If you visit the Central Florida region, you may notice some purple magnets on quite a few cars bearing the crest of Orlando City Soccer Club. After four years in USL Pro, and now having wrapped their first MLS season, it has been amazing to see how fast Central Florida has rallied to support the Lions. Several friends have asked me if this buzz around our local soccer team, and the rise of soccer interest around America, will continue to grow. In my opinion, the answer is yes, and we only need to look at America’s craft beer industry as an example.
Stick with me, and this comparison will make perfect sense. At the beginning of the micro brewery revolution, craft beer only made up less than 3% of the total U.S. beer market. The rest of the world was enjoying a wide variety of beers, while most of America was served by the big brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors that controlled the other 99% of the U.S. beer market. Flash forward to today, and craft beer takes up 11% volume of the U.S. beer market. Craft beer is never going to top the big beer companies who have so much money and market share, but they are making it hard for those companies to grow. The real growth has been in the smaller niche market.
The big beer companies are like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. They have huge market share in the United States, and they make tremendous amounts of money. However, since their share is already so huge, growth is smaller. Soccer has entered the picture of America’s sports market in much the same way craft breweries entered the beer market. The craft beer industry made it cool to be a part of something new and different that actually came from an old European tradition. I would argue that soccer in the United States has also made it cool to be part of something new and different that comes from on old European tradition.
Craft beer’s original struggle was reaching the masses with their offer of a different beer experience. They would never have the same advertising dollars as the big beer companies. Here is where fans can make the difference. Much of the growth of craft beer came from the word of mouth of its passionate supporters. They created a craft beer culture.
I can’t think of a more perfect parallel to why soccer has started to really draw the eye of the whole nation. The lovers of soccer have shared their passion of the beautiful game so well. For example, on a match day in downtown Orlando, you see thousands of smiling faces dressed in purple. If you weren’t a fan, the amount of enjoyment and camaraderie you see everyone sharing makes you want to be part of the action. It makes you want to be part of the club, a part of the community, a part of the culture.
It is clear that the craft beer market is here to stay. How can we soccer fans ensure the same story for our sport? Enjoy your club and share it. Make new people feel welcome and part of the story. Beer snobs tried to mess things up for craft beer by alienating new people to craft brew, so let’s make sure the soccer snobbery stays away. Lift a glass of whatever you prefer, and be excited that soccer in the USA has room to grow. Be excited that OUR soccer story has room to grow.
Share your beer, share your story. Cheers.