th in overall national fan base size across all major sports league teams measured through Sponsorlink.

A social listening analysis by Nielsen Sports shows that fans are looking forward to seeing the 2019 MLS kits on the pitch. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, there were nearly 35,000 Tweets on Twitter specifically mentioning MLS teams and their new apparel. Atlanta United was the most talked about club in relation to their new jerseys, with FC Cincinnati (a former USL team) entering MLS in 2019 landing fifth in total posts.

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