Why Did Soccer Become So Popular?

By Vince •  Updated: 07/10/22 •  8 min read

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In this article, we will be taking a look into the history of soccer and the contributing factors that led to it being widely known as the beautiful game it is today

There are several factors that have led to soccer becoming the most widely televised, supported and played sport in the world. Some key reasons include: equipment costs are low and not highly specialized, the spread of the game throughout the world early on, and also the media presence that surrounds the game. Its competitions, stars, and clubs captivate millions globally Ultimately there are a large number of reasons that link together as to why soccer is the peoples’ choice of sport, but I will be discussing the main ones.

Accessibility

Soccer is an extremely simple game. Two teams or players aim to score more goals than the opponents in a defined goal. For recreational purposes, all that’s really needed is a ball and any two objects to use as goalposts. The English phrase ‘jumpers for goalposts’ illustrates this perfectly. How often have you walked past a park, grassy area, or beach anywhere in the world, and you see people of all ages enjoying a non-competitive game of football using only a ball and whatever they can find as goal posts? Given the limited amount of required equipment and the low cost of that equipment, it’s easy to see why the game is so accessible not just to the upper classes but to almost anyone. In addition to this, soccer can be played in almost all weather conditions.

If we take for example cricket and compare it with soccer. From an accessibility viewpoint, soccer uses less equipment, has cheaper equipment, and can be played year-round almost everywhere on the planet. Once you consider those 3 points, it’s easy to see why the average person who’s wanting to engage in a recreational sport amongst friends would, in most cases, choose soccer over cricket. We know grassroots sports naturally lead to progression into competitive sports and we can see that in comparison to cricket rings true when we assess the number of nations that have a recognised team in either sport.

There are 211 Nations with membership within the recognised leader of international soccer FIFA , while the cricket counterpart to FIFA, the ICC, only has 106 members which is almost exactly half. This is obviously not the only reason for why soccer is so popular but it could be argued that it’s one of the most important given how the decision of what sport to play with friends is likely to impact your decision over what is your favourite sport.

Spread of the game

The English invented football as we know it today in 1863 with the formation of the world’s first Football Associated, more commonly known as the FA. Soccer soon became a popular game amongst the elites of Britain before quickly spreading to the working classes. With Great Britain being a world superpower at the time at the forefront of trade and transport of various goods, the spread of British products was inevitable. This was also true of British sport and most certainly true of soccer.

The ports of the world receiving goods from the UK also welcomed the ship’s crew and with them they bought soccer, turning up with footballs aplenty the crews introduced the game to the far flung South American nations of Argentina, Brazil and Columbia as well as a host of others in Africa and beyond. This initial contact with the game soon turned to a love of the game when these nations whose poorer citizens realised the game was easy to play and as discussed before had low barriers to participation.

It is also entirely plausible that these countries saw soccer as a way to beat the British in some way which could be said to even strengthen the players’ determination to keep playing and improve. On the same sort of note, citizens may have seen it as a way to align themselves with the wealthier British population if they were that inclined.

You can easily see how the game being spread throughout by the British would allow for a far greater growth of the sport, for example would the game be as big as it is today if it was created in a country that wasn’t as powerful on the global scale or as prominent in trade at the time.

Media

The media furor that surrounds soccer has an obvious effect on the popularity of the sport. Where the game is easily accessible in terms of playing as we looked at earlier it’s even easier to consume as a spectator. Soccer is far and away the most viewed and broadcast sport on a global scale and this has obvious benefits to its growth and staying power as the world’s most popular sport. Whether it’s the Champions League, World Cup, Euro’s the sport’s biggest competitions draw eyes from all over.

Media of the sport doesn’t just stop at games however with hours of coverage dedicated to match build-up, highlights, news, and punditry it’s no wonder its status at the top of the sport’s standings is only growing and doesn’t look in any threat for some time. Coverage of the sport has grown and grown over the years in line with popularity and with so much content being consumed it’s hard to see it slowing down much.

In the late 90’s the sport saw the introduction of what could be deemed the first global superstars within that transcended the sport, stars like David Beckham bought interest into the daily lives of footballers with fans keen to know more and more about what goes on off the pitch. This has led to a huge increase in the use of footballers and people associated with the game appearing in advertisements and promotions.

With it becoming widely known and published that the top stars can and do live the most lavish of lifestyles we can assume that both children and adults alike can see the potential value in pursuing a career in the sport, this in turn is likely to lead to even more participation which of course creates a strong bond with the sport for the younger generation.

This bond is then strengthened over time with the help of constant content from the media in what is a constant cycle of new blood into the game and then a constant reinforcement of their love for the game through the media. To conclude, the masses of content surrounding the game and in various forms allow the sport to continue to grow at a fast rate with no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Where Now for Soccer?

Having discussed a bit of history and how the game became the world’s game I thought it would be a good idea to look at the future and how we can expect the game to grow or shrink in popularity going forward.

Now I’m not a psychic but all indications lead to a further increase in participation and interest within the sport and the reasons why are plenty. The first reason is that the game isn’t becoming harder to access.

In fact, in some ways it’s potentially becoming easier, the continued push to increase the visibility and participation within the women’s game is a massive step for soccer. In recent years there has been a real push to grow the popularity of the game and a shift in social acceptance of women within sports, this progress in ideas amongst the public will only help participation within the sport, if we see the same trends in media which we have started to see in social ideology then the growth is only going to increase. Further to this the sport’s lawmakers and shareholders are also exploring the possibility of changes that will affect the popularity of the sport.

One such example of this is to introduce a stop-clock for each time play stops to ensure that tactics such as time wasting are eradicated. In some European leagues these measures are being trialled which only goes to show the appetite to grow the game is still there from all parties. The last reason I see the game growing further is the compounding of content creation that’s being allowed to happen through the use of social media putting the game in front of our face even more. With all clubs now having their own mediums of social media, it’s hard to escape the latest news, and being constantly reminded of soccer can only be good for the sport.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to read this article, its clear to see that soccer is indeed not only popular but it is the most popular sport there is and I am happy to say the beautiful game isn’t going anywhere.

 

Vince

I'm a qualified soccer coach, who has been involved with the sport for most of my life. I started Woodland Soccer to talk about the game I love.