When Will Major League Soccer Dethrone the NFL?

When we talk about sports in the United States, soccer tends to get a bad rap. Especially Major League Soccer. On one hand, it’s easy to see why: soccer hasn’t traditionally been the most popular sport in the U.S., and major league soccer associations have come and gone in the past. Recently, though, Major League Soccer has been growing at a breakneck pace, and it’s actually on pace to dethrone the NFL.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that expansion teams like the Seattle Sounders, the Portland Timbers, and New York City Football Club all help grow the league by tapping into new markets and increasing the overall number of games. And if their recent bout of growth holds steady, Major League Soccer will outnumber the NFL’s live attendance in 2026. If that’s sounds crazy, well, that’s why we decided to show you the math.

To build this graphic, we looked at the past five years of live attendance at major league sports games and extrapolated their growth outward. The NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB were all fairly stagnant, growing between 1 and 0.3 percent annually. Major League Soccer, on the other hand, has grown an average of 8.2 percent every year. In years that MLS adds expansion teams, attendance grows between 25 and 35 percent, and in other years, grows by 5 to 7 percent. We took the low end of these numbers and assumed that in 2017 and 2018, when MLS is expected to add new teams, the league would grow by 25 percent, and in other years, by 4 percent. The end result is that Major League Soccer is going to become one of the biggest sports in the U.S. very, very soon.

Agree? Disagree? Take a look below.

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