Last year was a great year for the soccer industry. If it feels like we say that every year, well, you’re right. This speaks to the continued growth in interest among fans, brands, and media companies in the U.S.
From Copa América to women’s soccer expansion, there’s plenty to be excited by in the year ahead. Given this, here are some of our top soccer industry storylines in 2024.
Copa América returns to the U.S.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest stories of 2024 will be the return of Copa America – South America’s continental championship – to the U.S. for the first time since 2016. From June 20 through July 14, all National Teams from South America will compete against six teams from North America and the Caribbean, including the U.S. and Mexico.
In 2016, over 1.5 million fans attended Copa América Centenario games – still a record through the tournament’s 47 editions. The 2024 event will break this record thanks, in part, to U.S.-based Lionel Messi pushing the tournament to mainstream audiences.
FOX Sports will broadcast the tournament with English commentary, while TUDN will carry Spanish-language commentary.
European Championship – also on FOX/TUDN
Copa América won’t be the only continental championship this summer. The Euros will be contested for the 17th time on June 14 through July 14. This means U.S. fans will be able to watch the Euros and Copa América in the same day. Big teams. Big players. Big moments from sunrise to sunset.
All the heavy hitters – France, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, and more – will be there, as will their stars. In fact, three of those countries – Spain, Italy, Croatia – were drawn into the same group. Separately, provided he’s healthy, Euro 2024 will likely be Cristiano Ronaldo’s final international tournament with Portugal.
The Euro 2020 final between Italy and England was watched by almost 9.5 million fans on ESPN and Univision/TUDN – a 59% increase from the 2016 final. While TUDN retains the Spanish-language broadcast rights, FOX Sports will, for the first time, carry English commentary. Both networks will anticipate similar, if not larger, numbers given the summer’s slate of games on both networks.
Another year of growth in women’s soccer
Last year was a great year for women’s soccer, both in the U.S. and around the world. The NWSL saw more than 1.2 million fans attend games – a league record, up 40% from 2022. In December, Arsenal set a new Women’s Super League attendance record when over 59,000 fans attended their victory over Chelsea. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand also set ticket sales records.
There’s a lot of momentum carrying into 2024, with stories like these below being among the ones we’ll be paying attention to this year:
NWSL adds two more teams. Bay FC and Utah Royals FC will join the league this season, bringing the total number of teams to 14. Expect expansion storylines to be prevalent throughout 2024, as interest in franchise ownership has never been higher.
USL Super League begins in August. Another professional women’s soccer league will begin play in 2024. Super League teams will play from August to June to be aligned with the women’s international soccer calendar. The league will be owned and operated by USL.
2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The awarding of the hosting rights to the tournament are expected to be announced in May. U.S. Soccer and the Mexican Federation announced a joint bid to host the event, which was last hosted on North American soil in Canada in 2015.
Media landscape continues to evolve
The soccer broadcast landscape continues to morph as the tug of war between linear/cable/satellite and streaming continues. We’ll soon release our review of 2023 soccer broadcasts, but as a teaser, there were over 3,000 games featured on more than 30 linear/cable/satellite channels alone.
SOCCER ON TV 2023 – YEAR IN REVIEW
Here are just a few of the broadcast storylines we’ll be keeping close tabs on in 2024:
Year 2 of Apple x MLS partnership. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the company was excited by the first year of its partnership with MLS. The addition of Lionel Messi mid-season certainly helped, as subscriptions reportedly doubled upon his arrival. We’re curious how the partnership will evolve in 2024 and continue to be innovative in coverage and delivery.
NWSL broadcast partner roster expands. In November, NWSL announced its new partnership with CBS, ESPN, Prime Video, and Scripps Sports. The deal sees 118 games split across the media partners, including Friday night games on Prime Video, Saturday night double-headers on the Scripps-owned ION network, and a package of games on CBS (including CBS Sports Network and Paramount+), and ESPN (including ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+).
CBS Sports continues dynamic coverage. Speaking of CBS, the broadcast company had a landmark 2023. It launched Golazo Network, the first-of-its-kind 24/7 digital soccer network, and shows like Kickin’ It. We’re anxious to see how CBS Sports continues to evolve and grow their coverage of the sport as a whole, but especially with properties like NWSL, Serie A, and UEFA Champions League.
Premier League viewership reaching new heights. At the end of the 2022-23 season, the Premier League had its second-most watched season ever in the U.S., averaging 527,000 viewers per game across NBC, USA, and CNBC. In the current 2023-24 season, NBC Sports has record the most-watched Premier League game in history (1.96 million English-language viewers alone). This begs the question – will the league solidify itself as the most-watched league in the U.S. by 2024’s end?
WHERE TO WATCH SOCCER IN 2024
Other soccer industry storylines in 2024
There are a myriad of other storylines influencing the soccer industry we’ll be following throughout the year. From the continued impact of legal sports gambling to an increased focus on Gen Alpha to cultivate the next generation of soccer fans, 2024 will be another important year in soccer’s growth trajectory.
Legal sports betting continues to bring new fans. According to a survey of nationwide soccer fans we conducted in December, 30% of soccer fans legally gambled on soccer in 2023 and 5% of all fans link their soccer interest origin directly to gambling. As sports betting continues to become legal in more states and general sports fans look to soccer as another sport on which to bet, we expect more and more people to continue entering the soccer fandom funnel.
The marketing runway to 2026 begins now. As we march closer and closer to the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup, expect more brands (both new and old to soccer) to enter the mix and attach themselves to soccer properties. With Copa América here this summer and the FIFA Club World Cup here next summer, the runway to 2026 is built and the sport is primed for mainstream takeoff.
Athletes continue to drive conversations. As Awful Announcing recently highlighted, one of the main stories in sports media in 2023 was the rise in attention on athlete-driven conversations via TV, podcasts, web shows, etc. This trend is unlikely to depart in 2024, which raises the question – how does this trend become more prevalent in the soccer world?
Social platform uncertainty breeds new opportunity. With uncertainty surrounding the future of platforms like X / Twitter and the departure of advertisers from the platform, we’re curious what impact this will have on soccer leagues, teams, brands, and more. For example, in year’s past, FOX Sports has worked with Twitter as part of their tournament-specific digital strategy.
Will uncertainty lead to new or expanded partnerships with a platform like Tiktok, which reportedly saw a 23% increase in U.S. advertisers in the back half of 2023? The platform is no stranger to partnerships for soccer events, having worked with FIFA for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, among other examples.
Gen Alpha targeting becomes more prominent. In a 2021 report, Morning Consult shared that soccer –according to their parents – is the second-most–likely sport (behind pro football) to be watched by Gen Alpha. As this generation, born between 2010 and 2025, continues to mature into their consumption habits, expect soccer to be a vehicle to reach this young audience.
Food for thought, as 39% of soccer fans have children under age 14 in their household, according to a survey we conducted in December 2023.