I decided to do this article because I wasn’t convinced by an article that NFL fans hate soccer. As a big NFL fan myself, as well as a newer fan to not just the EPL but world football in particular with all the nuances of the game, I am one of many who can easily adjust to the world game. Over the past 2 years, I have discovered many friends who not only like American sports, mainly the NFL, but also European football. We like it for the pacing, the drama, the tournaments as well some of the ins and outs of the sport which in many ways differ so much from American games.
One question that did strike me was to ask some of my international friends what their opinions were of American sports and what they liked and disliked. So after asking some of my friends at work, as well as the ones I hang with on weekends to watch the games not to mention some of the people in a facebook group I am in, I came up with some opinions as to what people from abroad like and dislike about American sports.
American sports, the NFL and the NHL in particular, is physical
Almost everyone that I got an opinion from stated that if there is nothing else to like about American sports is that the NHL while nearly as fluid in play as soccer, can be very physical in more ways than one. While the emphasis on fighting has decreased in the past few years and the NHL has tried to make it a safer sport by enforcing players to wear headgear, hockey still remains one of the most physical sports on the planet.
The NFL can be just as physical but with many of the rule changes that have taken place with possibly more on the way to try and keep players safe from concussions, many of my friends who can understand American football also agree that it’s a very physical sport but for other reasons to be mentioned later, find ways to dislike the sport. However many stated that it’s the closet thing they can get to rugby but the NFL cannot hold a candle to it.
Popularity and variety of sports in certain cities
One of my friends, Thomas from Laos, who has lived in the states for 23 years a big Barcelona fan, Houston Dynamo fan and Houston Texan fan, stated that one thing that he loves about being a sports fan in the US is that certain cities with multiple sport franchises that are popular makes it possible for fans to enjoy multiple teams in multiple sports. For example if you are a Boston native, it’s easy to get behind the Patriots, Red Sox and the Celtics and that’s not something he can find back at home. He also stated that even if one team isn’t doing well within a city, there still may be another team to root for. That was a matter of debate between us but I understood his point.
One other point that he brought up is he still tries to understand how fandom is a very fickle thing from city to city and sport to sport. Some places he’s been such as Baltimore and Washington, where fans get behind their teams and root for them no matter what, where on the other hand, he stated how he’s been to a few places in Florida and it’s sometimes hard to find fans of local teams but if he does, they are lifelong fans.
Almost everyone to a person agreed that unlike some of the restrictions that Europe has on game day, if you are a fan of a particular sport, it’s easily accessible on TV be it your home or pub and very rarely is it blacked out. Also accessibility to news sources has really impressed a lot of my friends and for some, this is why it’s easy for them to like some American sports.
The biggest like is the lack of overt racial hang-ups that are seen during games. In conversation, I explained to some of them that while incidents compared to what happens in Europe are low to nearly none, racial issues with players in particular sports is not the problem, it’s the behind the scenes and issues with key positions particularly coaching staff is where most hang-ups lie. One of my friends stated that at least American players aren’t subjected to the abuses that seem to have become more overt in some European locales.
So what are some of the dislikes?
Length of games and ads within games
Most of my friends stated that American football and baseball takes entirely too long especially with the start and stop of play in American football as many feel that the clock is deceptive because a 60 minute game should not take nearly 3 hrs to play and many cannot wrap their head around the extra innings concept in baseball. Many feel that overtime and extra inning rules should be dropped in favor of the system used in European football and use a point system based on wins losses and draws. My point was, while it would be a good idea, we as Americans want a clear winner and a draw is not enough.
One other issue my friend Natasha, from Tanzania and huge Manchester United fan pointed out was that one of the most frustrating things with watching American sports are the ads. They stop the continuity of the game. She knows that the television industry runs on ads here and that’s why they’re necessary, but it’s really annoying to keep being interrupted.
This was probably the 2nd biggest dislike from many of the people asked. And of course in particular is the NFL. Many people have a hard time getting into it because of all the rules and intricacies of the game and of course some of us Americans have a hard time trying to explain it especially when a key game is on. By itself the understanding of American football (with the term ‘football’ itself being a misnomer and thus another turn off international fans) and the minutiae of rules and as mentioned the length of games is usually what turns off many a new fan. Baseball is not as hard to explain but many cricket fans usually don’t watch.
Playoffs, Lack of Relegation and Drafting
Perhaps the biggest turn off that all of my friends to issue with American sports has to do with the endgame of American sports. Many are not exactly clear as to why in certain American sports why so many playoff games has to be played to determine a champion (the secret is called making money via advertising!) when a knockout tournament would do.
Worse yet many have stated that they dislike American sports because there is no punishment for poor performing teams. My friend and coworker Eric, a huge Arsenal supporter from London, looks at American sports and drafting as a business. While he disagrees with the parity that drafting and lack of relegation allows, it helps (whether you like it or not) teams to make money whether they are a losing franchise or not. A good example is the Washington Redskins. While they lack having won any titles in the past 20+ years, they still have sellout crowds and have fans waiting to become season ticket holders for years based off of popularity alone. If the Redskins were a team in Europe with the record they have had, they may have relegated their way into obscurity years ago. Even worse many feel is that poor performing teams get rewarded by having first pick of great players coming into the sport. My counter argument was that while I agreed to a point about this, it does however help give all teams an equal chance to get better. Consider this, some European teams are only as good as the deep pocket they have and that is why some are so popular (MUFC, Barcelona, PSG and a few others) and as long as they keep winning, they get even MORE money and it leaves very few lesser teams to get in on the action. That in part of what the Fair Play option is about in my opinion. I agree in part that American sports could use a promotion and relegation system in sport. My only fear is that the way it would be used here would create a certain amount of teams that would monopolize championships and part of why some American sports created salary caps in certain leagues years ago in order to keep this from happening.
So, to sum up there are many reasons why internationals like and dislike our sports systems along with a few others that didn’t make the cut with one being that the fan atmosphere at sports venues just isn’t the same.
One last question I asked was how they would rank their favorite American sports and most stated that it would be: NBA, MLB, NFL and the NHL.