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Soccer's gaining American popularity

It is now tied for a top 5 favorite sport among Americans. There are seven total sports in the top five due to that tie. American pro football continues to dominate, while America's pasttime continues to fade.

David Ryder/Getty Images

Harris Interactive polls Americans about their passion for sports every year. They release the results just prior to the Super Bowl to get more traction. While there is no surprise that American pro football is number one favorite sport in the United States, their data shows that men's pro soccer is tied as the 5th most "favorited" sport in the country. Six percent of Americans consider men's professional soccer (all leagues) their favorite sport.

That number is up three points since the poll started in 1985, behind only pro football (up 11) and ice hockey (up 4). The demographics data for men's pro soccer (not including women's, which got 1%, and completely ignores international soccer) are not revealed, but the data from the top four sports can give a rough guide to soccer demos.

Those top four sports are American pro football, baseball, American college football and auto-racing (all varieties).

Most notably is that Millennials (Harris defines as "adults under 37") support three of the top four sports less than other ages. Younger sports fans tend to gravitate towards sports which fall lower on the list, like basketball, hockey and soccer. Millennials are also apply the word "sport" to a broad range of sports and sport-like events. They exceeded the national average for "what is a sport" among sports fans for chess, poker, Quidditch, video gaming, and competitive eating.

Interestingly enough, the top reason sports fans gave for enjoying sports was because of the skill involved. The top three sports in this poll are all played at the highest level within the USA. Auto-racing has a version at its highest level here as well. Men's soccer is the most "favorited" sport not played at the highest level within the nation.

But increasing quality domestically and increasing television access to the top versions of the game should help continue to grow pro soccer's popularity. For all of the angst about MLS capturing and featuring the rivalries it has, there is a clear reason - team rivalry is the number two reason why people watch sporting events. Expect MLS to continue to give people a feed of inter-city rivals (NYC, LA), Cascadia, the I-95 Cup and more. People like these things. Also expect to see more hashtags and other calls for social action while watching games, because 50% of Millenials say this is one of the things they enjoy doing with sports.

Men's pro soccer previously peaked in 1998 and 2010 at 4% calling it their favorite sport. Both of those years were with a World Cup in relatively easy to watch time zones. If one was looking for another major event to help the popularity of the game, one need only look to 2016 with both the Olympics in Brazil (where soccer will be hugely popular) and the Copa America Centenario here in the United States.

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