The FIFA World Cup is already the second most-viewed sporting event worldwide. By the end of the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar, it may be number one, with 5 billion people set to view the competition even before it starts. So, with over 200 recognized sporting activities in the world, why is soccer so popular?
The major reason soccer is so popular is its low barrier to entry, allowing people to play and watch games anywhere. The game has simple rules and is suitable for people of all ages, ethnicity, and social background. Soccer also has a rich legacy that has created millions of passionate fans all over the world.
In this article, we’ll delve deeper into all the intriguing reasons for soccer’s global popularity. We’ll also reveal the countries where the sport is most popular and why the US isn’t one of them. Here’s a brief rundown of everything we’ll cover:
- 10 Main Reasons Soccer is So Popular
- Countries with the Highest Soccer Popularity
- Why is Soccer Not Popular in the United States?
- Frequently Asked Questions
10 Main Reasons Soccer is So Popular
1. Simple Sport
Whether or not a sport is easy to understand will greatly affect its popularity. When newbies don’t have to check the rule book every 30 seconds to understand what’s happening on the field, they’re more likely to enjoy watching a game.
Unlike more complex sports like baseball or cricket, soccer has simple rules and regulations that even toddlers can grasp.
The entire sport revolves around the following basics:
- Two teams of a maximum of eleven players each kick a ball for two 45-minute halves
- When a team puts the ball between their opponent’s goalposts, they score a goal
- The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins
Every other rule is peripheral, and learners can easily pick them up while watching games.
2. Enjoys Serious Marketing
There’s a lot of money involved in soccer, and a large chunk of it has nothing to do with the sporting aspect of the game. Various brands inject billions of dollars via sponsorships every year. So, even if you don’t watch soccer games, you’ll still see soccer-themed ads from some of your favorite brands.
For instance, Coca-Cola, one of the biggest beverage companies, has been a major sponsor of the soccer World Cup since 1978.
Real Madrid earns $34 million annually from the Fly Emirates in exchange for putting the brand’s name on their jerseys, closing one of the biggest soccer sponsorship deals.
Drinks, bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and many other brands invest heavily in the sport, allowing soccer clubs and associations to market the beautiful game to more people.
3. Passionate Fans
Soccer fans are some of the most passionate in the world, and it shows. Outside the US, you’ll find people who are borderline obsessed with the sport. These fans can travel thousands of miles to watch their team play live.
Here are some interesting facts that illustrate just how passionate soccer fans can get:
- Vera Cohen, a 102-year-old Manchester City fan, has been a season ticket holder since 1930.
- Scotland fans invaded the pitch and split the goalpost in two after their team defeated England in 1977.
- A fan tattooed Lionel Messi’s signature on his left arm, and another tattooed Messi’s image on his back
- Die-hard Plymouth Argyle fans travel over 9,000 miles to see their teams play
4. Low Cost
Even though there’s so much money flying around in professional soccer, the core sport itself is extremely low-cost and accessible.
To play soccer, you don’t need to construct courts, hoops, rims, or posts like you would for basketball. You also don’t need fancy equipment like gloves or bats. All you need to enjoy the soccer game is a ball and an open field. This is the only sport that can be played on any surface (even the beach) without ruining the fun. You’re even able to us the same pair of cleats for both baseball and soccer.
Any material can serve as a goalpost, and any soft round object could serve as a soccer ball. The extremely low cost of playing soccer is one of the reasons why it’s so popular on the streets of third-world cities. There you’ll find children playing soccer barefoot on the streets. A number of low-cost options exist to get a good pair of soccer cleats for children.
What’s even more intriguing is that these grassroots-level players still grow up to become just as good, if not better than players with complete kits and infrastructure. Many Brazilian stars like Ronaldinho, Gabriel Jesus, and Richarlison became world-class stars despite their economic disadvantages.
Schools don’t have to spend too much money to build soccer fields in their compounds. Even a standard football pitch takes very little expertise to construct.
5. No Overly Strict Gameplay
There’s a heavy amount of tactics involved in soccer, which is great for the quality of the game. However, even the most tactical teams have no choice but to give individual players some freedom.
Every pro soccer team has a coach or manager to instruct the players. These gaffers control the lineups, strategies, training, and even diet. However, soccer is a fast-paced game, and during the actual match, players have to think for themselves. That is where individual brilliance, skill, and flair come into play.
Although football is one of the most tactical team sports, players can maintain their own playstyle and even fashion choices. This doesn’t affect the overall tactics too much, and most times, teams play around the strength of individual players rather than have their stars adapt to a specific tactic.
Watching players wriggle their way out of tough situations using their wits is a joy to watch. It makes soccer more fun to watch and hence, more popular.
6. Rich Legacy
In many regions of the world, especially Europe, soccer is more than a game. The sport has been around for so long that it has become a tradition passed down from one generation to another. So much so that people are born into the culture of supporting their local soccer clubs.
The first-ever football club, Sheffield, was established in 1857 and is still in existence today. For the average European club, players and managers come and go, but the club remains intact no matter the situation. Only the greatest players in their history are remembered and celebrated for generations.
7. Highly Competitive
Soccer is one of the most competitive sport in the world. Clubs establish rivalries from factors as trivial as being located within the same region. The fans fuel these rivalries, causing clubs to spend millions on new players every year in a bid to remain competitive. Some fans have also been known to take these rivalries too far, with occasional clashes during and after games.
The highly-competitive nature of football doesn’t end with clubs and fans – players share the same drive. If you watch a derby game, you’ll notice how heated the match can get, with tackles flying and the occasional scuffle. Referees have to do their best to control such games lest they get out of hand.
Competitiveness between players also has its healthy side. We’ve seen some rivalries over the years that have pushed soccer players to become better every season. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of the world’s best soccer players, have admitted many times that their rivalry is one of the secrets to their global dominance in the last decade.
8. International Competitions
Unlike certain sports, such as American football (played absolutely in the USA), soccer has very few restrictions when it comes to international competitions. In fact, even less popular clubs have a taste of international matchups now and then.
Soccer is an internationally played sport thanks to competitions such as:
- World Cup
- Confederations Cup
- Club World Cup
- Champions League
- Europa League
- Conference League
There are many other competitions for both soccer clubs and nations. The main governing body, FIFA, has over 211 member countries, and every one of them may compete against the other.
The member countries also have their own football leagues, and they tend to compete in continental competitions too.
In a world where international travel is commonplace, even countries with low soccer popularity will have immigrants who love the sport, further spreading the joy of the beautiful game across the globe.
Not every sport is safe to play. Some contact sports like MMA and boxing are violent. Kids can’t participate in or even watch such sports. Fortunately, for soccer, parents can allow their kids to both watch and play.
Compared to many other sporting activities, soccer is relatively safe. Pro players get injured often, but that’s mostly due to the gameplay intensity at that stage.
Amateur and kids’ soccer rules allow for way less physical contact, which reduces the chances of injuries. Even when injuries do occur in the sport, they’re usually not serious or life-threatening.
10. Short Duration
With an NFL match lasting about three hours, soccer is relatively short, with only 90+ minutes of playtime. Fans can spend their weekend watching several games on TV and not feel bored because of the variety they get.
The fast pace of the game means a lot can happen in those 90 minutes, meaning every second counts. That makes for more entertaining matches, especially when the two opposing teams are close in quality.
The short duration also allows people to plan other activities around a game, such as cookouts, BBQs, and dinners.
Countries with the Highest Soccer Popularity
To gauge the popularity of soccer in a country, we shouldn’t solely rely on the fan population because highly-populated countries like China and India will produce misleading results. Hence, the best way to determine soccer popularity is to consider the percentage of the entire population that are soccer fans.
Here are the top five countries with the highest soccer popularity. The results may surprise you.
- United Arab Emirates – 80%
- Thailand – 78%
- Chile – 75%
- Portugal – 75%
- Chile – 75%
If you’ve observed how much money UAE organizations have invested in football teams, it shouldn’t shock you to find them on top of the list. The country has had a keen interest in soccer for some time.
Sheik Mansour, a UAE politician and businessman, owns Manchester City in the English Premier League, Melbourne City FC in the Australian league, and New York City FC in the USA’s Major League Soccer.
What may come as a shock to some is that England isn’t among the top five. Although competitions like England’s FA Cup and Premier League are considered the most popular and lucrative domestic competitions in the world, only 51% of the UK population are soccer fans. Hence, England is ranked 10th when it comes to soccer popularity.
As for the United States of America, even fewer citizens care about soccer.
Why is Soccer Not Popular in the United States?
There are a bunch of reasons for soccer’s lack of popularity in the US. Let’s check out the most prominent of them.
No World Class Teams
A lot of talented players have come out of the Major League Series, such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. However, none of them have been particularly world-class. Even at that, only a handful of these great talents pop up every year.
The result is that American soccer teams don’t have the quality to compete with the best clubs or nations in the world. This has also affected the quality of play in the leagues.
In contrast, the NBA has some of the best basketball teams in the world, and people all over the world tune in to watch them every season.
What constitutes good entertainment may be slightly different depending on your location. Americans are used to longer breaks during sports games. Many of them look forward to the commercials that fill these dry spells. The NBA, for example, has four quarters.
Soccer, on the other hand, only has two halves with a 10 to 15-minute break in between. The score lines in soccer are also small compared to those of other sports such as basketball, American football, baseball, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions about Soccer Popularity
How did soccer get popular?
The United Kingdom is responsible for making soccer such a popular sport. In the 1800s, they organized several competitions that made the sport more popular. The first soccer club, Sheffield FC, was also English. However, soccer became truly popular globally after the first FIFA World Cup in 1930.
Why is soccer so special?
Soccer is special because it brings people together irrespective of their country, societal background, ethnicity, or religion. It’s a beautiful game that everyone can enjoy.
Where is soccer most popular?
Soccer is most popular in European, Asian, African, and South American countries. These regions also produce the best players because of the major interest people have in the game.
As the sport continues to develop, soccer will only become more popular. Even in countries like the US where citizens prefer other sports, football is already becoming more high-stakes. MLS teams have been signing top talents from European leagues, and this tradition can only improve the quality of the league.
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.