Has ‘Ted Lasso’ boosted soccer’s popularity in the U.S.? We asked the experts

Three soccer coaches on the sidelines of a game.
Brett Goldstein, left, Brendan Hunt and Jason Sudeikis in “Ted Lasso.”
(Apple TV+)

Long before he helped create “Ted Lasso,” a TV series about an American football coach and a fictional English soccer team named AFC Richmond, Brendan Hunt was a young actor working with an improv troupe in Amsterdam.

And he had no use for soccer, which dominated Dutch culture.

“I didn’t hate it,” he says now. “It was something distant to me that I had only barely been exposed to, and I assumed that its absence in my life was probably for a good reason.

“But by the time I left Amsterdam,” he added, “I was hardcore.”

How hardcore? Hunt, an actor, writer and producer who has won two Emmys for the Apple TV+ comedy centered on the sport he once dismissed, is in his third season as an LAFC L.A. Football Club season-ticket holder and is a loyal supporter of the men’s and women’s national teams. And if a Chicago Bears fan like him can make the journey from soccer agnostic to aficionado, Hunt believes others can too.


“It’s totally possible,” said Hunt, who plays the loyal and laid-back Coach Beard in “Lasso,” now in its third season. “Once you get a helping of it, you really look at it, you see that it has basically everything else that every other sport has that makes you want to watch.”

Apple is betting heavily that Hunt is right. Last summer, when the technology giant was riding high on “Lasso,” it agreed to a $2.5-billion, 10-year global broadcast deal with Major League Soccer, the sport’s top-flight league in the U.S. and Canada. It’s two years longer and nearly triple the price of the league’s previous broadcast deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision — and it’s more than 16 times what MLS was earning in TV revenue less than a decade ago.

MLS Season Pass, which launched in February, is designed to be a one-stop shop for all things MLS, including live broadcasts and replays of every league match; a wraparound highlight feature similar to the NFL Network’s Red Zone; and shoulder programming featuring studio analysis and postgame press conferences.

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Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, whose portfolio includes Apple TV and Apple TV+, insisted that the success of “Ted Lasso” wasn’t a factor in the company’s decision to invest billions in soccer. “But it doesn’t hurt,” he said.

“They’re obviously complementary. I thought the game was really great. It was growing. So it’s more coincidence.”

Not a coincidence: Apple’s broadcast deal will cover the 2026 and 2028 seasons, when the men’s World Cup and the summer Olympics will both be held in the U.S., almost certainly producing a sizable bump in soccer interest and viewership.


MLS Season Pass isn’t Apple’s first foray into live sports; last season, it ran two Major League Baseball games on Apple TV+. But it is the first substantial marker the company has put down in the streaming sports marketplace, where revenues from subscription packages are expected to hit $22.6 billion by 2027, up 73% from last year, according to a recent report by Parks Associates, a leading research and consulting company.

And there were several things about soccer in general, and MLS in particular, that convinced Cue that this was the right sport, the right time and the right league for Apple to get involved with.

“If we were going to go into sports, I wanted to partner with a league or a sports entity where we could really innovate and really be creative together,” he said. “We love the fan base. It’s younger than any other, very family-oriented. The demographics are all over. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from.

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“For me, growing up in the U.S., it reminded me of college: a rabid fan base that really was into the team and the game.”

That fan base has likely swelled because of “Ted Lasso,” which is focused on a well-meaning, soft-drawling college football coach who is lured to London to manage a Premier League soccer club despite having little knowledge of the sport.

“He’s egoless,” series co-creator Jason Sudeikis, who plays Lasso, told The Times in 2020. “He’s Mr. Rogers meets John Wooden.”


The series debuted in August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lasso’s unflagging optimism, goofy aphorisms and inexorable hope and compassion proved to be the perfect tonic for the time.

Sudeikis and Hunt stumbled into the concept for the show and the characters they play while performing with the improv group Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. When Sudeikis decided to buy a PlayStation for the theater’s dressing room, the only game he could find was “FIFA,” a video game about soccer, a sport neither actor understood or appreciated.

Within weeks, the pair were hooked on the sport; the show that grew out of that is both a paean to the game and has absolutely nothing to do with it.

“This show is as much about soccer as ‘Rocky’ is about boxing,” Sudeikis said. “But we wanted soccer fans, athletes, lovers of it, to feel it honors the spirit of that beautiful game.”

A decade ago, a lack of knowledge about soccer in the U.S. would have made it difficult to script a series about the sport, even if the game is largely in the background. But soccer has made huge inroads in popular culture since then, with NBC winning the rights to air English Premier League games — the characters of Ted Lasso and Coach Beard debuted in a pair of promos to hype those broadcasts — and the U.S. women’s national team winning two World Cups.

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“I’d like to think our show is putting soccer in some living rooms where it was previously verboten. And it is even, perhaps, in the most gentle way, tricking people into caring about a soccer team,” said Hunt, who added that the amount of actual soccer content in “Ted Lasso” has increased each season. “Then, hopefully, maybe, that can then transfer over to a real soccer team. The opportunity is certainly there.


“People who just would not have given two s— about soccer before now maybe at least give one s—. People at least have a respect for it or an appreciation for the scale and magnitude of it and the devotion that it inspires. People can’t blow it off anymore, at the very least.”

That’s not the same as being fans, though — and it’s an even bigger step to persuading people to pony up $99 for MLS Season Pass, said Vlad Dima, a Syracuse University professor who has taught classes on soccer and pop culture : “It’s a big reach to say, ‘Well, if this show was popular, then people are going to watch MLS also.’”

Americans, after all, love winners, and the top U.S. sports leagues — the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL — all feature the best players in their world in their respective games. MLS, on the other hand, remains stuck in the shadow of the major European leagues; even the best Americans now play in overseas leagues rather than in the one with which Apple TV+ has partnered.

So while the success of “Ted Lasso” has certainly made viewers more aware of the sport, it’s the game itself that will turn them into fans.

“MLS has gotten bigger and better in the last 10 years. That helps with general knowledge,” said Dima. “I taught this course last semester, first-year students, all of them fairly knowledgeable about football, they have played the game. And one of the questions was about the popularity of the game. The consensus was that the men’s team needs to win consistently on the world stage.”

Even if Ted Lasso were a real coach, he probably couldn’t make that happen. But, like Cue, Dima said when it comes to making soccer popular, the TV show certainly doesn’t hurt.


“Maybe it’s made a slight dent,” he said. “This is a very classic feel-good story, right? It’s relentlessly optimistic, and I think it hit a chord in that way more so than anything else.

“Actually, my point is that, yeah, it’s helping with the game’s popularity in the United States. Marginally.”

Or, as Ted Lasso might say, it’s given Apple reason to believe.

‘Ted Lasso’

Streaming: Apple TV+
When: Any time, new episodes Wednesdays
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under age 17)