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MLS Ties MLB Popularity for Kids; NBA in Sight?

The latest annual ESPN Sports Poll shows soccer is as popular as baseball for kids. With quick and stunning growth, could its popularity overtake basketball with the younger generation?

Edited by Tiffany Villigan


ESPN's annual Sports Poll recently revealed an interesting tidbit of information. Popularity of Major League Soccer has now tied the popularity of Major League Baseball amongst kids aged 12 to 17. This follows on the finding from the same poll in 2012 that soccer was the second-most popular sport for people aged 12 to 24 in the U.S.

The poll follows interest in 31 different sports by interviewing 1500 Americans each month to get the annual trends. It asks participants to rank how big of a fan of each sport they are, as well as their fandom for individual athletes, corporate sponsorships of various sports, and other relevant trending topics. This year found MLS and MLB tied at 18 percent avid popularity.

Rich Luker of Luker on Trends, the organization that manages the poll for ESPN, is not sure to what to attribute this rise in popularity in the U.S. for "the world's sport." Growth of MLS and more availability of the game from various leagues around the world on American television are contributors. Video games seem to play a part as well, which has become almost a natural in this day and age. Luker tells ESPN:

"[David] Beckham’s stardom definitely plays a role," he said. "EA Sports' FIFA [franchise] has also contributed to the liking and knowledge of the sport in a way other sports video games have not, because Americans really did not know much about soccer before they started to play, as opposed to Madden, where they already understood plenty about the NFL."

He also mentions that American fans of soccer who were born in other countries and grew up being exposed to the sport are now starting to respect MLS more and more.

"They have seen the fan bases in Portland and Seattle. It is hard not to be impressed."

What does this have to do with Seattle, the Sonics, or basketball? Well, the NBA places second behind the NFL, which led the poll in this age range by a significant edge with 39 percent avid popularity. The NBA, at 30 percent, is nominally tied in that second place spot with NCAA football and NCAA men's basketball.

For a sport that even five years ago was registering a zero, MLS has had some of the highest percentages of growth. Is it inconceivable to think that it might close that gap on some of these sports, specifically the NBA, and quickly? Commissioner Adam Silver is on record as wanting the NBA to rival the NFL in popularity. It's safe to say that, with these trends, he should also be looking in the rear-view mirror for who is coming up from behind.

With Seattle currently being the hotbed of American soccer popularity, one would have to assume that local kids are being exposed to the sport much more. Without a local NBA team to root for, is it possible that the younger generation in the Seattle area will end up with more affinity for soccer than for basketball? What does that portend for the fanbase, if and when we get our beloved SuperSonics back?