In the United States, an awakening is continuing to take place when it comes to the consumption of sport. Thanks to a combination of factors, more and more Americans are becoming interested in watching the beautiful game. While Americans still call football by the wrong name, this snapshot of the continuously growing football culture in the States will look at where Americans are paying attention to in the football world and how football is becoming a big business for some Americans as well.
MLS Keeps Growing
European football in America is in an interesting place, with fans turning out in decent numbers to see their favorite domestic clubs battle it out. In the 2017 season, 11 MLS clubs saw their average attendance numbers top the 20,000 person mark per match. While that is not a number on the level of Europe’s elite clubs, it is a strong figure given that the clubs in MLS occupy smaller venues for the most part, with the exception of clubs who share stadiums with local American football teams.
To start the 2018 MLS campaign, attendance on the league’s opening weekend was up 2% over where it was in the first round of the 2017 season. If that trend continues, the league will be in a great place as it keeps moving towards its goal of being stocked with franchises around the United States. If nothing else, it seems as if MLS has an extremely dedicated base of hardcore fans that are willing to support their clubs.
Ironically, one of the top two teams in Major League Soccer is located in Canada, as Toronto FC has qualified for each of the last two MLS Cup matches to determine a league champion. Their opponent in both of those games was the gold standard of American club football, the Seattle Sounders. With the great Clint Dempsey leading them in their earlier days, Seattle has built a winning culture that other clubs in the country will hope to emulate.
European Greats Move To MLS
One of the most interesting developments to come from football’s boom in the United States is the influx of European players in MLS. At one point, this was done primarily as a gimmick to help increase interest in the league among Americans looking to get into the sport. But the role of European players has evolved to where there are plenty of cases of European players coming to MLS in their primes to lead their American clubs to success.
Former Juventus man Sebastian Giovinco is at the top of the list of players who have come from Champions League clubs to play in MLS. Giovinco came over before he turned 30, with plenty of years left for him to make an impact at an elite club. He has lifted Toronto FC to the top of MLS and looks likely to continue doing that for many years to come.
David Villa is another player who came over to the United States to play in MLS before his European career needed to end. Villa was still an impactful player in Europe when he joined New York City FC, the Manchester City sibling club. Villa has helped the expansion side become relevant in short order, with the City side set to be a factor in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
While the United States will not make the World Cup in 2018, robbing the world of their first good look at Christian Pulisic, the passion for the game is clearly there in America. As MLS continues to grow in quality and in the number of cities where there are clubs, that should only continue to be the case.
Football: An American Business
For better or worse, the United States is known more for ruthless businessmen than it is known for football. Well, those two things are beginning to merge in the world of football. The reason for this is the influx of American investment in the game of football, which has seen several of the biggest clubs in the world controlled by Americans. The success of these clubs has varied, but the amount of money poured into each of these deals has been consistently high.
The first of these big money moves was the Glazers taking over Manchester United. This ownership deal is an interesting case, as it is difficult to judge just how successful or unsuccessful it has been. On one hand, United have won plenty of silverware since the Glazers claimed ownership over the course of the early 2000s. On the other, Manchester United have been winning trophies regularly since well before the Glazers had anything to do with the club. The Glazers have also been panned for missing events to commemorate those lost in the Munich air disaster on multiple occasions as well, demonstrating the differences in culture between American and European sport.
While the Glazers have had some success at Manchester United, Stan Kroenke has had anything but at Arsenal. After taking over the club once and for all in 2011, Kroenke has come out publicly and stated that his aim is not necessarily to see the club have success on the field. As a businessman, Kroenke has been open about his desire to make money first and foremost, something that has turned many supporters of the club against him. Given the team’s struggles on the pitch, this has not been as successful an example of American investment in football.
It will be interesting to see how the popularity of European football in America evolves in the near future, and whether or not missing out on the World Cup has an impact on its growth. Given the popularity of the top European leagues in the States, it is hard to imagine that there will be much of a negative impact, if any. With MLS continuing to grow year after year, there will still be plenty of matches for the football fan in the United States to attend in person, with a 2026 World Cup bid still on the table as well.