Considering that the NBA season is locked out while the owners and players fight over money, many Americans may already have a backup plan. The NFL season is in full swing, the NHL season is about a month old and the MLB has ended. Even still, some who are hoops fans may even gravitate to college basketball for a substitute.
If you’re a NBA fan who is looking for something to replace your love of the game while you wait for the lockout, here are eight reasons to consider the English Premier League (EPL):
1. It’s really not as boring as you think.
Some NBA fans think (at least some of the ones I have spoken to) that soccer is boring because there is no action. It’s just a bunch of guys running up and down a field kicking a ball into a net. Really? And what is the NBA? Guys running back and forth on a court doing what? Ok, that’s what I thought. And there is plenty of action to be had. Players getting double and triple teamed, players trying not to get clipped while sliding tacklers hurl your way, players risking a concussion while going to get the header coming their way from a corner kick.
Better yet watching the drama unfold as a 1 – 1 deadlock is broken by a stray shot corrected and slid smoothly in past 2 defenders in the waning minutes for the winning goal as seen in this past weekend’s Liverpool victory over Chelsea. You want to see some athleticism? It takes a LOT to put a ball in a net using nothing more than your wits, skills and of course your feet and head! Soccer is as brutal as American football (and guess what, these guys wear less pads) and in many ways it’s more physical than basketball. So, if you are looking for action, it’s here in spades.
2. Not as deep of a commitment.
One of the issues I have had with basketball was the schedule. Games are aired 3 or 4 times a week and mostly in the evenings. Sure there are a few weekend games but still, if you miss a game or two during the week you may miss the best highlights. And if your games are west coast games, either you are staying up late or putting your DVR to work!
The one thing I love about soccer is on Monday, I am waiting for Saturday to watch the games. If you want to deepen your commitment, then yes you have Champions League games during the week and they come on early enough that you can watch them almost as soon as you get home from work. If you are an early riser on weekends, you can watch some of the games at 10am EST and since most games can be done in about 2 hours, enjoy the rest of the weekend after 1pm. If you are hardcore like some of my friends are, they can STILL get 2 or more games in and still have time to hang out around until 5 or 6. And what if you miss the game? Most are replayed during the course of the weekend and during the week.
Furthermore, let’s look at how much time you have in between seasons. The NBA finishes play in June. The season doesn’t start until the end of October — nearly 5 months! Soccer? Ends in May and starts up again in mid-to-late August. If you are a NBA fan what are you supposed to do in between that time? Fill it in with another sport? Do housework?
3. Just as fast paced as the NBA.
One thing makes this game The Beautiful Game is that it flows. Once the game starts, your attention is on the game following the ebb and flow as the teams do what it takes to score. From every step over, single and double cut dribble, back pass, bicycle kick, to the inevitable goal, the game just moves. I also enjoy that once the clock starts there is no stopping until the half and at the end. Americans have the luxury of having sports where there are stoppages during the game. I have to admit it’s gotten increasingly annoying especially in American football where instant replay has sucked all of the fun out of a good game. If you refer back to point two this is why you can have so much time on your hands after a game.
4. International camaraderie
In the time I have been following the sport I have met so many acquaintances from many different walks of life. It’s as simple as supporting your favorite team. Put on your favorite Lakers or Heat jersey and go to a mall. No one cares. No one will pay attention because here it’s commonplace. Put on a Manchester United kit, wear an AC Milan scarf or put a Real Madrid sticker on your ride and trust me, people will notice. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have ridden the DC metro and met others who enjoy the game because they noticed my MUFC keychain on my bag or even the wallpaper on my iPad. Just this weekend, I hung out with 5 new friends who I recently met, all of which are avid fans. If there was a sport that could bring people together, this would be it. Can you really say the same about the NBA?
5. Don’t let the low scores fool you!
One of the biggest complaints I hear is that there isn’t enough scoring in soccer. Compared to an NBA game, that may indeed be the case. But against the NFL, it’s hard to dissuade an NFL fan on that fact. But if you broke down the scores in an NFL game on a point to point basis, counting touchdowns only, most NFL games would be 4–3, 5–1, or even 1 to 0.
What is a sport without rivalries? In the NFL this past weekend, we saw the Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins in one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL. The biggest and newest rivalry game that could shut a city down for a day is the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens. Off of the top of my head, one of the longest standing NBA rivalries has to be the Boston Celtics vs the Los Angeles Lakers. East coast vs. West coast. But nothing compares to what you get in soccer.
Looking at the EPL on its own, you have Arsenal vs. Tottenham — two teams within 5 miles of air and opportunity separating them, Manchester United vs. their ‘noisy neighbors’ Manchester City. And we all saw the trouncing that took place a few weeks ago (when City won 6-1). Regardless of the 19 titles held by Manchester United, Manchester City got a much-needed moral victory that many thought they would lose.
There are so many others, the Second City Derby, the Merseyside Derby, and so on. There is actually a Wikipedia entry that lists them all! Find a pub in the US on a derby day and just be prepared. The tension is so thick you can cut right through it and that is something you will see that you can’t find in the NBA.
7. It’s easy to get into!
Believe it or not it really is! Too many sports now have a ton of rules that bog games down especially when championships are on the line as well as reputations of teams. Did he step on the line or did he hit the basket before the buzzer. Did he travel or did he foul the player? These are some of the things that can slow down American games. It’s even worse when it’s a bad call and mitigated when refs want to review the play. In soccer, games tend to get played out without a whole bunch of obscure rules stopping the game. Given a little bit of time, one can understand when yellow and red card are appropriate, the difference between when a corner kick or a throw in is used, and what an offside is.
It’s not a complicated or complex stat driven sport. You don’t have to know a ton of intricacies to enjoy for it to be fun to watch.
8. Cups and tournaments aplenty to be had all year long.
On this last point, I talked about this before and it needs repeating. During the course of a season, outside of the regular season matches, you have so many other competitions going on. In the EPL you have the Community Shield held at the beginning of the season. There is also the FA Cup, the oldest soccer competition played, the Carling Cup which determines the qualifier for the UEFA Europa League and the biggest match of them all, the UEFA Champions League final, a match that pulls more people in to watch than what you would find over the course of the NBA Finals. It’s a great way to have some kind of bragging right during the course of a season beyond the derbies. American sports can’t make that claim. It’s all about one trophy and really, how much fun is that?
These are some of the selling points that one could use to bring in a new fan. It won’t be easy because other than just telling someone about it, one also has to take the time to get them to come watch the game and let them experience it for themselves. A new fan has to be willing to step out of their comfort zone of being an American sports fan and get in touch with a sport that is global and growing. It’s easy to get into, doesn’t require as much of a commitment as does the NBA and has some of the best and oldest rivalries among sports. Soccer isn’t just a sport, it’s a culture. It’s passion and drama you can hardly find anywhere else and something that any new fan could quickly appreciate.
**I would like to dedicate this blog to my new friend Anton, who in turn introduced me to his friends and some really cool people to watch a match with Natasha, Amrith, Julissa and Desmond! Lastly I want to thank Eric and David for introducing me and stoking the fire that I have for this sport!