US-Germany World Cup: Would a Win Make Soccer More Viable in the United States?

The U.S. team is in the midst of an exciting run. Will that change the fate of Major League Soccer once the tournament ends?

Jun 26, 2014 at 8:39AM

In 1980, when the American Olympic hockey team won a gold medal and delivered the "Miracle on Ice," the sport experienced a rise in popularity. More kids played -- at least in the states with cold weather -- while the National Hockey League saw a bump in interest.

Though the United States is unlikely to win the World Cup in soccer -- at least if you believe head coach Jurgen Klinsman -- the American team has been more competitive than expected while playing in some of the most exciting games of the tournament. Today, the U.S. Men's National Team takes on international powerhouse Germany with a chance of advancing to the knockout round -- and potentially a whole lot more for U.S. soccer in general -- on the line. Jason Hellmann, Daniel Kline, and Jake Mann discussed whether this would have any long-range impact on the business of soccer in the U.S. on Business Take, the show that gives you the Foolish perspective on the most important business stories of the week.

Youth soccer is already popular
One of the things that helped hockey after the 1980 gold medal win was that more kids wanted to play the sport. That built up an audience of future hockey fans -- people who understood the rules and the intricacies of the game. Playing the sport also helped build appreciation for how difficult it is to score.

Soccer, however, will not receive similar benefits even if the U.S. advances to the latter rounds -- most U.S. kids already play soccer, even if it's only for a few years. Whatever has prevented soccer from being as big in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world is clearly not because potential fans don't get the game. Many Americans played soccer at some point in their youth, so a good World Cup showing is unlikely to prime the pump for soccer the way the Miracle on Ice did for hockey.

Major League Soccer is doing better
One thing that has changed since the previous World Cup four years ago is that Major League Soccer has become stable and more successful. Though it still has a long way to go before it reaches the heights of even the NHL, the league just signed a new $90 million-per-year television deal with Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN, Fox (NASDAQ:FOX), and Univision. 

The deal runs from 2015 through 2022, bringing in a total of $720 million during the eight-year contract. ESPN and Fox will pay a combined $75 million a year, and Univision will pay $15 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal.

Ratings are high
The World Cup will likely raise interest in MLS, which has been making strides to appeal to stadium audiences, as well as those watching on TV. Specifically, the Seattle Sounders have changed the soccer experience of attending a live game in the United States, making it more of a European-style event. This could provide a blueprint to other teams as fans hooked on the World Cup look to feed their soccer appetite.

The Sunday World Cup game between the U.S. and Portugal drew an average of 24.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The game's total U.S. viewership of 24.7 million includes ratings from both ESPN (18.2 million viewers) and the Spanish-language Univision (6.5 million). It does not include the 1.37 million people ESPN says streamed the game online.

Americans are also watching games not featuring the U.S. team. Those contests have averaged 4.3 million viewers, up from 2.8 million in 2010.

"About 30% of Americans say they watch soccer. That's about flat with what that figure was in 1994," Mann said.

Are you more interested in soccer? Will the business of MLS get better? And what do you expect from today's match? Watch the video below, then share your comments. 

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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