In many countries across Europe, soccer is the national sport. In fact, it’s almost like a religion to the many millions of fans that follow their teams. Of course, there are many other sporting options that enjoy a loyal fanbase, but soccer is the most popular sport in the continent as a whole.
But why is it the case that soccer dominates the sporting landscape in Europe?
A Global Phenomenon
The importance of the European game has spread to all parts of the world. Soccer is played in all countries and most have organized domestic leagues. Despite this interest, the majority of fans follow teams and players in the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Serie A in Italy and other major divisions in neighboring countries.
Asian countries have top flight competitions, but their focus is in Europe. It’s the same in the USA where Major League Soccer exists, but fans would rather watch overseas matches, while there are more New York sports betting markets for top European divisions than anywhere else.
To identify the root of this popularity, we have to go right back to the beginning.
Soccer can trace its roots back to Europe and, more specifically, England in the Middle Ages. The first clubs were established here in the early 1800s, while official rules were also set up in the UK around this time.
From there, the game developed around Europe. It also spread into other continents, South America in particular, but this is where the sport began.
Tradition, therefore, plays a part in peoples’ choices. Soccer originated on the continent, and its popularity has built up over the centuries. In America, baseball and football prevail, partly because the sports were invented and developed here.
The essence of soccer is a simple one with the aim of kicking a ball into the opponent’s goal. Of course, there are some complex rules, including the infuriating regulations surrounding offside, but the concept is easy to follow.
That elementary aim also makes people feel that they can achieve a certain standard as players. Aside from watching their heroes at the weekend, many soccer fans also play the game when they can. With more clubs in Europe than in any other part of the world, it’s easy to both watch and play.
Attracting the Best
There are elite soccer divisions in every European country, but there is greater interest in the ‘big four.’ The major leagues on the continent are the German Bundesliga, Serie A in Italy, the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.
Wealthy owners are drawn to the big clubs with long traditions and they invest heavily in the infrastructure. That investment stretches to the playing side, and it means that big stars are attracted to the squads. Teams become stronger and a bigger global fanbase is established.
There are wealthy clubs in other parts of the world too, and many top stars are now being drawn to the top league in Saudi Arabia. Major League Soccer has also seen its fair share of world class players.
The issue with those other nations is a lack of tradition. Players will be drawn to the US and Saudi Arabia due to large salaries and signing on fees, but those divisions are not seen as a competitive challenge. When in their prime, the best players in world football will always be drawn to the European leagues.
It’s easy to travel around Europe, particularly on the mainland where an established rail network can see visitors cross countries through the continent. Many soccer fans dream of seeing a game abroad, and that transportation makes it relatively easy to do so.
The experience of a big, crowded stadium is one that can never be forgotten. The Nou Camp and the Bernabeu in Spain, the Allianz Arena in Munich, Anfield and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the UK, and the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam are just a few of the great grounds that fans have on their bucket list.
Trips to soccer stadiums in other continents are available, but Europe will always provide the biggest draw for sports travelers.
There are many other reasons why Europeans love soccer above any other sport. There is the tradition, the ease of access and the attraction of many of the biggest clubs in the game. That interest has exploded in the last thirty years, with increased broadcasting money pumped into soccer, allowing the big leagues in Europe to get even bigger.
Happily, much of that money has been diverted into grass roots soccer, thereby ensuring that the sport will continue to flourish for the generations that follow. There will always be interest in other sports but, for most Europeans, there will never be anything to rival soccer.