The British are coming! The British are coming! And they’re coming to play their game – or something like that.
While so many in this country are gleefully awaiting the start of American football season this weekend, the truth is that, across the Atlantic “football” season already began three weeks ago. And bad news for a lot of soccer-hating ugly Americans: More and more people are getting into it.
Yeah yeah, I know this is something we keep saying year after year. But there’s a new twist this year – in the form of a $250 million deal from NBC to broadcast the entire English Premier League season to the States, mainly via the NBC Sports Network. And given that the opening weekend of their coverage resulted in 67 percent better ratings than their competitors at Fox and ESPN broadcast last year, for now it looks like money well spent.
No, I’m not saying we’re on the verge of seeing the majority of this country prefer the game where you actually use your foot with the ball. There are still a number of obstacles toward getting more people used to “the beautiful game.” Games starting at five in the morning definitely aren’t going to help.
But there are a number of benefits a game like EPL soccer has that could explain just why that number id growing with each passing year.
First of all, this, like most soccer leagues outside this country, is a league that makes certain all teams play for success throughout the year. You finish at the bottom of the EPL, you don’t get first pick at the best amateur talent; you get kicked out, your entire franchise bounced down to the minor league. No “Team Tank” or “Suck For Luck” here. Just 20 teams forced to keep some level of integrity to their ticket-buying public.
Second is the excitement that these teams are just playing for their national league championship. In addition to the EPL, there is also the UEFA Champions League, with four English clubs (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City) set to begin group play in three weeks. For the closest U.S. comparison, imagine what college basketball has with the conference season, conference tournament and NCAA Tournament. Now, instead of cramming those in succession over just three months, imaging them being played side by side over nine!
And that comparison proves the best segue into the biggest thing that makes the EPL – and most other pro leagues across the ocean – so exciting. Something that is sadly disappearing in our country.
Rivalries steeped in local ties are still alive and well.
This Saturday, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will face off in the first game of what’s called the North London Derby between two clubs less than four miles from one another. And those are just two of six clubs within London’s area. And then there’s Aston VIlla and West Bromwich (3.5 miles), Newcastle vs Sunderland (10 miles) and Manchester United vs Manchester City (5.2 miles). And all 20 clubs within one country roughly the size of Georgia.
No wonder English soccer fans have such a reputation for insanity. Familiarity really does breed contempt.
But it’s still refreshing to see compared to what’s happening here in the USA, where regional rivalries, especially in college sports, are being destroyed for money and TV exposure. Dallas-Fort Worth has seen that as painfully as anyone, as SMU hasn’t played in a Texas conference since 1995 and TCU waited more than 15 years to get back to one. How tough must it be for Mustang fans to see this year’s games against Texas A&M and Texas Tech as “non-conference” matches?
Yeah, conference jumping like that will never happen in the case with the EPL. True, the league was created in 1992 by clubs who wanted to break away from The Football League at the time. But you’ll never see Manchester United move into the German Bundesliga or Liverpool decide to go to the Italian Serie A, while over hear SMU’s athletics department tries to sell its fan base that playing the likes of Cincinnati and Rutgers will be worth watching.
I’m probably not going to convince anyone just from this article. A number of you are already dead set in your ways still.
Go ahead and get ready for TCU against LSU in a game that won’t affect any conference championship at all.
Me, I’m getting ready to see what this London Derby has to offer. Arsenal’s been on a tear with eight goals in three games, so Tottenham could be in real trouble.