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Congratulations to France for winning the FIFA World Cup 2018. In four years, the tournament will be played in Qatar, and four-years after in 2026, the USA, Mexico, and Canada will serve as the hosts.
In the past, the FIFA World Cup has been the most watched sports event around the globe, generating cumulative television viewership exceeding 40 billion. This recent event in Russia may surpass that total. By comparison, the Summer Olympics draws upward of 20 billion, and the Rugby World Cup around 4.5 billion.
Despite this worldwide popularity, recent numbers indicate that soccer is declining in the USA among 6-12-year-old children, a key group for the future growth of the sport. Specifically, research data indicate a 14-percent decrease, or about 600,000 fewer participants. The drop off comes while basketball, baseball, and rugby experience rises in this same age range.
The soccer falling-off can serve as a cautionary forewarning for youth and high school rugby. Essentially, USA soccer programs developed a “pay for play” modus operandi that reduced significantly participation in low income communities. Statistics reveal that families with incomes over $100.0M represented 35-percent of youth total, while families at $25.0M or less, only tallied 11-percent of youth soccer.
One program charges $2,500 for annual travel costs for those players who make the town travel squad. Effectively, this fee reduces who can pay for a child’s soccer involvement.
Another variable to examine contributing to sport interest is the increase of Major League Soccer attendance, which, in 2017, rose to an all-time high last year of 22,113 average. Selected twenty-two-year MLS attendance data follow:
While MLS attendance is robust (thanks in part to capacity fan attendance in Seattle of 44,000 and Atlanta at 48,000), the League’s full stadiums plus national television coverage failed to retain a base of young players. In fact, while MLS attendance increased as did its television viewership, the youth segment substantially declined.
Youth soccer needs to rethink how it can attract low income players and keep them involved.