Q&A on the News

Q: It’s probably safe to say that soccer is the Western world’s most popular spectator sport. Why has it never caught on in America?

—Jim Miller, Hoschton

A: Soccer has become more popular in the United States in the past several years, but historians and writers have long discussed why it lags behind football, baseball and basketball.

Foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, the author of “The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do,” wrote in the Guardian, a British newspaper, in 2004: “Baseball, American football and basketball have long since put down deep roots, claimed particular seasons of the year as their own (although they now overlap) and gained the allegiance of the sports-following public.”

A 2006 USA Today article listed several reasons, including:

  • Soccer "has roots in Britain, which exported the game to its colonies some 150 years ago. Little surprise we just said no." "America was all about being independent from Great Britain, so soccer's inability to stick here really is a product of historical forces," Randy Roberts, a history professor at Purdue, told the paper.
  • America's best athletes play other sports, "eliminating the possibility of us ever seeing a Michael Jordan of soccer emerge from our shores."
  • Soccer is the "casual sport of middle-class suburbanites and their elementary school offspring."

Author and writer Frank Deford told the paper: “There’s not enough scoring, and ties make no sense. … From the 19th century onward, we have not taken to soccer. It’s almost as if it’s not in our DNA to like it.”

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).