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Soccer Trumps Doubters, Becomes Major U.S. Sports Attraction

Stocks in this article: FOXA CMCSA DIS

Average MLS attendance is well below Germany's Bundesliga (more than 45,000 per game), the EPL (36,000), Spain's La Liga (29,400) or even neighboring Mexico's Liga MX (25,400). But it's far closer to France's Ligue 1 (19,300) or the Dutch Eredivisie (19,500) than even its most fervent supporters thought it could be a decade ago. It's also not only higher average attendance than either the National Basketball Association or National Hockey League (both below 17,500) can manage, but it's also regularly higher than Major League Baseball attendance in several cities -- including some where baseball is outdrawn by MLS. But if a still growing MLS isn't enough evidence for you, you might want to consider:

Fans of Foreign Soccer Leagues 

We'll let one of our readers address this little detail.

The standard thinking is that if it isn't a "'Murican" sport, the U.S. public won't like it. That excuse has been used with hockey; it's used (more speciously, given its origins) with lacrosse and we'll continue to hear it with soccer. This hasn't stopped soccer, a British sport, from becoming intrinsically linked with Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina and a host of other countries where the British Empire's sun never set.

But, for argument's sake, let's say it was a primarily British sport. That didn't stop NBC from paying $250 million for three years' worth of rights to English Premier League matches back in 2012. It also didn't stop U.S. viewers from tripling EPL viewership in this country from when Fox Soccer and ESPN held the rights during the 2000s. This season, 30.5 million fans have watched the EPL on NBC and its associated stations. The National Football League draws that for a playoff game, but many Sunday EPL matches air well before NFL games and get close to 1 million fans up as early as 4:30 a.m. E.T.  to watch. The whole enterprise brings in $83 million a year in revenue for NBC, which is more than happy to get it.

But what if we argued that, in North America, soccer is a Mexican gam? Even if that stretch were the case -- and American Outlaws' supporters throughout the U.S. seethe at the thought -- ESPN managed to sign a deal with Mexico's Liga MX that allows it to broadcast matches on its English-language networks through 2015. That deal includes access to 83 million homes and a host of mobile devices through its ESPN3 streaming service and the WatchESPN app. Why, because ESPN Deportes coverage grew 36% during the year before the deal was announced and drew hundreds of thousands of fans in audiences larger than English-language NHL broadcasts. Oh, and because Liga MX audiences bring in $50 million in revenue of their own.

By the way, that's another group that cares about soccer here:

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