We are finally getting an MLS team! It is about damn time! Even though the stadium won't be fully constructed until 2022 and the team (St. Louis City SC) set to begin their first season in 2023, I'm still beyond excited. It was almost a crime back in 1993 that MLS did not grant our city an original franchise, but I digress. With an MLS team coming to St. Louis it raises the question, could soccer one day become more popular than Cardinals baseball?
The answer is, YES. Now before you start calling me a Eurotrash reject who is bad mouthing America's past time and one of the greatest baseball dynasties in history, let me start off by saying that I am a huge Cardinals fan as well. I just believe that with the deep roots soccer has here in St. Louis, international popularity, and its future here, it will one day surpass Cardinals baseball as the most popular sport among St. Louisans. So here is my argument...
St. Louis has had a rich history with the sport. We've had organized soccer here since the early 1900s. In fact, the St. Louis Soccer League was the first fully professional soccer league in the country. Many clubs have come and gone since, such as the string of pro indoor soccer teams we had here. The U.S. team for the 1950 World Cup, which defeated England 1–0 in one of the most noted upsets in World Cup history, had five of the eleven players on the team from St. Louis, including many from the historically Italian neighborhood of The Hill. Add the Bosnian and Latino communities in with the Italians, and soccer is not only etched into the history of St. Louis but many of its ethnic groups as well.
The International Popularity
In May of 2013 Busch Stadium hosted an exhibition soccer match between English clubs Manchester City and Chelsea. Within 20 minutes of tickets going on sale they were sold out. The crowd was 48,263, one of the largest audiences of a sporting event at Busch Stadium ever (including most Cardinals games). You cannot deny that soccer brings in the crowds from all over. Since then Busch has hosted six other soccer events, even a baseball stadium knows soccer sells.
Let's talk numbers. An article from Forbes back in the day stated that in 2002 almost 18 million people played soccer in America, up 15% from 15 years prior, while baseball participation was down 31% over the same period to 10 million people. Now that is on a national scale, lets look at some global numbers of the same year. The 2002 World Cup had 1.1 billion people tune in to watch its final game between Germany and Brazil. Overall the whole World Cup tournament viewership was 29 billion. The 2003 World Series only averaged 20 million viewers per game.
Going off a more modern-day perspective, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2017, 7% of Americans selected soccer as their favorite sport while 9% had baseball as their top choice. Although still more popular, this was baseball's lowest number since Gallup first began this poll in 1937. Without a doubt soccer dwarfs baseball internationally, and it is slowly but surely gaining more popularity here in America while baseball's popularity has been declining for a while.
The Major League Soccer Stadium is set to be completed in 2022. The St. Louis City SC team is scheduled to begin their first season in 2023. That will be 12 years since The Cardinals last won a World Series and 10 years since they won a Pennant providing they don't kick ass in the next couple of seasons. There will be a whole generation of children that have never seen a Cardinals World Series win and grow up with a St. Louis MLS team. If our MLS team starts winning and the Cardinals can't, I fear that maybe the Red Birds will start to become irrelevant to the younger crowds.
Cardinal legends like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are free agents as of now and close to retirement anyway. If Cardinals baseball loses two legends (that have inspired generations of fans) from their roster around the same time that our hot new MLS team comes to town it could spell trouble for baseball's draw of local fans. Major League Soccer is something fresh to the city! Most St. Louisans have attended a game at Busch Stadium, none of us have attended a St. Louis City SC game yet. A new team is exciting, just look at the hype that was around the newly welcomed BattleHawks before their season was cut short. Out with the old in with the new!
Ultimately, St. Louis wins no matter what! Downtown will be flourishing with a legendary Cardinals franchise, a newly crowned champion hockey team, and soon a new Major League Soccer Team. Plus, if the BattleHawks ever return then we will have four professional sports teams representing.
I do still believe that STL soccer could one day rival if not completely overtake Cardinals baseball in popularity. There's so much history in St. Louis connected to soccer and so much more to be written. One thing that is for certain, 2023 cannot come any sooner!
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