Sunday, October 28, 2007

10-28-07: NFL in London

I watched a bit of today's NFL game in London. Although the teams playing weren't quite even (Miami is just awful), it seemed to be a pretty big success. The weather wasn't good, but that's England.

One thing in particular that got me thinking, on a trip up to Worcester last night to a Worcester Sharks game with my Fraternity, was how well the NFL will do in their effort to globalize the sport of American football. I understand their desire for growth, but how realistic are they being?

If you live in England, you likely don't follow American football. You know what it is, but it's a foreign sport played primarily in one country on a different continent. You wouldn't really know any of the players. They're American. They went to American colleges, and some of them (e.g. a guy on the Dolphins) doesn't even know they speak English in London. Why would you really want to pay attention to them? The NFL is simply too American, in both culture and content, to be a global success. Soccer, the prime example of the global sport, has several top leagues that have international players from various continents.

American football is also not an Olympic sport, since no other countries are any good at it. It would be a joke. No other countries play it at the youth level, so there aren't many sports icons for youths in other countries to worship. They simply don't understand what it's like. I grew up playing hockey and watching it on TV, wanting to become my favorite players like Cam Neely and Ray Bourque. If you live in Germany, and don't play American football, you can't really say you'll ever become Ray Lewis or Reggie Bush. It's just not realistic.

There's nothing wrong with an American sporting organization to try to globalize, but it only really works if the culture and composition allows it. It just doesn't seem like American football has the substance to make it on the global stage. Despite the sell-out at Wembley for today's game, it doesn't mean the sport has staying power in that market. It's simply a novelty, or as Tony Kornheiser said on PTI the other day, it's a rock concert. Sports like basketball and ice hockey, or even baseball, have international players with professional leagues in other countries already. They have a better shot at successfully globalizing. Football just doesn't fit the mold. It's a great sport, but it's all American, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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