Did the 2023 World Cup Boost MLS Interest?

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Network BeIN has reported that more than 5.4 billion viewers tuned in to watch the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this year. While that figure represents the total number of cumulative views throughout the tournament, it highlights just how incredibly popular the soccer competition is.

And this year, there was plenty of added attention from US fans. Traditionally, US fans are more focused on the NFL and its Super Bowl than FIFA and its regional competitions—or even the World Cup. However, interest in sports in the US is diversifying greatly.

Interest in soccer, specifically, has been boosted by a few different factors. First, the federal US government repealed a ban on sports betting in 2018. Since then, dozens of states have opened up their online and in-person betting markets. This means that fans who were once uninterested in soccer now have new ways to engage with the sport. 

Second, the World Cup added to this interest. For example, a promo code from Caesar’s Sportsbook can be applied to almost any wager on a major betting market. For new soccer fans that haven’t dipped a toe into the MLS, betting on the World Cup was the perfect segue into the sport. And millions of fans worldwide wagered on outcomes like the winning team to the player who scored the most goals.

 But now that the World Cup has ended, there’s just one question: did this year’s massive interest in the World Cup help generate more fans for North America’s MLS league? Let’s dive into the details.



Slow & Steady Growth in the US

The MLS has attempted to gain a steady following in North America in various iterations over the last fifty years. While the current MLS model looks to be working and is set to expand in the coming years, one survey of MLS interest from May 2022 found that 76% of those polled weren’t a fan of the league.

And while 19% categorized themselves as casual fans, only 5% claimed to be dedicated and avid fans. From a fan perspective, things aren’t looking great for the MLS… but there’s one caveat: big business. From a more rote and infrastructural perspective, what the MLS needs to succeed is funding—that keeps teams alive and presents players and coaches with better resources to improve.

And right now, brand marketers in North America are going all-in on the league. So, what does this mean? It means that, though fan interest seems to be low, a few well-targeted MLS ad campaigns might be enough to garner more interest in the league.  


A Transfer Market Destination

Once again, while fan interest in the MLS is low, it’s become a more attractive league for soccer stars. In the past, the MLS was considered a retirement league—and much activity in MLS boardrooms has been about how to refocus the league to generate interest from younger stars in their heydays.

What’s most important is the development of younger players in the league. Instead of trading players like Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini to Los Angeles, the MLS has started to bring on younger players, like Watford’s Cucho Hernandez. And the same is true in vice versa. One huge coup for the MLS was the recent trade of Chicago Fire’s goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina to Chelsea for a massive $10 million.

When better players appear on rosters, there’s a better quality of play. And that seems to be one of the MLS’s current approaches to building its fanbase: to optimize the level of competition.


The Messi Question

Now that Messi has a World Cup title under his belt, the player has it all. So, would he really opt to play in the MLS? According to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, there’s plenty of interest in signing Messi to the league—but what would actually convince the star to transfer?

 So far, Garber confirms that it’s all speculation—and one that has also come with talks of Cristiano Ronaldo also transferring.

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