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

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Who cares about soccer? Companies like Fox  (FOXA), Comcast,  (CMCSA) and Disney (DIS), certainly, as they've bet considerable resources on Americans tuning in to the World Cup.

But still, every four years, someone whose feelings are hurt because the world isn't paying enough attention to their football/baseball/basketball/hockey team or NASCAR driver of choice asks this question. Each year, there are fewer people doing the asking and more doing the explaining. Soccer is growing in the U.S. and its viewer base is getting a whole lot bigger.

But why deal in generalities when we can tell you exactly who cares about soccer in this country? Let's go group by group:

Major League Soccer Fans 

This one seems a little obvious, but we can't discount them.

According to Nielsen's 2013 Year In Sports Media report, 40% of the small television audience for Major League Soccer consisted of viewers 35 and younger. That's a younger following than that of the National Football League (29% that young), college football and basketball (26% and 29% respectively), Major League Baseball (24%, with a whopping 50% of its audience aged 55 or over) or NASCAR (14%, with 49% 55 or older).

Also, when it comes to drawing viewers from the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., nothing comes close to MLS. A solid 34% of its viewers are Hispanic, compared to 9% for Major League Baseball, 8% for football and a scant 4% each for March Madness and college bowl games.

As for attendance, the average 18,608 that went to Major League Soccer matches last year is up from 14,898 just a decade ago. New franchises are coming to New York, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. Stars like Spain's David Villa and England's Frank Lampard are making the jump across the pond and home-grown talent is succeeding in small, thriving markets like Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Portland. The league also just received a new $600 million television deal from ESPN and Fox  (FOXA) that will keep it on air through 2022.

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