Why American football will never be more popular than ‘soccer’

ImageI watched last night’s Superbowl between San Francisco 49’ers and Baltimore Ravens with the same curiosity British suburbanites growing up in the 70’s would have had for spaghetti, i.e. a supposedly exotic alternative to the prosaic diet of pie and mash that is association football.

Despite my best efforts I gave up and went to bed at half time feeling hungry for something more emotionally fulfilling. To extend the culinary metaphors I would liken the NFL to a Big Mac. Once you scrape off the relish, gherkins and flashy packaging you are left with a pretty unsatisfying flaccid grey burger with little nutritional value.

My biggest “beef” with American Football is that the whole event is an exercise in style over substance. The bombastic trails, the warbled national anthem, the constant stream of advertising, the extravagant half time show. All of these things are the relish to cover up the lack of action.

The actual game is constantly peppered with interruptions the like of which would cause cardiac arrest in those who think goal line technology is going to disturb the flow in football. Mark Chapman commentating for the BBC asked one of his guests to hang around until the next break only to cut back to him some 9 seconds later when the action stopped again. Ludicrous.

Who can blame the spectators for constantly popping away from their seats to grab a hot dog or a beer? There isn’t much for them to really focus on. I went to a Houston Texans game a couple of years ago and I constantly had to get up and let a steady stream of spectators file in and out of the seating. A visit to the stadium is more of a chance to see how many nachos you can ingest in a 3 hour period rather than enjoying the drama only skilled sportsmen can provide.

I also found the atmosphere at the game to be strangely dispassionate. Distances being what they are in the US, there isn’t the tradition of away fans and none of the frisson of partisan support you get between rival fans whether that’s by taunting their opponents or cheering on their own team. This is intrinsic in football and part of the charm of the beautiful game.

For those of you thinking I’m a whining limey scumbag with a couple of fish and chips on his shoulders lets look at the cold hard stats. The Wall Street Journal conducted a study on NFL games to establish how much actual play time takes place over the 3 hours it takes to complete a match. Their findings showed it was only 11 minutes. In comparison if you strip out substitutions, free kicks and game breaks a 90 minute football match has 60 minutes of actual play in it. If I wanted to waste 3 precious hours for only 11 minutes of action I would join a dating website.

I concede that the intricacies of American football will be missed by those who only have a passing knowledge of the game. Whereas a great bit of skill or a thunderous shot can be appreciated by someone who has never watched football before, American football puts a greater emphasis on strategy, tactics and “plays” the execution of which will only be appreciated by purists and completely missed by noobs.

You don’t need me to tell you there is no contest between the two sports. Football is played in over 200 countries by over 250 million players. American Football is currently played professionally in just one. The NFL have tried desperately to extend the “franchise” but the feedback has been underwhelming.

The European developmental arm croaked in 2007 after years of gasping for the oxygen of attention. For a while in the early 90’s American football held a certain novelty value in the UK with the likes of William “The Fridge” Perry publicising the game for the London Monarchs. Fashionable for a couple of years – like paisley hooded tops and Joe Bloggs jeans – the league slowly disintegrated as fans slipped away. Only in Germany did it retain a semblance of popularity making it the sporting equivalent of David Hasselhoff.

The Superbowl may be the most watched club event in the world but I would rather watch my local park team play real football. Oh. And don’t call it soccer. You’ll sound like a tit.

Written by Dara Yazdani

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2 Comments on “Why American football will never be more popular than ‘soccer’

  1. “I gave up and went to bed at half time feeling hungry for something more emotionally fulfilling.”

    I imagine if you turned Milan-Liverpool off at half-time you would have been similarly underwhelmed.

    “If I wanted to waste 3 precious hours for only 11 minutes of action I would join a dating website.”

    It’s called a DVR. Some of the nonaction – the replays and analysis – can be as interesting as the action and may aid “noobs” like you in understanding the “intricacies of American football”. For everything else – commercials, time-outs, half-time – there’s fast-forwarding. NFL games take me an hour to watch, less than a soccer game.

    “And don’t call it soccer. You’ll sound like a tit.”

    Excuse us for using an English word to describe an English game.

    I’m a fan of both sports, I’m just annoyed by the constant stream of people who must resort to pointless number crunching and etymological name-calling in order to prove how much wiser they are than us backwards Americans. i agree, American football will never be as popular as association football, but why does that matter? Popularity is only important to high school beauty queens and politicians.

  2. Just a little point of clarification, there is a second pro league for (American) Football. The Canadian Football League has its own rules that change the game a bit from the American version, but it is pro and would be the European equivalent to a second division league compared to the NFL.

    No disagreement about the dullness of NFL though, 300 lbs. sumo wrestlers in body armour if you asked me. Oh and for all the hype about the commercials and ratings, the Super Bowl now has a smaller audience than the UEFA Champions League Final.

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