MLS is becoming more popular than NHL

17.01.2017 08:20

Top European football increasingly popular in the USA

Antje Karbe University communication
Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

Tübingen sports economists survey US citizens - international soccer broadcasts are particularly popular with the younger generation and Spanish-speaking audiences

European professional football also has a growing fan base in the USA: In a representative survey, almost every second US citizen shows at least one basic interest in football games, report Professor Tim Pawlowski and Georgios Nalbantis from the University of Tübingen. The most popular international football clubs in the USA include the two English clubs Manchester United and Chelsea FC and the two Spanish clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

For the first time, the Tübingen sports economists analyzed the interest of US citizens in European soccer competitions and Major League Soccer (MLS), the top division in US and Canadian soccer. The focus was on factors that influence the demand for football broadcasts. Based on their evaluations, the scientists were able, among other things, to compile a ranking of the most popular international soccer competitions among US TV audiences.

Since the US was nominated to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, interest in soccer has grown in the country. This is known, say the scientists, and can be seen, among other things, from the TV ratings: Here, for example, game broadcasts of the English Premier League have now overtaken regular season games of the National Hockey League (NHL), the highest North American ice hockey league. However, they are still well behind the leading sports in the USA, football, basketball and baseball.

The Tübingen study is now for the first time collecting detailed figures on various aspects of the US football market: For the extensive data collection, a representative sample of more than 6500 citizens from all US states was drawn. An exclusion question at the beginning enabled the targeted survey of those citizens who show at least one basic interest in football. "That was almost 50 percent in the two waves of surveys and thus significantly more than was to be expected for the US market, which is dominated by the three major sports," stated the scientists.

Among other things, participants were asked about their preferred soccer competitions: of the seven competitions, the English Premier League was the most interested, followed by the UEFA Champions League, the American MLS and the Spanish La Liga. The German Bundesliga was fifth ahead of the Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1. Most of the supporters for European clubs were in the states of California and New York. Around 3.5 percent of those surveyed with an affinity for football said their favorite club was Bayern Munich. This puts Bayern Munich in the top 10 of the most popular European and North American football clubs in the USA. The list is headed by England's club Manchester United, followed by Spain's club FC Barcelona.

The study focused on the analysis of factors that influence the demand for football broadcasts. It showed that football fans from an MLS city are on average more interested in international football matches and that live broadcasts on television are mainly followed by the younger generation. It also showed that the Spanish-speaking population is disproportionately represented among football fans. "This could explain why Bayer Leverkusen's games with Mexican star Javier Herández Balcázar (aka Chicharito) were very popular in the 2015/2016 season," said the sports economists. In addition, the study empirically confirms for the first time that “balance” plays an important role in football competitions in the USA: Leagues perceived as exciting and whose championship outcome is uncertain attract more spectators than competitions in which one club clearly dominates.

The study came about through a grant from the João Havelange Research Scholarship, with which FIFA supports independent research projects on football, and has now been published as a book.

Publication: Nalbantis, G. & Pawlowski, T. (2017). The Demand for International Football Telecasts in the United States (Palgrave Pivots in Sports Economics Issue 1, edited by W. Andreff & A. Zimbalist). Houndmills (UK): Palgrave.

Georgios Nalbantis
University of Tübingen
The Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences
Work area sports economics, sports management and sports journalism
Phone: +49 7071 29-76545
[email protected]

Prof. Dr. Tim Pawlowski
University of Tübingen
The Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences
Head of the department of sports economics, sports management and sports journalism
Phone: +49 7071 29-76544
[email protected]

Features of this press release:
Sports Science
research results