Soccer becoming more popular in the US thanks to a video game

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A new study has found that the popularity of soccer in the US is on the increase -- thanks to a video game.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have found that the popularity of the sport has grown largely thanks to the increasing popularity of "EA Sports FIFA," a video soccer game that allows users to play as their favorite star.

To look into the effect further, Univerity of Michigan professor and soccer fan Andrei Markovits teamed up with student Adam Green to interview "EA FIFA" players and analyze data from both the video game and sports industries, including media clips and literature.

Results showed that from 2014 to 2015 there was a 112 percent increase in the number of people playing Major League Soccer (MLS) teams with FIFA, and according to a poll by ESPN poll, 34 percent of FIFA users became men's professional soccer fans after playing the game, while 50 percent of users gained some interest in professional soccer, with Markovits commenting that, "The game's growth on the fields of the country's suburbs and among its middle class has been nothing short of sensational. We argue that among many decisive factors in soccer's massive consumptive proliferation has been the EA FIFA video games."

"No other major team sports had experienced the rate of expansion currently being enjoyed by MLS in such a short period of time," Markovits added, "It is safe to say that much of that value can be attributed to Americans being attracted to soccer by a video game."

The game was originally released in 1993 and quickly become a gaming sensation thanks to its realistic graphics, extensive list of players -- even from the most obscure teams -- and gaming experience.

From 2000 American soccer players have also been appearing on the game's front cover, increasing its popularity in the US. In 2014 US sales were second only to the UK, with the popularity of "EA FIFA" even surpassing the basketball game "NBA2K".

Commenting on the game's increasing popularity through the years Markovits said, "Every year, it gets better and better and it is amazing. The likeness is incredible. You choose Ronaldo, it looks like Ronaldo."

Other factors that the team believe have contributed to American's increasing love for soccer include the country's improved performance in the World Cup, the country's evolving demograhics, with Hispanics -- the fastest-growing US minority -- preferring professional soccer over American football, baseball and basketball, and the availability of soccer games on networks such as NBC.

Markovits also pointed out that this year will see the US host the centennial American cup, Copa America Centenario, which will see teams from across the Americas, including the US, compete for the cup.

Copa America kicks off June 3 with the final taking place on June 26.

The study was published online in the journal Sport in Society.