The NFL, NBA and MLB have traditionally dominated sports fandom in the U.S., but change is coming. The popularity of soccer—and specifically, MLS—is already growing, especially among young people.
U.S. soccer fans enjoy watching the Premier League most. But Gen Z-aged fans rank MLS as their favorite soccer league, according to a report from For Soccer, a leading soccer-focused marketing, media, and experiences company, conducted last November, before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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The survey—which included responses from 2,020 people, male and female, who identify as soccer fans ranging from casual to “hardcore,”— also shows that their interest in soccer has increased in the past few years.
When asked to name their favorite current active male soccer players, those surveyed named hundreds, according to the report. To no surprise, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were the top two male names listed. In the survey, 26% of the respondents said the Argentine soccer star is their favorite soccer player, while 21% chose Ronaldo, who currently plays in the Saudi Pro League’s Al-Nassr FC. Christian Pulisic is the top male American player listed.
Survey respondents also said the biggest factor in determining which club they support is their interest in the club’s individual players.
In terms of cups and tournaments, Gen Z fans indicate that the Men’s World Cup is their favorite to watch and favor the Women’s World Cup to European club championships, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. Last year’s Men’s World Cup final on Fox Sports was the most-watched men’s telecast in English-language history, with peak viewership hitting 25.6 million for Lionel Messi and Argentina’s victory over France.
For Soccer’s findings—showing that Gen Z fans were already gravitating toward MLS—further support Inter Miami’s and MLS’s decision to invest heavily in bringing Messi to the league.
Since Messi’s arrival, Inter Miami has captured millions of new supporters, especially on social media—the club has gained 14.5 million Instagram followers since June and is now the fourth-most followed U.S. sports franchise on that platform, surpassing all NFL, MLB, and NHL teams (the NBA’s Warriors, Lakers and Cavaliers all have more Instagram followers than Inter Miami).
Before Messi, Miami had the lowest attendance among the 29 MLS teams, with an average crowd of 12,821. Inter Miami’s all four home games at DRV PNK Stadium during the Leagues Cup were sold out. According to Apple, his debut against Cruz Azul was one of the most-watched games on MLS Season pass, which airs exclusively on Apple TV+. Additionally, 1.75 million viewers watched that game on Univision—making it the second-most watched Spanish language club soccer telecast in the U.S. of all time.
The report suggests the growth will reach new heights in 2026 when the U.S. joint-hosts the FIFA Men’s World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.
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