Why Is FOOTBALL Not Popular In The US and Why Called SOCCER
Why Is "FOOTBALL" Not Popular In The US and Why Called "SOCCER"

Football is by far the most popular sport on the planet. It’s played in every single continent and country worldwide. In the World Cup, the U.S. and England aren’t traditionally rivals. But, off the field, a different type of rivalry has reigned for more than a century: what to call the world’s most popular sport.

To Americans, it’s soccer. To most of the rest of the world, (including England, the birthplace of the modern sport,) it’s football. But what most people don’t know is that the word “soccer” is not in fact an American invention. On the contrary, it was an import from England and one that was commonly used there until relatively recently.

So, why is soccer not popular in the United States? And why people call football soccer?

Who Invented American Football?

Closely related to two ancient English sports—rugby and soccer (or association football)—gridiron football originated at universities in North America, primarily the United States, in the late 19th century. On November 6, 1869, players from Princeton and Rutgers held the first intercollegiate football contest in New Brunswick, New Jersey, playing a soccer-style game with rules adapted from the London Football Association.

While a number of other elite Northeastern colleges took up the sport in the 1870s, Harvard University maintained its distance by sticking to a rugby-soccer hybrid called the “Boston Game.” In May 1874, after a match against McGill University of Montreal, the Harvard players decided they preferred McGill’s rugby-style rules to their own. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first intercollegiate match, and Yale players and spectators (including Princeton students) embraced the rugby style as well.

The man most responsible for the transition from this rugby-like game to the sport of football we know today was Walter Camp, known as the “Father of American Football.” As a Yale undergraduate and medical student from 1876 to 1881, Camp played halfback and served as team captain, equivalent to head coach at the time. Even more importantly, he was the guiding force on the rules board of the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA).

Thanks to Camp, the IFA made two key innovations to the fledgling game: It did away with the opening “scrummage” or “scrum” and introduced the requirement that a team give up the ball after failing to move down the field a specified yardage in a certain number of “downs.” Among the other innovations Camp introduced were the 11-man team, the quarterback position, the line of scrimmage, offensive signal-calling and the scoring scale used in football today. In addition to his work with the rules board, Camp coached the Yale team to a 67-2 record from 1888 to 1892—all while working as an executive at a watch-manufacturing firm.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association—later known as the National Football League—was founded in Canton, Ohio, greatly professionalizing the sport. After growing in size and popularity during the first half of the 20th century, the NFL merged with the American Football League, its rival, in 1970, becoming the behemoth it is today. Today, with 32 member teams, the NFL is the largest football league in the United States. And football is by far the country's most popular sport: According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 37 percent of U.S. adults name football as their favorite sport to watch, followed by basketball at 11 percent and baseball at 9 percent.

Why is soccer Not Popular in the US?

1. Americans are not the best in soccer

The United States Men’s National Soccer Team has not had a ton of success in international tournaments. In fact, the USMNT did not even make it to the World Cup this year! This lack of success is one reason why soccer is not as popular in America as it could be.

Americans love to see their country succeed, and when the USMNT falls short, that hurts the popularity of soccer. Additionally, Americans like to support teams that have a chance of winning – and unfortunately, soccer is not always seen as being able to win against other sports.

2. Soccer is not a good tool for marketing and business

In the United States, businesses strive to make as much money as possible. The main TV networks in the United States are no exception. Obviously, their primary source of income when airing sporting events is advertising.

In soccer, there are no commercials during the game. This means that networks cannot make as much money from advertising, which is one of the reasons why it is not very popular in America.

Additionally, since these networks do not air many games on TV or pay top dollar to broadcast them live – they do not want to dedicate their resources (time and money) towards promoting something that will only be watched by a small audience anyway!

This lack of viewing opportunities leads us to our next point: if people can’t watch soccer on television, then how are they going to develop an interest in it? Without exposure constantly being pushed upon you at every turn (through advertising), Americans simply don’t have any reason to get into soccer.

3. Faking injuries

When we compare the roughness of soccer to that of American football, they are polar opposites. Soccer is not a physical sport in the same way that football is. This lack of physicality may be one reason why Americans do not enjoy soccer as much as football; it simply does not have the same appeal to them.

Additionally, this lack of physicality can sometimes lead to players faking injuries in order to get an advantage on the field. American audiences are not used to this – and thus find it unappealing. Football players are known for being tough and playing through pain, which is something that Americans admire.

Soccer also has a fair amount of flopping (or diving). Players will exaggerate contact or falls to try and win a free kick or penalty. Again, because this is foreign to most American sports fans, it does not appeal to them.

American football and basketball have hard fouls that are not tolerated – in soccer though, players will often trip over themselves or fall down from the slightest touch! This lack of physicality may be one reason why Americans don’t enjoy soccer as much as other sports; it simply does not have the same appeal for them.

4. The American culture clearly has a preference for excessively big things. Players’ height and weight

The US is a big country, and its citizens are used to things that are big and dramatic. This may be one reason why Americans have not taken to soccer as much as people in other countries have.

Players’ height and weight is an important factor in all sports. In America, as opposed to Europe and other countries, height and weight matter more than speed or agility. In soccer, traditionally players are smaller – both in terms of height and weight – compared with those who play football or basketball. This preference for larger people may be one reason why soccer is not popular in the United States; it simply does not fit into the American sporting culture.

Other countries that love soccer tend to value different things from their athletes: Spain values technical ability above physicality (and this has worked out well for them), while Brazil loves flair-filled dribbling skills! The US does not have a particular focus on any of these attributes – instead preferring taller athletes at most positions.

Soccer does not always have those big, explosive moments that Americans love – it can be a more slow, strategic game. Additionally, because soccer is not as popular in America, there are not as many opportunities for people to watch it on TV or see it live. And finally, soccer games can last up to 90 minutes, which is a long time compared to other sports that Americans enjoy watching.

5. Americans can’t stand a tie

One of the biggest problems with soccer is that it can end in a tie. Unlike football and basketball, there are no overtime periods in soccer – so if the score is tied at the end of regulation, then both teams get a point.

This lack of finality is something that frustrates Americans because they are not used to it. In America, almost every sport has a definitive winner and loser – but this is not always the case in soccer.

Ties also make for less exciting games to watch on TV or live; as viewers, we do not know who is going to win until the very end (or sometimes not at all). This uncertainty does not make for good television ratings or viewership numbers.

Why do Americans call It Soccer, Not Football?

Photo: history
Photo: history

While calling the world's most popular sport "soccer" is typically depicted as a symbol of American ignorance, the reason we don't call it "football" like the rest of the world is Britain's fault.

The word "soccer" is a British invention that British people stopped using only about 30 years ago, according to a new paper by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski.

The word "soccer" comes from the use of the term "association football" in Britain and goes back 200 years.

In the early 1800s, a bunch of British universities took "football" — a medieval game — and started playing their own versions of it, all under different rules. To standardize things across the country, these games were categorized under different organizations with different names.

One variant of the game you played with your hands became "rugby football." Another variant came to be known as "association football" after the Football Association was formed to promote the game in 1863, 15 years after the rules were made at Cambridge.

"Rugby football" became "rugger" for short. "Association football" became "soccer."

After these two sports spread across the Atlantic, Americans invented their own variant of the game that they simply called "football" in the early 1900s.

"Association football" became "soccer" in America, and what was called "gridiron" in Britain became simply "football" in America.

The interesting thing here is that Brits still used "soccer" regularly for a huge chunk of the 20th century. Between 1960 and 1980, "soccer" and "football" were "almost interchangeable" in Britain, Szymanski found.

Then everything changed (via Szymanski):

"Since 1980 the usage of the word 'soccer' has declined in British publications, and where it is used, it usually refers to an American context. This decline seems to be a reaction against the increased usage in the US which seems to be associated with the highpoint of the NASL around 1980."

British people stopped saying "soccer" because of its American connotations.

So, no, it's not wrong to call it "soccer" if you're American.

Is America the only place that calls football soccer?

It's based on language etymologies. Americans aren't the only ones who don't call it "football." Not by a long shot. Much of Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, Oceania, South Africa, and even Italy call it something other than "football."

How to increase US soccer engagement

1. Focus on the right people

There are two groups of people in the US who are already heavily invested in soccer: Youth and Hispanic audiences.

Youth have more of a global mindset and are on board with technology. They’re interested in soccer for its global appeal and diverse fan-base. Getting fans engaged and passionately supporting a team while they’re young is critical, as is ensuring that soccer is relevant for youth culture. Soccer content, brands and news need to be easily accessible and always present on places where youths hang out – on social media, and at music events and pop-up experiences, to name a few.

By 2050 the amount of US Hispanics is set to skyrocket to 144 Million, 30% of the US population. They bring with them their culture, language and, crucially, their love of soccer. Affordable coverage of Latin American leagues and tournaments along with more prominent Spanish-language commentary and punditry for the big games could go some way to meeting the needs of this audience.

2. Be distinctive and relevant

The US is a cluttered market for sports, many of which are so ingrained in American culture that it’s difficult to break in. Simply put, soccer needs to be distinctive and different from other sports. All sports are high octane, dramatic and emotionally charged, so to stand out soccer must focus on something else.

Youth are drawn to brands that a) have purpose and fight for causes they believe in, and b) offer a seamless user experience with the latest tech. Connecting soccer to a relevant cause and utilizing the latest and most innovative tech for playing and watching soccer is likely to increase the relevance of soccer in the US today.

3. Create celebrities

In the US, many soccer fans don’t follow leagues or teams. They follow individual players and will keep following them whichever team they move to. As powerful assets for the game, more could be done to leverage this, particularly as the US currently has many household names in the MLS right now.

Shifting the focus in advertising and sponsorship towards a player, or a cadre of players, rather than their teams will create buzz around these elite athletes – which could just be enough to generate more engagement with soccer itself. Players such as Christian Pulisic or Weston McKennie could become the faces of US soccer in the years ahead.

4. Capitalise on current soccer passion points

After the World Cup and the MLS, the most followed league in the US is the Premier League (EPL) followed by the Champions League. While these events are televised nationally, they often come and go without the casual fan knowing or realizing their importance. Better marketing is required around the big non-World Cup events – such as the Champions League, EPL and Copa America – to capitalize on soccer passion where it exists.

NYCFC have the right idea. Their link to Man City not only provides them with a pool of available talent; the average fan now associates NYCFC with the interest and passion that exists for soccer in Manchester. Other US clubs, particularly newer ones, should consider this type of franchise approach, partnering with flagship teams in Europe and South America.

With the recent news of the US jointly hosting the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada, this provides a significant opportunity to generate buzz in the years leading to the tournament, promoting the event itself as the climax and cornerstone of the US soccer movement.

5. Make it easy and affordable

While not as important as the cultural shifts, our research confirmed that perceived price and availability are still important. While there are OTS streaming services popping up focused on soccer, the perception from fans is that they need multiple subscriptions to watch their favorite teams or players. Shifting this perception could entice those on the fringes to give soccer a try for the first time.

Conclusion

The two words Soccer and Football were widely used in England until more than 100 years later, by the end of the 1980s they began to gradually phase out and switch to using the word Football to refer to football - only the feet were allowed (except for football). goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands), and Rugby refers to rugby, to distinguish it from the football game that Americans call American Football.

The sport of rugby in the US is called American Football, or Football for short. It differs from Rugby in two basic points that are most easily distinguishable: each American Football team has 11 people, wearing hard protective gear (chest armor, helmets, thigh covers, pillows etc.) and the Rugby team has 15 people, wearing little or Not even wearing protective gear.

That's why Americans and Canadians use the word Soccer to call football, because the connotation of the word Soccer is Association Football.

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