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Why the United States is the most promising soccer market for global brands and clubs

Robert Zitzmann, CEO of Jung von Matt Sports, and Kerry Bradley, chief operating officer and head of advisory at Sports Innovation Lab, discuss how to unlock the potential of the most promising soccer market for brands and all industry stakeholders.

12 May 2023 SportsPro

Jung von Matt Sports

With the Fifa World Cup 2026 coming into view and the consistent rise of the women’s game, the US soccer market is an emerging one for brands, clubs and other stakeholders to win new fans.

With “Fanarchy26”, Jung von Matt Sports and Sports Innovation Lab have published not only the most comprehensive report on US-based soccer fans, but also a commercial and cultural guide with dedicated recommendations on how to participate in the growth of the US soccer market.

Following the release of the report – which is freely available to download here – Jung von Matt Sports chief executive Robert Zitzmann and Kerry Bradley, chief operating officer and head of advisory at Sports Innovation Lab, outline the Stateside opportunities for all stakeholders.

Soccer in the US clearly has its own dynamics. What is so different about the American soccer market when it comes to fandom?

Kerry Bradley: For centuries, soccer has been driven by local and legacy fan communities. New fans would emerge because they live near the team, or because their parents were also fans. Since soccer has not historically been a fundamental part of the American sporting culture, the path to fandom for American soccer fans is different than in other countries.

Instead of becoming a fan by absorbing the vibrant culture around them, there is an initial experience or spark that unlocks an individual’s fandom. The US features a melting pot of entertainment, culture, lifestyle, and merchandise options. At the same time, it is a market where women’s sports has a powerful impact on the growth of US soccer fandom.

How about the potential of the US soccer market? What’s so promising?

Robert Zitzmann: The United States is arguably the world’s most exciting growth market for soccer, and potential fans and communities are here to be won. There is a huge opportunity in the decade of mega events hosted in the Americas to not just grow the sport, but to shape a new culture for a new generation.

The messy “Fanarchy”, as we call it in our report, of the emerging fan communities means that their rituals and habits are only just beginning to form – with huge commercial potential for brands and sponsors. Also, the women’s game in the US is a big opportunity space for the sports industry: unlike anywhere else in the world, the investment and appetite for women’s soccer are profoundly validated by the United States market.

Our report shows higher levels of participation and more fan interest in women’s soccer than anywhere else in the world, and that is coming from a diverse pool of fans across all genders and generations: men, women, youth and children.

Why do brands, clubs and other stakeholders need to invest in the US soccer market? And where?

KB: The rise in national interest on the back of the growing popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), in combination with hosting the Fifa World Cup 2026, has created a rare opportunity for the US sports ecosystem to co-create an idealised soccer fan culture.

While England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga unsurprisingly are among the top five most followed leagues within the market, in third is the United Soccer League (USL), the challenger men’s competitive league In the US, and in fifth place is the NWSL, the top domestic women’s league. Part of what makes the opportunity to unlock soccer growth in the United States so unique and promising is that it is taking place at the same time we are reaching unprecedented levels of globalism in sports: access to global sports competitions and properties has never been easier.

This is especially true with soccer – in the past five years, live streaming and OTT media rights have brought the most popular leagues from all over the world onto screens in the United States, opening up new viewing and fan opportunities. With our “Fanarchy26” report, we help brands and organisations understand not only who is attending, watching and playing soccer, but more importantly why and how these people act as fans.

What does it take for brands, clubs and all other stakeholders to unlock the potential of the US soccer market?

RZ: Brands cannot only copy and paste their approach from other sport or football (aka soccer) connected engagements. Engaging with new audiences and communities in the US requires an authentic, fan-centric approach.

Fans in the United States may not be drawn to the sport only by the biggest global stars and teams. Instead, they are discovering soccer through other avenues like pop culture references, international competitions, and their early fandom is focused on the most local team available – and the communities being built around them.

Brands as well as clubs need to see the chance to grow the game. Fandom in the US is co-creating a new era of soccer culture, bridging entertainment and societal equity beyond any social border. And maybe that’s the best news for anyone out there who cares about soccer: the road to 2026 is the perfect journey to engage deeply with soccer’s next generation fans and fandom.

Are we entering a new era for soccer in the US?

KB: We believe wholeheartedly in the growth opportunity for soccer in the United States. We also recognise that there is much work to be done, and the brands, leagues, teams, federations and marketers who are championing the game must do so authentically.

This is also why our research plan is ongoing – we designed this study to keep tracking fan interest and behaviours connected to soccer for many years to come. The minute you stop keeping pace with the rapidly changing world of sports fans, you fall behind and miss out on opportunity.

RZ: It is not just about commercial growth. The US market presents a rare opportunity to contribute to building a new platform for the beautiful game and all of its connected people and stakeholders. Very soon, the “fanarchy” of soccer fandom in the United States will concretise into traditions and cross-border rituals will shape the global universe of our sport.

The must-do opportunity for brands, sponsors and clubs here is to start exploring this rising star of soccer early, to be learning quickly, and to be earning sustainably towards 2026 and beyond.

All images of the Fanarchy26 report have been generated with artificial intelligence. The report is freely available to download at www.fanarchy26.com.


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