Is soccer a popular sport in the New York metropolitan area? This may sound like a loaded question, but it’s a question that remains to be answered. With some of the most storied sports franchises in North America located in the Big Apple, does this city really like soccer at all?
Major League Sports, Minor League Coverage
Of course, sports fans in New York love soccer like any other sport. Soccer, or football worldwide, is the most popular sport on the planet. With the ashes of the old North American Soccer League flying in the wind, Major League Soccer (MLS) came along in 1996 on the coattails of the US hosting the World Cup in 1994 as a new major soccer league. Nearly thirty years later, MLS and its rival, the United Soccer League (USL), along with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), have elevated the sport of soccer to a full professional level in North America.
As a sport, soccer has grown exponentially in the United States in the last fifty years. I remember being a young kid way back in 1974 and being exposed to this new sport of soccer, and it became my first sport. Okay, you can probably guess my age by now, and I was a bit of a sports pioneer growing up by playing soccer before baseball and football.
Move forward a few decades, and soccer is one of the most popular sports among American youth, and more children play the sport of soccer than any other team sport. Despite the impression you get from mainstream American sports programming, soccer has become part of the top-four of American sports, having surpassed hockey in terms of popularity. While other sports fans are getting older, soccer is the second most popular sport among Americans ages 12-24 and becoming more popular each year.
Does the mainstream sports media embrace or ignore soccer?
The North American sports media cannot be automatically accused of ignoring soccer as a major sport. ESPN programs matches from the Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, and the English Championship League, among other European leagues as well. In addition, ESPN has an exclusive contract with the USL to broadcast their matches. NBC Sports has a long-standing contract with the Premier League, and Paramount Plus, along with CBS Sports, picks multiple foreign leagues along with a broadcasting contract with the NWSL.
It’s curious to note, however, that ESPN dropped Major League Soccer and only has a few matches broadcasted by Fox Sports each weekend. Instead, MLS went a different direction and inked a contract with Apple TV to move their Season Pass streaming service over to this provider. While I admit I subscribe to this service and so far I’ve enjoyed the broadcasts, there’s something to be said when ESPN or Fox covers most, if not all, of your matches.
Why does the New York sports media ignore soccer?
That’s a question I’ve been trying to find answers to, and so far have come up with more questions than anything. Soccer is now one of the biggest sports in the United States, and the New York metropolitan area has two teams in MLS (NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls) and one in the NWSL (NJ/NY Gothan FC.) Three major league soccer teams represent the Big Apple, and how much local sports coverage do they receive? (insert the sound of crickets here.)
I scanned through the largest daily news outlets in New York to try and find any MLS or NWSL news and was disappointed at the lack of soccer coverage with these media outlets. The New York Daily News did not have any soccer coverage at all – apparently, their editors haven’t heard of the most popular sport in the world quite yet.
Moving over to the venerable New York Times, I did find a decent amount of soccer coverage, but it primarily dealt with international soccer and a recent article on Wrexham’s promotion to the English Football League. There was one article on Ali Krieger and her career intentions back in the file of soccer articles, so kudos to the Times for acknowledging that there is women’s soccer in New York. However, there is no current coverage of the MLS, NWSL, or any mention that anyone in New York played soccer this past weekend.
Maybe the third time is a charm, and I polled the New York Post to see if they have any soccer media coverage. While they have some good articles on international soccer, the only mention I could find of a New York soccer team was an article on the racist remarks and backlash during a San Jose Earthquakes-NYRB match a couple of weeks ago. Again, no mention of NYCFC, Gotham FC, or the fact that professional soccer exists in the New York area.
A challenge lies ahead to give fair time to soccer.
While American sports fans still have their love affair with football, baseball, and basketball, the sport of soccer is catching up quickly. In a nod to the growth and popularity of soccer, the mainstream sports media is now trying to add more soccer, including foreign leagues, to their growing repertoire of sports programming. The big question is when will the New York sports media acknowledge that soccer is here to stay and start reporting about professional teams in their own area?