We have lift off Statesside
Leading football economics guru Stefan Szymanski, now working in the US, reckons that the vastly increased sum paid for Premier League television rights on the other side of the pond signals that soccer is about to take off big time there. As he points out, the word 'soccer' was a word of English origin that was commonly used in the UK until the 1970s, in part to distinguish 'association' from 'rugby' football with just one word.
Writing in The Times, Szymanski points out that Major League Soccer has an average attendance of 5.5 million, ranking it 11th between Brazil and the Netherlands. The Seattle Sounders are attracting an average of 43,000 per game, which would rank sixth in the Premier League. When I lived there, Mariners baseball was the big draw and minor league soccer was played at an obscure location on the southern edge of the city.
As Szymanski admits, the two big drivers in the US have come from the Hispanic population and the extent to which the game is played in schools, leading to the phrase 'soccer mom' to denote a thirty something, median income American. However, playing did not translate into being a spectator, but he thinks that the NBC contract is a sign that the times are changing.
Of course, as he points out, the American attachment to sports which are not extensively played elsewhere such as baseball and American football is linked to notions of American exceptionalism. There are many Americans who think that too few goals are scored in football and see a link with cheating and hooliganism.
Of course, there is a sense in which all sports are globalising. The recent American football match at Wembley was a sell out and it wasn't just expats who were there.