Professional soccer, or “football” depending upon your location, has long been popular worldwide. Soccer enthusiasm is newer in America, but it is rapidly growing along with interest in Major League Soccer (MLS).

MLS started in 1996 with only 10 teams. By the 2023 season, there were 29 teams – 26 in America and three in Canada. The three newest teams to join are – Austin (2021), Charlotte (2022), and St. Louis (2023).

Expansion is one of MLS’ key goals, as adding more teams will help widen the fan base. Eventually, they hope to become one of the best professional soccer leagues in the world. 

Want more information on trends within the sports & entertainment space? Check out our Entertainment: An Industry Snapshot report for insights and brand rankings. 

Attendance at MLS games has been steadily increasing for eight consecutive years (excluding 2020/2021 due to COVID restrictions). In 2019, MLS games had an attendance of 8.6 million. In 2023, they were on track to close the year with game attendance at 10.9 million.

“Trial” Interest Grows in States with Newer Teams

It is easier to grow a passionate MLS fanbase in cities and states with a professional soccer team. Using data from QuestBrand by The Harris Poll, we’ve explored how US adults in states with the newest MLS teams (Texas, North Carolina, and Missouri) have increasingly embraced the MLS brand throughout the second half of 2022 and 2023.

QuestBrand tracks consumers’ progression through the sales conversion funnel – awareness, familiarity, trial, usage, and recommend.

The graph below traces consumers’ willingness to explore the MLS brand (“trial”). This includes US adults who are interested in watching a MLS game or in learning more about the league. “Trial” is a key step in the conversion funnel before consumers can become regular viewers (“usage”) or avid fans (“recommend”).

MLS “Trial” – Gen Pop vs US Adults from States with New Teams – 12 Week Moving Average

QuestBrand. 7/1/22-12/31/23. Base: General population of US adults (black), n=15,801. Base: US adults from states with new teams – North Carolina, Texas, and Missouri (light blue), n=2,029.

The light blue line in the graph above tracks the “trial” score among US adults in states with the newest MLS teams. You can see their interest grow throughout 2023 and surpass the level of “trial” interest expressed by the general population of US adults.

It didn’t hurt the “trial” numbers that superstar Lionel Messi debuted with Miami’s team in July. Messi is considered one of the best soccer players of all time. Adding star power to MLS may have encouraged curious viewers to check out the league.

Brand Equity Shifts From 2022 to 2023

Using QuestBrand data, we also tracked MLS’s brand equity score. Brand equity measures the value consumers see in a brand at a particular moment of time. It is an average of four components: brand familiarity, perceived quality, purchase consideration, and perceived momentum.

MLS Brand Equity – Second Half of 2022 vs 2023 – US Adults in States with New Teams

QuestBrand. Base: US adults from states with new teams – North Carolina, Texas, and Missouri. Pre: 7/1/22-12/31/22, n=684. Post: 7/1/23-12/31/23, n=665. 

Above, we compare MLS’s brand equity in the second half of 2022 to the second half of 2023 – just among adults in states with the newest MLS teams (Texas, North Carolina, and Missouri).

While we see growth across all components of brand equity, the most significant gains are experienced in consideration (+8.7), quality (+4.3), and familiarity (+6.2).

These numbers reflect significant year-over-year growth for the MLS brand. At the end of 2023, US adults in states with new teams rated the quality of the MLS brand more highly, and they more often considered engaging with the league.

Over the next two years, we can expect Americans’ interest in MLS to further expand. In 2025, MLS will launch a new team in San Diego. In 2026, soccer will gain an even greater stage as the FIFA World Cup is held in North America. These two events should shine a greater spotlight on soccer and generate more interest in MLS.

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Catherine Ake

Content Strategist

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