I have been amused at the reaction by many to the recent comments of hyper-conservative pot-stirrer Ann Coulter, who said: “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.” In her two-part soccer critiques (part 1 and part 2), she has simultaneously chastised the sport, its athletes, and its fans with opinions ranging from calling it a “game for girls” (and she doesn’t mean this as a co-ed factoid), boring and mind-numbing, it’s “foreign” and therefore loved by liberals, doesn’t reflect true competition, and other feather-ruffling musings. Her comments have spawned other conservative commentators to jump on the soccer-bashing bandwagon, going so far as to call a like for the sport as “anti-American.”
Whether these are actual impassioned opinions or attention-seeking media ploys, these commentators might be surprised to learn the facts about U.S. soccer fans.

We mined the data we collected from 7,034 U.S. adults between June 11, 2014 and July 10, 2014 who answered the question: Do you care about soccer? Most don’t (75% said No, 25% said Yes), but we wanted to compare the fans to the non-fans and how those respondents answered a range of other questions served through our polls over the past year.

Here’s what we know about U.S. soccer fans:

  • Soccer is not a partisan sport, but in fact is liked nearly equally across party lines. 26% of those who consider themselves Democrats like soccer, while 23% of both Republicans and Independents do too.
  • In fact, soccer fans are slightly more likely than non-fans to have contributed financially to a political candidate, party or cause; and 55% of them say they “Always” vote in local, state, and federal elections.
  • Soccer is indeed liked by younger age groups, which those commentators both surmised, as you can see from the following chart:

Soccer by age

  • 49% of soccer fans are not parents, which is likely to be a reflection of the age trend.
  • From a racial standpoint, Caucasians make up most of the U.S. fans (81%), followed by Hispanics/Latinos (7%) and Blacks (4%). (Respondents self-selected their race category from a list.)
  • Men are more likely than women to favor soccer (30% vs 21%). I’m not sure these men would appreciate hearing that it’s a “game for girls,” although as a youngster, this female writer played soccer at my schools for seven years. (And I was in the best shape of my life during that time as a result.)
  • City dwellers are slightly more likely to favor soccer at 29%, but suburbanites are not far behind at 25%, while rural residents come in at 18%.
  • Income doesn’t seem to be a factor, the percentages of fans to non-fans is pretty much the same across all income groups. Soccer fans are about 50% more likely to hold a service occupation (such as child care worker, fireman, waitress) job than non-fans, but like non-fans, more fans (33%) are in a professional/managerial occupation than other job types.
  • Soccer fans are active: 52% of soccer fans exercise at least several times a week, 62% of them like to get their exercise outside of the gym, and they prefer to mix it up with different types of exercise.
  • They are somewhat less likely to smoke: 88% of soccer fans are non-smokers vs. 79% of non-fans.
  • More soccer fans say their biggest passion is sports (27%) over other choices like travel, music, fashion, food and drink, and movies/TV. Health and wellness is runner up among soccer fans (15%).
  • Major League Soccer isn’t followed as closely as some might think: only 15% of soccer fans say they follow it “Very Closely” or “Somewhat Closely.” This could be symptomatic of the MLS still being a fairly new league (it was established in the U.S. in 1996, compared to 1920 for the NFL) and not yet having the media coverage and team reach of other sports leagues.
  • Fútbol fans are also very likely to be football fans: 51% say they follow the NFL very closely or somewhat closely. As for other U.S. sports leagues, 38% of them say the same for the National Hockey League and Men’s college NCAA basketball; 37% of them for Major League Baseball.
  • Soccer fans exercise their passports more than non-fans: 68% of them have travelled outside the U.S. border compared to 52% of non-fans. They are nearly 2X more likely to frequently travel internationally vs. non-fans.
  • Despite their younger age, they are more likely to kick it old school when it comes to getting their news: Non-fans are more likely to say they Never read a printed newspaper (25%) than soccer fans (16%).
  • We also recently found, in our ongoing Economic Sentiment Index in partnership with Hamilton Place Strategies, that there is a connection between soccer fans and economic optimism.

We can keep going on and on, but I hope this demonstrates that data are available to better understand fans of a brand (or in this case, a sport) compared to non-fans along a wide scope of behavioral and attitudinal attributes, in addition to demographics.

Sometimes data can provide justice for all.