A Few More Thoughts on the Inevitable Rise of Soccer in the U.S.
M.G. Siegler

Some data on concussions per 1000 exposures:

Football 0.60
Lacrosse 0.30
Soccer 0.17
Wrestling 0.17
Basketball 0.10
Baseball 0.06

I was surprised to learn football was only 3.5x worse than soccer. A lot more, but not crazy more. Soccer headers are risky. Suspect the gap is still large enough to brand football as too brutal for some parents (aka boxing effect, not single driver, but an important one). And soccer has more ability to adjust header rules without completely changing the game, especially at younger age levels.

Second point: Soccer, like golf and tennis, is already locked into a founder culture and demographic aligned with the wealthy. So doing club soccer is expensive. Not because people want it to be, but because the demo can afford it and want the best for their kids. Travel teams at age 10 staying at hotels, etc. It’s not sailing. But closer than you might think if you don’t have kids this age in soccer. Like founder effects at companies, the culture once established is highly resistant to change. Processes, rules, norms, culture all congeal around assumptions on what is affordable by current demographic. In turn this self-selects for the demographic similar to the one already involved. Growth locks the culture ever ever tighter.

Last point. The really big shift in sports watching happened between 1960–1980, due to TV. See gallop. All things considered steady since. I suspect in the age of twitter NBA vines and snapchat, we’re at another tech driven inflection point. What sport might win? The one with most human drama and best closeups. Hint: it’s not people wearing helmets. Great for TV, but not great for the zoom-in show-me-the-LeBron-tears-drama closeup.

Net net I’d predict football decline to be very slow, then suddenly in say 40 years. Hockey steady state (helmets make it better for TV age, but currently unfulfilled potential might mean small growth). Baseball to continue it’s longtime gradual relative decline, while holding it’s place as a fun summer activity for going to a game. Soccer slow rise but locked into the wealthy demo for US for next generation at least, leading to less overall talent and permanent stall to unfulfilled potential in US market. Think head injury for soccer will get far more notice soon as football narrative gains traction, but rules changes could solve it well enough down the road. Wild card of course for US soccer is impact of Hispanic US population. That said, overall I’d go with a limited US rise on soccer. Not inevitable. In short, snapshat and twitter friendly NBA will crush it. Crush it.

Final partisan sports fan aside: Can Steve Kerr learn the Phil Jackson Zen Master technique for handling egos on a super-superstar roster, especially now that Durant is on the team? Kerr was outcoached in playoffs. Let’s just say I’m a tad concerned. But eager for next season.

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