Why Is Soccer So Popular Around the Globe?

Michael Claunch

Why Is Soccer So Popular?

Some sports are a matter of national pride and enjoy huge popularity in certain countries, like ice hockey in Canada, football in the United States, or cricket in India. On the other hand, soccer is played on all continents and its popularity transcends national borders. Top leagues are eagerly followed halfway across the world, while the World Cup is a truly global event that is rivaled only by the Olympics in terms of the number of TV viewers and the prices of advertisements during the broadcasts.

It’s worth asking why is soccer so popular on the global level and how did this simple game become so important for people in many different cultures. There might not be a single answer, and instead we can talk about a confluence of factors that made soccer the most important of the least important things, as an old adage goes.

Explaining the popularity of soccer

Evidence of soccer’s popularity is easy to find, as elite matches are played in packed stadiums and followed remotely by millions. Top international stars make huge salaries and enjoy celebrity status in the media, in addition to being idols and role models to an army of young people. To illustrate how popular is soccer in some parts of the world, we don’t need to look any further than the TV ratings, as very few programs of any kind can come close to the viewership numbers for high-profile games.

Part of the explanation is of course related to the game itself. With a very large field and lots of players on it, there are countless possibilities for advancing the ball and scoring. Still, a goal is a relatively rare occurrence that results from a combination of ingenuity, physical brilliance, and a bit of good fortune. The scarcity of goals also means that a game can suddenly turn on a single move and that a losing team typically retains a puncher’s chance to come back until the very end. At the same time, the game is very simple and doesn’t require too much specific knowledge to watch and enjoy, which attracts casual fans.

How did soccer become the most-watched sport in the world?

Soccer has a long history compared to most other sports, but its popularity was initially geographically limited. The game has its origins in medieval England, and it started spreading across Europe as early as the 19th century. Britain’s colonial conquests certainly contributed to its global adoption, but the true explosion of popularity occurred only over the past 100 years. If we are looking for a specific moment when soccer became popular across the world, this probably occurred in 1930, when the first World Cup was held in Uruguay, providing a chance for different nations to compete for glory and prestige. 

soccer is the most popular sport
Kick off of La Liga game in 2019 between FC Barcelona and Sevilla. / Photo by Krzysztof Dubiel on Unsplash

With the advent of television, soccer’s popularity continued to soar and broadcasts of important games soon become must-watch material. Viewers from countries outside of Europe and South America now finally had a chance to witness great players in action, which in turn fuelled local interest for the game. This naturally lead to accelerated development of talent that allowed those countries to compete on the international stage. By the end of the 20th century, soccer became the number one sport in most of the world, and the quality of play in many countries in North America, Asia, and Africa dramatically improved while fan interest soared.

Which nations are the most soccer-crazed?

While it’s safe to say that soccer is the most popular sport on the planet, the level of attachment to it greatly varies from one nation to another. Great Britain is the birthplace of the game and to this day has the most competitive national league in the world, the English Premier League. Some would also say that British fans are the most dedicated, as their loyalty to clubs tends to be for life. The rest of Europe is equally enchanted by the magic of soccer, and countries like Italy, Spain, Germany, and France have long traditions of success in the sport. Even some smaller European nations like Portugal or Greece are extremely proud of their soccer achievements and have fervent fans that faithfully (and loudly) support their teams.

Meanwhile, Latin America has contributed to the evolution of soccer more than any other region. Brazil and Argentina are the birthplaces of numerous legendary players (like Ronaldinho), and home to a different, more creative style of play that has since spread around the world. The rest of the continent is just as passionate about soccer, and the game is played by almost everyone in streets and playgrounds from Mexico in the north to Chile in the south. In recent decades, many African nations, including Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and Senegal have built impressive resumes as hotbeds of soccer development. 

Why watching soccer at a stadium is a different experience?

Since all games today are broadcast live in high resolution, one might wonder how many people are watching soccer in person compared to previous eras. The answer might surprise you – it’s still extremely difficult to get tickets for major fixtures involving elite teams. Real fans prefer to be physically present and feel the excitement of dramatic moments on the field firsthand, and they will spare no effort or expense for this opportunity. 

Soccer fans can be very passionate and support their club or a national team very vocally. In some cases, the intensity can turn into unruly behavior at the stadium and even violence between different groups. Being a part of a spectator crowd at a big game is a truly unique experience, and many fans would describe it as belonging to a big family. This can’t be replicated in a TV broadcast, no matter how crystal-clear the picture might be. The atmosphere at a stadium is a big reason why soccer is so popular even in the age of instant entertainment and why it will likely remain the number one sport in the world long into the future.

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