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CBS19 SPECIAL REPORT: The big business of soccer in East Texas

The most popular sport in the world is growing in East Texas, both in number and diversity.

TYLER, Texas — In 2021, soccer surpassed the National Hockey League as the fourth most popular sport in the United States.

Dallas-Fort Worth has grown into one of the most robust soccer markets in the country. Their Major League soccer team, FC Dallas, is developing junior programs in many different regions, including right here in East Texas.

"I really feel like we're in startup phase when it comes to the growth of soccer not just in North America, but particularly Texas," said Gina Miller, VP of FC Dallas communications.

"I think soccer is unique because you're seeing a lot of parents putting their children in soccer," Miller said. "Now, we've heard that for the past 20 years, but we're seeing more of that over the course of the past decade and some of those young athletes looking to participate in other sports, where there may not be as many serious injuries."

Then there’s the East Texas Football Club which started four years ago with only seven teams, but now they grown to 19 teams.

Team captain Reese Rowe has had a front row seat to the expansion.

"When I first started, you could play a team over and over again within your season," Rowe explained. "Now you can play many different teams are out there."

We see the growth in numbers, but how about diversity?

In December, Kendell Howard became the first black male in Tyler high school history to sign a division one soccer scholarship to play at the next level. Although this makes him the first, hopefully he's not the last.

"As I was growing up, I didn't know any black soccer players, Howard said. "Now I have a teammate over there, and I have one of my football coaches and his younger sons, they look up to me and everything. Just being a pioneer for starting such things is amazing."

For Kendell’s mom Olivia, the lack of African American representation in the sport locally wasn’t the driving force.

"Well, I needed something to kind of get rid of the amount of energy that he had," Olivia said. "And at three, that was all that was available to me. And so that's where it started with me because I had no idea about soccer. I had friends who played, you know, in high school, but none of them looked like us. I didn't care about any of that; I needed what I needed. He needed what he needed, and soccer provided that for us."

Not everyone has the resources like the Howard's had, which is why with FC Dallas, the diversity is also intentional.

"We're holding soccer clinics in underserved communities so that we can introduce members of these communities to the sport that is really so easy and affordable to play," Miller said. "So we're really looking at it holistically, not just on the soccer field, but in the community in the business community as well to expand and hit those communities that might not be gravitating towards soccer or might not be on the soccer radar at this particular time."

What if I told you that the most watched sporting event in the world could be coming to Dallas in the year 2026? We’re talking the Mecca of the sport, the Crem de la Crem, the 2026 World Cup.

FC Dallas President and Chairman of the Dallas 2026 Host City bid, Dan Hunt, is working to make DFW a host city for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

"The majesty of the World Cup and the drama that goes in this tournament and the number of matches that are played, by the time it's played in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the World Cup of 2026 will have 80 matches in the tournament," Hunt said. "The economic impact, it's like the Super Bowl on steroids. People come to your market and they stay longer. They spend, you know, typically more money."

More money in a booming economy with room to grow as expansion and popularity in soccer continues to grow in East Texas.

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