The Top Emerging Global Football Markets: A Threat to Europe?
Football, often referred to as the world’s beautiful game, has an immense global following that extends far beyond the borders of Europe. While European leagues like the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A continue to attract top talent and dominate headlines, other continents have been making significant strides in the world of football. In this blog, we will explore five exciting football stages outside of Europe, specifically the MLS, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Turkey highlighting key developments, emerging markets, the potential for the future, and the strengthening of the talent production line in these areas.
North America: The Rise of MLS
The Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, defying its previous status as a mere afterthought in the global football landscape. What sets the MLS apart is its ability to attract international talent, making it a competitive league with a unique appeal. The influx of players from diverse backgrounds and nationalities has added a rich layer of diversity to the league, making it a true melting pot of footballing cultures.
However, what truly distinguishes the MLS is its passionate and ever-growing fan base. The league has managed to engage fans in the United States and Canada in a way that few could have predicted. Supporters have embraced the sport with boundless enthusiasm and unwavering loyalty, creating a distinctive football culture that continues to thrive. The MLS has successfully woven itself into the fabric of North American sports, offering fans a dynamic and entertaining football experience.
Looking ahead, the MLS has ambitious plans to become one of the biggest leagues in the world within the next few years. Its unique position as a league with a significant presence of Spanish-speaking players, coupled with the vast market potential in the United States, provides a compelling case for growth. The league’s strategy includes attracting marquee international players, investing in youth development, and expanding its reach to new markets. Notably, American talents such as Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel and Weston McKennie have made successful transitions to European leagues, demonstrating the talent pool available in the region.
The magnitude and focus on women’s soccer in America have reached unprecedented heights, thanks to the remarkable achievements and outspoken nature of players like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. These athletes have not only dominated the international stage but have also become influential advocates for gender equality in sports. One significant milestone that reflects this focus is the commitment to pay women equally to their male counterparts on the U.S. National Team. This landmark achievement was a culmination of tireless efforts and advocacy by female players who have fought for parity in pay and recognition.
The success of the U.S. Women’s National Team, with numerous World Cup victories and Olympic gold medals, has not only inspired a new generation of female soccer players but has also shed light on the importance of equity and fair treatment in women’s sports. It has become a symbol of empowerment, encouraging young girls across the nation to dream big and aspire to greatness in the world of soccer.
Across the border, Mexico also holds immense potential in the realm of football. The Mexican Football League (Liga MX) boasts passionate fan bases, competitive clubs, and a strong footballing tradition. The prospect of a merged North American league, which has been explored in discussions, could further elevate Mexican football, creating a major competition that rivals some of the top leagues in the world. The growth of both the MLS and Liga MX has the potential to reshape the global football landscape, offering exciting opportunities for players, clubs, and fans on both sides of the border.
South America: The Talent Hotspot
South America boasts some of the best football leagues in the world, with Argentina and Brazil standing out as the powerhouses of the continent’s football scene with notable successes for the national teams on the international stage.
Brazil in particular, is renowned for its Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. Clubs like Flamengo, Palmeiras, and São Paulo FC have strong followings both domestically and abroad. Brazilian football has produced a plethora of talent, with legendary players like Pelé, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho gracing the league. European clubs frequently scout the Brazilian leagues for top young prospects, and many successful footballers have transitioned from Brazil to European giants, with players like Neymar and Vinicius Jr. making headlines.
The league in Brazil is also experiencing heavy foreign investment into the league. Consequently, with greater finances available and enhanced infrastructure and logistics in the league, perhaps it is another market that is only going in one direction, a positive one, and slowly edging its way into competition with some of the best football leagues in Europe.
Asia: High Populations, High Potential
In Asia, Saudi Arabia and Japan (and Turkey as we will discuss separately) have emerged as notable football markets. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has made headlines with high-profile signings, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Ruben Neves. The sustainability of the Saudi football market is supported by long-term investments and a strong presence in European football through club ownership and investment.
Japan, on the other hand, has also experienced great recent growth and a large volume of young players on the production line moving to Europe in the Premier League and beyond. This is also reflected in the strengthening of their national team and presence in the world cup. It is definitely a market to follow.
The future of football in this region looks promising. In Saudi Arabia, there are ambitious plans to grow the football market, aiming for a revenue of nearly $500 million by 2030. Hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup is a key part of this vision, and it could further elevate the status of Middle Eastern football.
Broadcasting rights also play a crucial role in expanding the reach of football in the region. Networks like beIN Sports have the potential to propel Saudi and Middle Eastern football into the global spotlight, just as they have done with other major sporting events.
Turkey: The Asian-European Football Hybrid
In recent years, the Turkish Süper Lig has experienced a remarkable surge in popularity, elevating its status in the global football landscape. One of the key drivers behind this resurgence has been the success of Turkish clubs on the European stage, particularly in the UEFA Champions League recording recent famous victories such as Galatasaray beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. Other clubs like Istanbul Başakşehir and Beşiktaş have consistently competed in Europe’s premier club competition, making deep runs and occasionally causing major upsets. These performances have not only garnered international attention but have also served as a testament to the league’s growing competitiveness.
Another factor contributing to the Turkish Süper Lig’s rising appeal is its ability to attract top talents from other European leagues. Turkish clubs have become increasingly adept at securing the services of high-profile players, both in their prime and experienced veterans. This influx of talent has injected new energy into the league, making it more appealing to both local fans and international viewers. The allure of competitive football, passionate fan bases, and the prospect of playing in a league that is on the rise has lured players from various European countries to embrace the Turkish Süper Lig as their new footballing home. As a result, the league has become a hotbed of talent and an exciting destination for football enthusiasts worldwide, further solidifying its status as a prominent force in European football.
In the national team there are some seriously hot prospects emerging such as Arda Guler, the young star who has already made the move to Real Madrid, and 18-year-old Kenan Yıldız playing for Juventus, as well as Galatasaray’s Kerem Akturkoglu, Inter Milan’s Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Benfica’s Orkun Kökçü. This improving quality of Turkish football is being reflected on the international stage, such as in the weekend’s 3-2 defeat of Germany. It is another market that may well cause difficulties for the major European markets.
In conclusion, while European football remains dominant, the footballing world is evolving, and new markets are emerging as major players. The passion of fans, the influx of talent, the rise of the women’s game and strategic investments into the infrastructure of developing regions are shaping the future of football beyond Europe, creating exciting opportunities for players, clubs, and fans alike.