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What: A new study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, as reported by the New York Times, notes that youth soccer participation is down 14%.
Why it matters: It’s an alarming number, one of which soccer industry leaders are aware and are looking at ways to turn around; playing rather than just watching is a key element to long-term fandom.

There was a time not too long ago when all those monitoring trends for growth in sport at the youth level saw the demise of football coming, while a handful of sports, most notably soccer, were on a meteoric rise. Some day, the theory went, “The Beautiful Game” of football would surpass “The American Game” of football in popularity, and soccer would assume its place in North America like it has in the rest of the world.

According to a story in the New York Times based on the latest Sports & Fitness Industry Association numbers, soccer, at least at the youth level, has hit a staggering and unexpected decline. According to Joe Drape, “Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, (@TheSFIAwhich has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly” with losses in participation of as many as 600,000 youth players.

The question remains whether that will translate down to young people, especially youth and minorities of all backgrounds, playing soccer.

As U.S. Soccer (@ussoccergoes through its leadership change now under Carlos Cordeiro (@CACSoccer), the World Cup starts to come on the horizon for 2026 in North America, and brands continue invest in marketing the sport and scores of elite non-U.S. clubs open academies here to better develop young players, the sport, it seems, has hit a new turning point, with Latino youth and overall engagement amongst that demo the place where the sport can point to changing.

The best news coming out of the World Cup were the rising numbers in engagement by Latinos across America throughout the games, while Mexico’s value as a brand was buoyed by its success on the field and the expansion of its brand partners into the marketplace. Also as we wrote last week, brands found the way to engage better than ever in the social space, with the digital engagement company Mitú (@wearemitucreating unique content around both the Spanish and English speaking Latino fan. Moreover, Liga MX remains the most watched soccer league across the U.S., all of which is very positive in showing Latino engagement through soccer.

In the coming weeks, many of the world’s elite clubs will be coming to the United States, and La Liga will be making an even bigger push to expose their teams and their partners, not just FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, to thousands of casual and die hard soccer fans for the remainder of the summer.

While all that is positive, and gives a clear path of engagement for the longer run from a fan and viewership for the Latino demo, the question remains whether that will translate down to young people, especially youth and minorities of all backgrounds, playing soccer which gives them more of a lifelong affinity to the game. The Times’ story points to several factors related to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association study that indicate that a change needs to be made in the marketing and engagement of young Latinos for that to happen.

Brad Rothenberg, who co-founded Alianza de Futbol (@alianzadefutbolto develop amateur soccer among Latinos, said U.S. Soccer had invested little in identifying talent in Latino and African-American communities, the story added. Over the past decade, his organization has held more than 300 events across the country for young players and has sent dozens of them to club teams in Mexico.

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Brad Rothenberg

“If year after year, at every decision point, U.S. Soccer continues to alienate Latinos and blacks, we are going to sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of the world get better,” Rothenberg, who co-founded Alianza de Futbol to develop amateur soccer among Latinos told The Times.

Cost for elite play, as pointed out by longtime American star Hope Solo at a Hashtag Sports event in New York a few weeks ago, also factors into the lack of engagement in Latinos and minorities. Solo was clear in calling out soccer’s organizing groups for being too elitist and not being able to make the game affordable for all, which narrows the pipeline for success.

Now, will USA Soccer, and other global clubs step into that void to turn the engagement level for young people, especially Latinos who continue to show an affinity for the game? The opening of academies for elite players is a small step which will build American star power, but having casual players engaged in healthy activity and understanding the game as they play on the field vs. watching on a device or television is another critical step. Are there brands that will look more and more to the youth level to engage, as Toyota and Allstate have done with Alianza de Futbol?

Other sports like baseball and basketball, have seen and made the investment in youth participation in recent years, and the study has seen that efforts produce positive results. Soccer apparently needs to find that next step to reverse a troubling trend, and the numbers and the results show that the Latino fan can be the next best step.

The World Cup gave us great best practices for engagement and value in the demo, now leadership needs to take those best practices and add dollars and value to build not just young Latino stars for elite clubs and MLS, but healthy engaged young players for life. Soccer at its base is a simple, affordable game; not investing properly, however, can prove to be costly, and the numbers bear that out.

Cover Image: Derek Jensen (Tysto)

What: The fourth annual LaLiga Promises international tournament was held in Hoboken, N.J., last weekend.
Why it matters: International youth events like LaLiga Promises are critical for international clubs in their effort to gain new fans, in addition to promoting the positive values of soccer as a whole.

For the fourth consecutive year, under-12 youth teams including LaLiga Santander clubs and international clubs competed in the prestigious LaLiga Promises, at Sinatra Park soccer field in Hoboken, N.J. The teams, selected by LaLiga (@LaLigaENand the Jose Ramon de la Morena Foundation (@fundacion_JRM), had its largest field ever of 16, with squads from Spain, Japan, U.S., England, Italy, Portugal, and Mexico.

The goal for the Spanish football league’s top division, according to organizers, is to support its New York presence and share its passion for soccer. The three-day event featured group play followed by semifinals and finals.

We were impressed by how many young kids and families turned up during the weekend.

“Grassroots projects and know-how transfer is one of our strategic pillars for the U.S. market,” said Rebeca Diaz Gonzalez, LaLiga International Business Development. “Such an event showcases the good and hard work that LaLiga club academies are doing with their youth in Spain. This has led to outstanding youth development and experience at progressing players towards first team.”

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International youth events like LaLiga Promises, which was free to the public and gained huge exposure via select matches broadcast live on Univisión (@Univisionand Televisa (@Televisaas well as on the official LaLiga channel on YouTube and on LaLiga TV, are critical for international clubs in their effort to gain new fans, in addition to promoting the positive values of soccer as a whole.

“LaLiga has a distinguished presence in the U.S., having trained over 1,200 coaches here as part of our partnership with U.S. Club Soccer in addition to another 4,000 coaches we’ve trained across five continents,” noted Juan Florit, Sports Projects Coordinator at LaLiga, in a statement. “We are excited to show off some of the most talented youth that have learned from LaLiga coaching methodologies at this highly regarded tournament.”

The vibrant urban community of Hoboken, hard against the Hudson River with the New York skyline as the backdrop, was also an ideal choice for the venue, with a large Hispanic population within a short distance.

“Hoboken has a great soccer culture” added Diaz Gonzalez. “We were impressed by how many young kids and families turned up during the weekend.”

Cover photo: credit LaLiga

What: Multi-national media, sports and entertainment group RELEVENT has acquired BRC Group, a leading marketer and producer of Hispanic soccer programs in the U.S
Why it matters: The agreement expands RELEVENT’s reach into the Hispanic grassroots market and should be a boon for youth soccer programs across the country.

Mergers and acquisitions are usually more suited to the boardroom than the soccer pitch. But in the case of today’s announcement by multinational sports and entertainment group RELEVENT that it has acquired Hispanic soccer marketer and producer BRC Group (@brcgrp), the real winners are U.S. Hispanic soccer fans, and, importantly, youth soccer players from underprivileged backgrounds across the country.

The move boosts the prospects and profile of Alianza de Futbol (@Alianza__U), the country’s largest and most prestigious amateur Hispanic soccer program, JUGOtv (@JUGO_tv), a multi-platform digital sports network for U.S. Hispanic soccer fans, and Alianza U, the Foundation arm of BRC which has provided more than two dozen Latino soccer players access to financial aid or scholarships to play college soccer. These BRC properties all fall under the RELEVENT umbrella, which further strengthens the firm’s connection with the Hispanic grassroots market.

“We are excited to join forces with BRC and the experienced leadership of Richard Copeland, Brad Rothenberg and Joaquin Escoto, who hold extensive relationships in U.S. and Mexican soccer,” said Daniel Sillman, CEO of RELEVENT in a statement. “As the Latino population accounts for half of the national population growth in the past two decades, we are proud to make this investment in the development of the sport within this passionate community.”

With the acquisition, RELEVENT has further solidified its status as a major player in the soccer world with recent announcements of the International Champions Cup and first Women’s International Champions Cup.

BRC has done great work with these programs. With more than 30,000 players and more than 250,000 fans attending Alianza events every year and JUGOtv reaching more than 60 million on social media every month, RELEVENT’s platform for the Hispanic community has never been on more solid ground.

“Everything we do at BRC is about providing access and opportunity for the US-Latino soccer player,” said Brad Rothenberg, Partner, BRC. “RELEVENT provides a bridge for our community to connect to world-class soccer programming from the ICC to new initiatives we intend to create together making this a first-ever partnership in the USA.”

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With the acquisition, RELEVENT has further solidified its status as a major player in the soccer world with recent announcements of the International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCupand first Women’s International Champions Cup, beginning next month.

“We’ve made it our mission to promote and grow soccer globally, and the acquisition of BRC is a pivotal move for RELEVENT, setting into motion our plans for investing in multicultural communities across the United States.” added Sillman.

Cover Image: NES-Mag.com