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How MLS plans to capitalize on 2026 World Cup fever

In the three decades since the U.S. last hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, soccer has grown in popularity among Americans.

MLS saw record attendance in 2023, buoyed by superstar player Lionel Messi joining the Inter Miami team. Forbes estimates that the average value of an MLS team is up 14% from a year ago. And like other sports leagues, MLS has secured a pivotal deal with a streaming service — in its case, Apple TV+ — as live sports increasingly make that shift.

On the heels of all that, the World Cup will return to the U.S. in 2026, co-hosting with Canada and Mexico. How will the league keep up the momentum over the next two years to capitalize on such a massive event with global interest?

Maybe that’s the wrong question; Jesse Perl, VP of brand marketing at MLS, is already thinking about the day the World Cup ends, he tells The Current Podcast.

“I think that’s really the incredible opportunity for us to seize because [of] that kind of World Cup fever that everybody’s going to catch,” Perl says. “The World Cup’s going to be incredible, but it’s going to come and go. There’s going be a lot of people here [in the U.S.] that aren’t going to be able to make it to World Cup games that maybe wanted to or maybe wanted to take their kids to it, or [they] got priced out, or there’s only so many seats in so many games.”

He adds, “And for MLS to really make sure everybody knows where they can find us [and] how they can find us, again, I think to meet that moment is going to be the big unlock for us.”

Perl also discusses how soccer is becoming a growing sport of interest for young people, the significance of the Apple deal and the importance of building local support for MLS teams.