There are currently 25 men’s Major League Soccer teams in the United States, with three more in bordering Canadian cities, and 12 women’s teams. Unlike baseball, which Americans have played professionally since the 1860s, soccer is a relatively new professional sport; however, it is increasing in popularity as our teams compete globally and draw in bigger crowds, comparable to other professional sports.
We’ve seen this firsthand in recent years as soccer stadiums increase in size and request more custom carts, kiosks, and grab-n-go systems from Gallery.
We were curious: what prompted this recent rise in popularity in soccer in the United States? Soccer (or “association football”) is the most popular sport, globally, but Americans have been slower to adopt it than other countries, preferring, as we do, baseball, American Football, basketball, and hockey.
While soccer’s recent popularity may be new, athletes have played soccer in the U.S. almost as long as baseball. Soccer originated with European immigrant communities in the late 1800s, and quickly rose in popularity, ranking second only to baseball in the early 20th century. This may be surprising, considering its quick decline in most of the last century.
Due to disagreements between professional leagues, followed by the impact of the Great Depression, soccer’s prevalence dropped dramatically in the 1920s and 1930s, and for more than 30 years it remained comparatively obscure, at least professionally.
Even though the sport lost its professional standing, children and college students continued to play the game, and in 1959 the NCAA launched a national college soccer championship game, which helped renew interest.
In the 1960s and 1970s, soccer’s prevalence began growing slowly, but by the 1980s there was an explosion in interest as more girls and women started playing, and fans started recognizing what an exciting and interesting game it was. The soccer matches in the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles were so well attended, that the United States decided to make a bid for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Two years later, in 1996, the United States launched Major League Soccer, and the number of professional teams and college teams has continued to grow since, along with the fan base. In 2006, soccer overtook hockey as the fourth most popular spectator sport in the United States, and more children play soccer than any other sport behind baseball. Since 2011, MLS games have the third highest attendance of any American sport, after football and baseball.
With the increase in attendance, soccer has become more financially valuable; in the past ten years team owners and municipalities have invested significantly in more sophisticated soccer stadiums to continue to draw even more fans.
While Gallery continues to expand in NFL and MLB stadiums across the country, we’ve seen an increase in demand for our custom kiosks in soccer stadiums as well. Our recent builds include mobile carts at the Q2 Stadium in Austin and food and beverage carts at Audi Field in Washington D.C.
While baseball and football will most likely remain the top two sports in our country for the foreseeable future, soccer’s global appeal, growing fanbase, and increased investments mean that we’ll continue to see its growth. With that growth, soccer stadiums across the country will deliver food and beverages that fans want, served from attractively branded and strategically placed Gallery kiosks.