Not often considered a leading American sport, soccer now trumps Nascar in terms of popularity among Americans—with 22 times the number of people watching online, according to advertising intelligence and research firm Exponential.
In its study—intended “to reveal what hidden marketing opportunities there are” behind soccer in the United States—the company offers a granular view of the American soccer fan and shows how the sport has grown to even pass Nascar, which senior director of insights Bryan Melmed noted “has an outsized cultural identity” compared to fútbol’s more fractured fan base.
While Melmed admitted to a “disparity in media consumption” between fan bases (Nascar watchers aren’t big Internet users) that could be hampering Nascar’s social spread, it’s still good news for advertisers looking to soccer as a new playing field. McDonald's, Samsung, Adidas and Budweiser are among brands expected to make sizable pushes during the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Thursday.
“In the U.S., soccer is generally perceived as being further down the totem pole in terms of popularity, with Nascar holding a more favorable position,” Melmed said. “As you dig deeper and look at the actual behavioral and trend data, however, it becomes clear that soccer’s fan footprint domestically is much stronger than believed—and growing.”
Soccer’s seemingly quick rise in popularity stateside may not be altogether surprising in a World Cup year (this week’s Data Points infographic delves into the sport’s swelling fan base in the U.S.), but some of the other data collected via Exponential’s network audience of 450 million users reveals other surprising trends in politics and preferences.
- They’re young. Millennials in the U.S. are 16 percent more interested in soccer than any other age group. This helps make the World Cup a major social event.
- No other type of sports fan in the U.S. has a bigger interest in video games and intellectual/indie movies.
- No other sports fan has a bigger interest in education.
- They have money. American soccer fans are 4.6 times more likely to have an income above $250,000.
- They belong to a bifurcated audience, with large populations of Caucasian fans filling northwestern cities and Hispanics living in densely urban areas.
Exponential also found (perhaps not surprisingly) that the young audience boosting soccer’s popularity in the U.S. is progressive and more liberal. But it may be more than just the politics of youth, according to Melmed.
“As for why liberalism and soccer have any sort of association, it stems from the ‘60s and ‘70s, when soccer’s popularity in the U.S. ballooned as a counter-culture response to football’s traditional all-Americanism,” he said. “[The] counter-culture championed a more global view and soccer was certainly a global sport.”
In terms of global marketing significance, Melmed noted that 46.4 percent of the world’s population tuned in for at least a minute of live coverage during the last World Cup, “easily making it the most watched event around the globe.”