Last night, the MLS All-Star Game was held in Chicago, featuring the best players from Major League Soccer versus the Spanish super club Real Madrid. The game was televised in over 170 countries, by broadcasters including FS1, Univision, TSN, and TVA Sports. A sellout crowd of 61,428, as well as those who watched on TV, were treated with a thrilling game where the MLS All-Stars tied the game late in regulation, only to fall 4-2 in penalty kicks. Even though the MLS All-Stars lost the game, not everyone was a loser. It has been estimated that MLS All-Star games contribute between $15 million and $20 million in economic impact for host cities.* In addition, the game draws major sponsors like Target, Audi and more. Given the popularity of the game, Simmons Research decided to look into the psychographics, demographics, and behaviors of different types of soccer fans to illustrate their value to advertisers, marketers, and sponsors.
Soccer fans – those who describe themselves as light, average, or super fans – number about 43.5 million across the United States. Soccer players are a smaller group, with about 7.2 million, or 16.5% of total soccer fans. The third group is those who watch but do not participate; this group numbers slightly over 27 million or just under two-thirds of total soccer fans.
Soccer Fan Demographics
Generationally, soccer fans across the board are mostly Millennials, with Gen X coming up right behind them. Nearly half of soccer players are Millennials, compared with about a quarter of the GenXers.
As with many other sports, soccer fans skew male; 67% are male versus 33% female. Soccer watchers have a similar breakdown, whereas players are more likely to be male, with 83% playing versus 17% for women.
Sports are a family affair for soccer fans. Over two-thirds of soccer fans say that parents should share their love of sports with their kids; they see sports as a way of teaching their children – about the value of teamwork (73%) and perseverance and hard work (76%) – as well as being a good way for kids to bond (72%). And watching sports together is a way for the family to spend quality time – a statement agreed with by nearly 60% of soccer fans, players, and watchers!
Soccer Fans and Other Sports
It probably comes as no surprise that soccer players enjoy a number of other athletic endeavors. They are more likely than soccer fans in general (and than soccer watchers) to play softball (17%/139), baseball (24%/133), football (20%/113), and basketball (29%/112), along with skateboarding (7%/132), kayaking (13%/120), and boxing (9%/162). Watchers, on the other hand, are more into lower-key participatory sports like ice skating (10%/114), fresh-water fishing (21%/115), salt-water fishing (12%/111), and hunting (13%/117). Both groups, however, enjoy keeping fit – nearly one-half of both players and watchers report walking for exercise and exercising regularly in general (at a gym or at home), with almost one-third incorporating jogging or running into their routines. Swimming and weight training are also near the top of the list in terms of participation as well.
When it comes to their other sorts of fandom, soccer fans like sports across the board. Perhaps obviously, the different soccer leagues (Liga Mexicana, MLS, International soccer, and US Men’s and Women’s National Teams) pop to the top across all three groups. In fact, our three groups tend to overindex versus sports fans in general for all sports, with the exception being Figure Skating. Soccer fans’ top three (beyond soccer) are Lucha Libre/Mexican Wrestling (11%/241), Lacrosse (13%/211), and College Basketball (18%/194). Soccer players have similar interests; Lucha Libre/Mexican Wrestling (14%/297), Lacrosse (14%/219), and College Hockey (17%/176), as do soccer watchers. In terms of more mass-market sports, all three groups overindex for being fans of the NFL (over two-thirds of each say they are fans).
Soccer Fans and Sports-Related Spending
Soccer players are big spenders when it comes to sports-related apparel and merchandise, not only for themselves, but also for their kids. They outspend soccer fans in general and also soccer watchers on everything from sports-themed home décor to apparel to food and drink at sporting events. Soccer players spend more on cable TV than sports fans in general (62% more), than soccer fans (37% more), and than soccer watchers (45% more) – watching all the games is a big priority for them!
Soccer Fans: Sports Ads and Sponsorships
So what might be driving the high spending habits of soccer fan groups? Looking at the influence of ads on the soccer fan/player/watcher audience, it is notable that ads of many types are influential to all three of our groups. From social media ads to commercials shown during sports broadcasts to ads in stadiums, our soccer fans, in all forms, are nearly riveted to this content. Over one-third of each of our 3 sports groups say that promotional events at games enhance the experience – compared with 17% for sports fans in general. And nearly one-half (44%) of soccer players say that brand logos on athletes’ jerseys have an influence on them; for soccer fans and soccer watchers, this number is nearly one-third. Still, compared with the 16% of all sports fans who find this particular type of advertising compelling, the opportunities that exist for this market are huge.
And corporate sponsorship of sports does not faze our soccer fan groups either. Over one-half (53%) of our players notice brands worn by athletes during the game – with watchers (48%) and soccer fans (46%) close behind. Similar percentages say that sponsors of sporting events are critical to the success of the sport, and all three groups are more likely to be loyal to sponsors, support the sponsors of their favorite team/athlete by purchasing products, and consider a product better if it is supported by their favorite team or athlete.
Soccer Fans: Sports Attitudes
But beyond sponsorships and advertising, sports have an overall positive influence on the lives of sports fans – especially soccer fans. 74% of soccer fans and players (and 77% of watchers) say that sports can bring people from different walks of life together – and generations of families too can share this passion. Almost one-half of our three groups say that sports have provided them a foundation for lifelong friendships (fans: 47%, players: 50%, and watchers: 50%) as well as helping define who they are. For soccer fans, being a sports fan is a joy – they will cheer for their favorite team no matter how they are doing (68%), will watch for the surprise of the results (66%), and say that it helps them escape the daily grind of work and life (61%). Sporting events provide a social outlet, enable strange superstitions and rituals (players: 33%), and provide an outlet to indulge one’s competitive instincts while building a foundation of cooperation and partnership with others.