How Many People Watch Soccer in the U.S. & Around the World? – Soccer Viewership: MLS, World Cup, Liga MX, CONCACAF, Champions League & More

More than 3.5 billion soccer fans gathered around TV sets to watch the action unfold at the last World Cup, according to FIFA. That means half the world’s population tuned in as the leading teams battled it out for the Jules Rimet trophy.

It cemented soccer’s status as the world’s most popular sport. However, it is a different story in the United States. Soccer lags football, basketball and baseball here, and it is left to vie with hockey for fourth place.

How many people watch soccer in the United States? What are the most popular leagues and tournaments here? Read on to learn more about soccer viewership figures in the USA and around the world.

MLS Viewership

MLS is the top division for men’s soccer in the United States. It is divided into two conferences. The top teams reach the playoffs and the last two left standing contest the MLS Cup.

There are now 28 teams – 25 in the U.S. and three in Canada – after Charlotte joined the party in 2022. Four more expansion franchises will come on board in 2023. Most major cities now have an MLS team, which has helped to galvanize interest across the country.

Lots of famous European players have also headed Stateside for one last paycheck, so fans have been able to watch the likes of David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Gareth Bale in action, boosting the league’s profile.

MLS Viewership in the U.S.

MLS games are mainly broadcast on ESPN, with a few games on ABC and FOX Sports. They are also shown on the Spanish-language Univision network. The league earns around $90 million combined per year for broadcast rights from those channels. It is trying to convince TV executives to pay $300 million for an annual deal, but it has not yet tied one up.

  • 285,000 – MLS executives reported that the league averaged 285,000 viewers across 31 regular season games on cable in 2021.
  • 257,000 – MLS games averaged 257,000 viewers on ESPN in 2020, so there was a 10.9% increase in 2021.
  • 284,000 – MLS games racked up an average of 284,000 on the Univision network in 2021, doubling the overall viewership.
  • 507,000 – The MLS aired five games on ABC in 2021, and they delivered an average audience of 507,000 viewers. 


MLS Viewership Around the World 

MLS commercial executives have agreed broadcast deals covering 190 countries across the world. That includes CTV and TSN in Canada. ESPN has the broadcast rights for lots of regions, including Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia.

The biggest market outside of the United States is naturally Canada, as it has three teams in the league: Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and CF Montréal. Viewership tends to spike when Toronto FC goes deep into the playoffs. For example:

  • An average 1.5 million Canadians watched Toronto against Seattle in the 2016 MLS Cup final.
  • Peak viewership hit 2.7 million when Roman Torres scored the winning penalty for the Sounders, while 4.2 million Canadians watched at least some part of that match.
  • An average of 748,000 viewers watched Toronto in the MLS Cup final in 2019, when they lost to Seattle again. The game was competing with the CFL playoffs that day.

Outside of Canada, viewership figures tend to be low. The time difference makes it difficult for European soccer fans to watch MLS games, which often take place in the early hours of the morning. For example, just 5,000 Brits watched the 2015 MLS Cup final, although 30,000 watched a replay the following day.


MLS Cup Viewership

The MLS Cup final is invariably the most watched game of the season. These figures highlight how popular it was in 2021:

  • 1.14 million – The average viewers for the 2021 MLS Cup final on ABC, which saw NYCFC beat Portland Timbers on penalties.
  • 1.6 million – Peak viewership for the 2021 MLS Cup final on ABC, making it the fifth most watched final since 1999.
  • 1.5 million – Average viewership for the 2021 MLS Cup final across ABC, UniMás and TUDN.

Viewership figures are naturally influenced by which teams reach the final each year. They often spike when a particularly popular team, such as LA Galaxy, Portland or Seattle, is in action. This chart shows how the viewership has ebbed and flowed over the years:


Year Network Rating Viewers (millions)
1997 ABC 1.4 2.6
1998 ABC 1 2.2
1999 ABC 0.7 1.3
2000 ABC 0.7 1.2
2001 ABC 1 2
2002 ABC 0.8 1.2
2003 ABC 0.6 0.9
2004 ABC 0.8 1.3
2005 ABC 0.8 1.1
2006 ABC 0.8 1.2
2007 ABC/TeleFutura 0.8 1.1
2008 ABC/TeleFutura 0.6 0.9
2009 ESPN/Galavision 0.7 1.1
2010 ESPN/Galavision 0.4 0.7
2011 ESPN/Galavision 0.8 1
2012 ESPN/UniMás 0.7 0.8
2013 ESPN/UniMás 0.5 1
2014 ESPN/UniMás 0.6 1.9
2015 ESPN/UniMás 0.4 1.2
2016 Fox/UniMás 0.9 2
2017 ESPN/UniMás 0.5 1.1
2018 Fox/UniMás 0.9 1.8
2019 ABC/Univision/TUDN 0.7 1.3
2020 Fox/UniMás/TUDN 0.8 1.7
2021 ABC/UniMás//TUDN 0.8 1.5


Most Watched Team in the MLS

Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United LAFC, LA Galaxy and Inter Miami often attract the most viewers. These were the top five most viewed regular season games in 2021, according to ESPN and ABC:

Game Network Viewers
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders ABC 620,000
Inter Miami CF vs. Atlanta United ABC 557,000
Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union ESPN 546,000
Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders ESPN 499,000
Inter Miami CF vs. LA Galaxy ABC 482,000

We often see wild fluctuations in MLS viewership figures. For example, at the start of the 2022 season, a game between Portland Timbers and New England Revolution averaged 436,000, but that dropped to 174,000 for a game the following day between Sporting KC and Atlanta.


MLS Game with the Highest Viewership

These are the most viewed MLS games in history:

  • 3.5 million – The 2016 MLS Cup final between Toronto and Seattle Sounders averaged 1.5 million viewers in Canada, 1.4 million on FOX in the U.S. and 601,000 on the Spanish-language UniMás, setting a record for MLS viewership.
  • 2.6 million – The 1997 MLS Cup Final between D.C. United & Colorado Rapids drew 2.2 million fans in the United States and 2.6 million on all networks, setting a record that would stand until 2016.
  • 1.97 million – A large audience tuned in to watch 14-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu make his MLS debut for D.C. United in April 2004.
  • 1.9 million – The 2014 MLS Cup final attracted a large viewership as LA Galaxy beat New England 2-1, with Robbie Keane earning the MVP award.
  • 1.8 million – FOX Sports aired the Thanksgiving Day playoff clash between Portland Timbers & Colorado Rapids in 2021 and 1.8 million people watched on, which amounted to the largest non-MLS Cup audience since Adu’s debut.


MLS Viewership Over Time

MLS viewership figures have been broadly trending upwards over the years. This chart highlights the average viewership for MLS games shown on cable over the past decade. It does not include streaming or Spanish-language viewership.


Season Average Viewers Change
2012 164,000
2013 185,000 +13%
2014 200,000 +8%
2015 229,000 +15%
2016 248,000 +8%
2017 258,000 +4%
2018 276,000 +6%
2019 268,000 -3%
2020 257,000 -4%
2021 285,000 +11%


How Many People Watch the CONCACAF Champions League in the U.S.?

The CONCACAF Champions League pits the best club teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean against one another each year. Mexican teams have won the competition every year from 2006 to 2021.

However, Seattle Sounders pulled off a famous victory over Pumas UNAM in the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League final. It made them the first MLS team to be crowned champion of the region since LA Galaxy in 2000.

A record U.S. TV audience of 1.5 million tuned in to watch the 2022 final. Many of them were in the Seattle area, although executives noted that the bulk of the viewership was made up of Mexicans.

That total of 1.5 million vastly exceeded the average viewership of a CONCACAF Champions League game in the U.S., which tends to be below 300,000.


CONCACAF Champions League Global Viewership

Region Network Language
 Austria Sportdigital German
 Canada OneSoccer English
 Caribbean Flow Sports English
 Costa Rica ESPN/Repretel/Teletica Spanish
 El Salvador ESPN/YSU Canal 4 Spanish
 Germany Sportdigital German
 Guatemala ESPN/RTVG Spanish
 Honduras ESPN/Televicentro Spanish
 Italy One Football Italian
 Mexico FOX Sports/Mediapro Spanish
 Panama ESPN Spanish
 Switzerland Sportdigital German


They do not break it down to individual viewership figures on a country-by-country basis, but the largest market is Mexico. Some of the biggest all-Mexican CONCACAF Champions League finals have received more than 1 million viewers over the years.


Liga MX Viewership: How Many People Watch Liga MX in the United States?

You might be surprised to learn that Liga MX is the most viewed soccer league in the United States. In 2021, the average Liga MX game on Univision racked up an average viewership of 845,000. That left it ahead of the English Premier League and MLS as the most popular tournament among viewers in the USA.

In 2020, the most watched soccer match in the United States was a clash between Chivas Guadalajara and Club América, which racked up an audience of 2.5 million.

European Soccer Viewership Numbers

The world’s most popular soccer leagues are based in Europe. They have signed huge TV deals with broadcasters across the globe, which helps them attract elite talent.

The Premier League and the Champions League reign supreme, but leagues such as La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga are also popular – especially for major games such as Barcelona vs. Real Madrid and AC Milan vs. Inter Milan.

How Many People Watch the English Premier League in the U.S. & Around the World?

  • 3.2 billion – A study carried out by EY financial services found that 3.2 billion people around the world watched Premier League matches in the 2019-20 season.
  • 878 million – The number of homes worldwide that tune into Premier League games in a single season.
  • 69% – A study from Nielsen found that more than two-thirds of soccer fans worldwide are “fanatically interested” in the EPL.
  • $12 billion – The Premier League earns £10 billion ($12 billion) per season from TV deals, which makes the $300 million that MLS is targeting look paltry. 
  • $2.7 billion – NBC Sports signed a six-year deal worth $2.7 billion to broadcast Premier League matches in the United States, starting in 2022.
  • 507,000 – The average viewership of a Premier League game in the U.S. during the 2021-22 season. That does not include Peacock streaming or Spanish-language broadcasts.
  • 1.4 million – The number of U.S. viewers that watched a game between Liverpool and Chelsea in August 2021.
  • 1.3 billion – The number of minutes of EPL content watched on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel last season.


How Many People Watch La Liga in the U.S. & Around the World?

  • 1.59 billion – The global viewership for La Liga in 2019-20, according to EY, leaving it neck-and-neck with the Bundesliga as the second most popular league.
  • 2.5 billion – La Liga president Javier Tebas claims that La Liga is watched by more than 2.5 billion people around the world each year.
  • 650 million – The record worldwide viewership of an El Clásico game between Barcelona and Real Madrid, according to La Liga.
  • $1.4 billion – The amount ESPN paid to broadcast La Liga games in the U.S. for eight years from 2021.
  • 941,418 – The number of viewers that an El Clásico game in 2020 earned in the U.S.


How Many People Watch the Bundesliga in the U.S. & Around the World?

  • 1.6 billion – The number of people that watch Bundesliga action worldwide per season, according to EY.
  • 100,000 – Most Bundesliga games shown in the U.S. fail to attract more than 100,000 viewers. ESPN has replaced FOX Sports as the broadcaster, and Bundesliga officials hope it will soon enjoy an upturn.
  • 365,000 – A game between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke in May 2020 averaged 365,000 U.S. viewers, but there were no other sports taking place at the time due to shutdowns amid the Covid-19 pandemic.


How Many People Watch Ligue 1 in the U.S. & Around the World?

A record 10.5 million people in France watched Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi make his debut for PSG in 2021.

However, the French top division has not really taken off on a global basis. In the United States, beIN Sports has the rights to broadcast Ligue 1 games, although they rarely generate much interest.


How Many People Watch Serie A in the U.S. & Around the World?

CBS recently signed a deal to broadcast Serie A in the United States for $75 million per season. That should give the league a boost in this market.

On a worldwide basis, Serie A is more popular than Ligue 1, but viewership only spikes when big teams lock horns. It has not disclosed how many people watch soccer from Italy’s top division worldwide or in the U.S., but the number of Italians watching the action on TV sets dropped from 6.7 million in 2020 to 3.4 million in 2021, according to La Repubblica.

That was partially offset by a large uptick in Italians watching games via streaming services on mobile devices. Nielsen reported that 4.3 million Italians watched matches on the first day of the last Serie A season across all devices.

How Many People Watch the Champions League Final?

The top teams from leagues across Europe take part in the UEFA Champions League each season. The final is the most eagerly anticipated soccer game of the year.

Over the past decade, it has reached an average viewership of 400 million people per year. That leaves the Super Bowl firmly in the shade.

In 2022, the Champions League final attracted 2.76 million U.S. viewers on CBS, according to the broadcaster. It reportedly pays $150 million per year for the rights to show Champions League soccer in the USA.

World Cup Viewership – How Many People Watch The World Cup?

The World Cup takes place every four years. It represents the pinnacle of many players’ careers, and it generates a huge worldwide TV audience.


World Cup Global Viewership

  • 3.5 billion – Global viewership of the last World Cup smashed through the $3.5 billion barrier, according to FIFA.
  • 1.12 billion – The number of people that watched France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final. The average was 516.6 million, but more than a billion people watched part of the game.
  • 191 million – The average audience per game at the last World Cup, up from 187 million at the previous tournament.


World Cup Viewership in the US

Nielsen figures showed that 11.4 million U.S. soccer fans tuned in for the 2018 World Cup final. The USMNT did not qualify for the tournament, which dampened interest.

By contrast, the USWNT won the 2019 World Cup, and 14.3 million Americans watched Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle fire the Stars and Stripes to a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final.


How Many People Watch the World Cup in the USA when the National Team Qualifies vs When They Fail to Qualify?

FIFA reported record World Cup viewing figures in the United States in 2014. It claimed that more than 105 million Americans watched at least 20 minutes of a match during the tournament.

The USMNT’s 2-2 draw with Portugal received an average audience of 18.2 million. That was larger than the 10.4 million people that watched Mexico lose to the Netherlands in the Round of 16 – the most-watched Spanish-language program in U.S. history.

Figures dropped dramatically in 2018 after the national team failed to qualify. ESPN averaged 3.55 million viewers per game at the 2014 World Cup, but it fell to just 1.98 million per game on FOX in 2018, according to Nielsen data.

It is also worth noting that the time difference played a part in the decline. Many Americans were at work when the games were taking place in Russia back in 2018. That will be an issue again in 2022 – with Qatar taking on hosting duties – but the USA, Canada and Mexico will then team up to host the 2026 World Cup, which should enjoy record viewership figures in North America.


How Many People Watch The World Cup Final?

More than 1 billion people watched the World Cup final in 2014, according to FIFA. The total viewership surged past 1 billion again in 2018, so one in every seven people worldwide watches at least part of the game.


World Cup 2022 Qatar Viewership Forecast

Analysts expect 5 billion people to watch the 2022 World Cup. FIFA sparked a great deal of controversy by handing the hosting rights to Qatar, which had no footballing infrastructure and a questionable human rights record, according to Amnesty International.

However, one upside is that it should galvanize interest in the Middle East and Asia. The World Cup normally takes place in the summer, but it has been moved to the winter in 2022 due to extreme summer heat in Qatar.

World Cup Viewership in the United States: On the Increase or Decrease?

World Cup viewership in the U.S. naturally declined in 2018 due to the time difference and the glaring absence of the USMNT.

However, it should surge back up in the years ahead. A very talented young core of players has emerged, led by Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and Gio Reyna. They should peak in time for the 2026 World Cup, sparking increased interest among viewers.

Soccer has now overtaken hockey as the fourth most popular sport in the U.S. and it should maintain its upward trajectory in the years ahead, culminating in 2006.

How Many People Watch Women’s Soccer in the US?

The 2021 NWSL Championship clash between Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars averaged 525,000 viewers on CBS. That was a sharp increase on the previous final, and it matched the figures that EPL games pulled in that weekend.

Momentum really started to grow in 2020, when the NSWL was the first U.S. pro sports league to return to action. Viewership records were shattered by more than 300% that summer. The first and last Challenge Cup games on CBS that year drew 572,000 and 653,000 viewers respectively, and the league averaged 383,000 viewers.

According to the league, the games that streamed globally on Twitch averaged 732,000 live views, and the most popular went over 1 million. The trend has continued in the subsequent years, so the NWSL now rivals the MLS in the popularity stakes.

An average of 401,913 people watched the USWNT in action across the team’s many games in 2021. That was up by almost 80,000 compared to 2020. It spikes at major tournaments – such as the 2019 World Cup final, which was viewed by 14.3 million Americans.

Soccer Viewership by Broadcaster

Univision leads the way with its Liga MX broadcasts, followed by the EPL games shown on NBC and the Champions League action on CBS.

Major League Soccer comes next. Games shown on ABC naturally rack up more viewers than ESPN, and the audience soars when specific teams are in action.

Women’s soccer shown on CBS often draws larger viewership figures than MLS games on ESPN. However, when you factor in the addition of the Spanish-language viewers on Univision, MLS is still in front.



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