It’s not often that soccer and the United States are spoken of in the same breath. But a diminutive Argentinian possessing outsized wizardry changed all of that. Lionel Messi put US Major League Soccer on the world map, and Apple brought the games into American living rooms. On Saturday, December 9, it all comes to a head as LAFC defends its title against the Columbus Crew in the finals. (For the record, as a one-time Angeleño, I’m rooting for LAFC, especially after Cincinnati’s heartbreaking loss against its northern neighbors.)

While soccer has gathered much steam of late in the United States, it’s that other kind of football that steals hearts and minds. There is no doubt whatsoever — in the United States, there is one game to rule them all. According to Forrester’s November 2023 data, 64% of US online adults have watched football in the last 12 months. Basketball (44%) and baseball (38%) are a distant second and third. No other sport — not even hockey — cracks the 20% mark.

But there’s more to it. To gauge the intensity of their fandom, we asked sports viewers to make a hard choice. When asked if they could only watch one sport and one alone, football is the clear favorite, with 51% of respondents selecting football. Basketball and baseball fall into the next tier, but responses for each are still below 20%.

But wait — the plot thickens. Football’s stranglehold over viewers and fans begins to loosen among younger consumers. Among Millennials, for example, basketball makes up serious ground. Just over half of Millennials have watched each of football and basketball in the last 12 months, and nearly one-third of Millennials chose basketball if they were limited to one sport — compared to just under half who picked football. In comparison, 62% of Gen X respondents picked football if they could choose only one sport, and only 11% chose basketball.

The results for soccer are not quite as dramatic as basketball, but interest in the sport skews heavily toward the youngest consumers. One-quarter of Gen Z respondents have watched soccer in the last 12 months, compared to 15% of Millennials and only 9% of Boomers. Dare we, of the soccer-loving ilk, hope that our kind of futbol will be America’s favorite pastime in the not-too-distant future?

Sports And Brands Are Inseparable

From logo-emblazoned jerseys to extravagant Super Bowl advertising, brands have always sought to capitalize on the salience and emotional juggernaut that is sport. As companies look to deemphasize intrusive, interruptive advertising and prefer experiences and associations that show them in a positive light, sports become a vital channel for marketing for them to drive their growth strategy.

Follow my research to uncover brand experiences and strategies relating to sports and, in future editions of these posts, explore thorny issues such as whether social issues have any business in sports and if they should affect a brand’s choice of sponsorships and marketing investments. To stay connected to these topics and my other research, go to my Forrester bio and choose “Follow.” If you are a Forrester client interested in discussing these topics, please schedule time with me.