Finding a soccer club has completely changed the way I view sports and makes me want to shout its merits from the rooftops to the unconverted. You definitely risk preaching to the choir on a soccer website, but there’s a burning desire coming from within me to do so anyways.
These are my 10 best arguments for soccer fandom being better than American football fandom. You can easily be a fan of both because of the time differences of the games, but I wanted to go after the scalp of the media stalwart of American sports!
1. Amount of Games/Length of Season
A typical NFL season runs from September to December — 4 months. It is seventeen weeks long and there is a bye week stuffed in there. Twenty out of the 32 teams (63%) play just 16 out of 52 weeks in the year. This is not due to poor planning. It’s a result of the physicality of the league and the impracticality of prolonging the season or adding two-game weeks. From a personal standpoint, I don’t even know how players can manage sixteen games as ten games in high school and college left me physically and emotionally drained of most of my willpower.
A Premier League season lasts from August until May — 10 months. It may sound a little too long to the person who has never lived through a season as a diehard, but there are three or four international breaks stuffed in there where you are lacking a league game for a weekend. Those tend to keep you refreshed until the dying embers in May. Every team is guaranteed 38 league games as well as one or more games in the League Cup and FA Cup. The majority of teams will play more than that. There are many weeks during the season where you get midweek games. Meanwhile, Thursday night NFL games are followed by ten days off.
The soccer season being longer is better for the fan because you get more games to enjoy and the perfection of the scheduling means that everyone plays every other league team home and away. It’s also a fair way to assess the champion. NFL scheduling is supposed to give the better teams tougher schedules, but the volatility in the league from year to year makes it farcical.
2. Relegation Battles
When the 0-10 Jacksonville Jaguars and 4-6 Buffalo Bills face off in November, a neutral is only watching that one if they have CJ Spiller in their fantasy league or they have put copious amounts of money on one of the teams.
I was engaged in a matchup this past weekend between the 19th and 20th placed clubs in the Premier League because of relegation. This season is a special one as far as the relegation battle is concerned because we are 75% through the season and the entire bottom half of the table is still threatened with the possibility of relegation. West Ham is in 10th and any points gained at this stage make the beer that night taste much sweeter because they are that much closer to staying up. The NFL system might even encourage you to root for your team to lose once they are out of the playoff race to improve draft status. It leads to some strange internal mental battles as far as what’s best for the good of the team.
3. Proximity of Clubs
Searching on Google Maps has led me to find that the largest distance between EPL clubs this season is a 6 hour drive from Newcastle to Southampton. It would take 48 hours to drive from Seattle to Miami. Does this matter? Maybe not, but I think it can add to the supporter experience. If you are a Newcastle supporter and Champions League qualification comes down to the last game of the season in Southampton, that trip is a reasonable journey to make year on year. The NFL version of that is once or twice in a lifetime type of stuff that will cost you ten times the amount of money. Northern vs. Southern tension can also add a little bit of flavor to the mix.
NFL crowds are lame. I feel like I barely even need to write anything here because a passionate NFL fan couldn’t even come up with a coherent argument against it. I’d reckon that the bulk of the home field advantage in the league stems from the road team sleeping in a hotel instead of their real beds. The Seahawks, Chiefs, and Broncos can definitely sway ball games with their crowds, but 3 out of 32 teams is a pathetic core of crowd strength. I’ve been to more than five regular season games in the past five years in a couple of different venues with playoff implications in play and any atmosphere was only coming from the PA system and the music.
Wigan is now relegated from the Premier League, but their games the last couple of seasons were poorly attended and there seemed to be a lack of supporter engagement. They stuck out like a sore thumb. That’s because every other Premier League venue up and down England and Wales seems to be rocking for any match you watch. Knowing a crowd is up for a game is important to me. I start to feel an emotional connection to a game when I wake up at 7:45am ET and Rebecca Lowe sends us to a fully packed stadium of a struggling club in the middle of the season. The fans are up for it because that’s their life. When you basically only support one club, there’s no other alternative and it results in white hot atmospheres. There’s simply no comparison in professional American sports. If the Bruins lose in the playoffs, you move on to the Red Sox and so on.
Player songs and personalized crowd chants are some of the most brilliant aspects of soccer crowds. If a manager is under the hot seat and his team are getting beat 3-nil, you can expect something demeaning like “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” They add to the atmosphere and ignite more hatred between supporters. The most you are getting from an NFL crowd is the crowd humming the tune of “Seven Nation Army” or something that every other stadium is doing.
There is a romance that the NFL has manufactured with the single-elimination format where 38% of the league gets to participate. Single elimination games are pressure cookers for drama and can often turn indifferent venues and fans into a completely different animal. My issue with this format is that one game can lead to fluky results and that the champion doesn’t necessarily represent the best of what the league had to offer that year. Weather, bad individual performances, the volatility that exists in one game, or bad refereeing decision can all play a part. The New England Patriots in their undefeated regular season performance are probably the biggest casualty in this format. Their historical placement is drastically altered when they were probably head and shoulders better than the rest of the league. That one game flukiness definitely exists in the one-off UEFA Champions League Final as well, but there are more games to weed out Cinderella stories with the group stages and the 2-legged matchups leading up to it.
Qualifying for the Champions League and the regality around the competition is simply boss for someone who has only experienced American playoffs. UEFA have created a monster here. Even the draws to find out which team you are going to face off against are anticipated greatly. I’ve geeked out for it even though my team hasn’t been in the competition. Europa League lacks most of the punch and I think the issue is that there isn’t really significant money involved for the winner, but the addition of Champions League qualification for the champion in the near future should do wonders. It is thought of as a poisoned chalice for now because it adds on the games without giving you the funds to add reinforcements to your squad. I genuinely wonder how Swansea and Wigan fans have felt about it in recent years as it must be pretty exciting to be able to be recognized on a world stage. Fans love more games, though, and a midweek game under the lights in the knockout stage has definitely gotten my blood pumping.
It is possible that most of my issues pertaining to a lack of drama in the NFL are related to the fact that my American football team (Buffalo) hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 and hasn’t really come too close otherwise. Parity in the league can be good and bad from a fan’s standpoint. Picking who I want to win in a September Jets and Patriots game is tough because you don’t know if you will be duking it out with both teams for the division, wildcard, or something else. It mostly becomes a situation where you can only go all out rooting for your own team. The rest of the league takes 8-10 weeks of sorting out before your rooting interests become obvious.
Before the Premier League season starts, it’s pretty clear which teams you will be rubbing shoulders with by April and May in the table. This leads to a very strong rooting interest from day one for most clubs. It’s why I fist pump and go crazy for a West Brom goal against Manchester United early in the season or get dejected as Artur Boruc is gifting a goal to Olivier Giroud. Fewer teams and the regular season being of uber-importance lead to end to end drama. The ‘regular season’ having an actual champion also has interesting consequences. Where in the NFL, the last week in the regular season will have the majority of teams looking ahead to next season or resting starters for the playoffs, the EPL’s last day usually features a fixture list with something at stake in each match. An average soccer match having about 3 goals also leads to a high chance of drama. Nil-nil scores are often brought up to beat over the head of soccer supporters, but those can sometimes be end-to-end thrillers.
7. Clubs vs. Franchises
Any owner from abroad that comes into England and thinks they are getting a cash cow that needs little maintenance is sure to be mistaken. Because the identity of many of these clubs is woven into the actual city itself, it becomes a political force. If you have low shirt sales in an American franchise, you can change the logo and the colors and might come up with a winner, sales-wise. Vincent Tan has tried to do this (and many other bizarre things) with Cardiff and it has made the city loathe the owner who took them up to the Premier League. Supporters groups actually have a voice and can make stands against higher ticket prices or just about anything they desire. There is a much different vibe with NFL franchises and they feel much more like corporations where it’d be impossible to catch the eye of the CEO. With only 8 home games per year, it’s also very hard to feel like you are ingrained in the culture of the club and location that surrounds it. Many franchises have had a transient history and that is extremely rare in any soccer club.
The actual sport of soccer was the part that caught my eye during the World Cup. The running time and fluidity of the game was a breath of fresh air from the stop-start, commercial-infested waters of American sports. You will get 45 minutes of the sport being played and a 15 minute halftime. Sure, a team like Stoke City can make 25 of those minutes feel like the stop-start variety with their set pieces, but I’ve found them to be a rarity and it’s actually quite fun to watch them do it against your rivals.
The detractors will always bring up the flopping. It does exist, but it’s much less than I had anticipated. Flopping and diving are also thrown into the English news cycle to a comparable level to what we see about Lebron James or Peyton Manning and his Omaha here in the States. As a result, repeat offenders are swarmed non-stop by fans and the media alike.
According to a Wall Street Journal article from Biderman in 2010, there are only 11 minutes of actual gameplay during the 3 hour NFL broadcasts and a full hour of commercials. It feels more natural watching a NFL game when it’s on television, but in person at the stadium, it’s just weird. We are also conditioned to it, but it’s just a brutal commercial fest. An average of 12 total penalties per game also adds to the deterioration of game time. For me, a lot of it is unbearable now after becoming a soccer freak. I simply can’t handle it.
Rivalries can be downright shocking in the sport of soccer. It makes you scratch your head a bit at the soft label that is constantly on the tips of detractors’ tongues. Constantly touted rivalries in American sports like the Cowboys-Giants, Yankees-Red Sox, and Ohio State-Michigan pale in comparison even to some of the lesser rivalries in English football. Any Red Sox game will feature a crowd interspersed with fans of both teams. That doesn’t cut it in England or any other European crowd for that matter. Violence would almost certainly ensue, if not for away fans regulations. Hatred goes a few levels further for soccer rivalries as some of the more extreme fans in the Liverpool and Manchester United use chants to mock tragic instances in the clubs’ histories. Local police often suggest earlier kickoff times for derbies as it means there is less time for fans to drink. These precautions are not even an afterthought in American sports.
Location plays a part in some; intense histories in others. When both of those streams meet together, watch out.
10. Media Rights
DIRECTV and the NFL have been in a partnership for as long as I can remember. This is not good for the out-of-market fan that can’t get access to that TV provider or simply doesn’t want to deal with it. Out of ten games in the 1pm and 4pm EST time slots, three are usually picked for national broadcasts. One of those 3 games is usually the local team and you are bang out of luck if your favorite team is in the same time zone as that local team. The alternative is to go to a bar with the NFL Sunday Ticket. I have done this at times, but my preferred method of following a team is on my couch and devoid of distractions. It can also get expensive to go out so often and I’m not going to go out and sip on waters at a bar because I am really self conscious and would assume the wait staff is clowning on me and my ginger hair in the back room. NFL RedZone has been a breath of fresh air and an amazingly innovative product, but it can be maddening if you are only following your favorite team with that medium.
There are now ways to watch your favorite Premier League team live and in HD every single week. It can be the best team in the league or the worst. Not every cable provider is on board, but I’ve found that most TV providers offer Premier League Extra Time. You can also bail on a game if one of the teams is getting blown out, where you are basically stuck with the national pick if it is the NFL. I’ve had 3 games going at times this season: one on the laptop, one on the TV, and one on the tablet. That’s just not something I ever would’ve thought to do with NFL games.
In summary, the rise of soccer in my consciousness has made the NFL and college football unwatchable for me. I tried a year without a fantasy football team last season and found out that that had been the only thing keeping me around. My Sunday afternoons are free now. Wait, except for Serie A, La Liga, and the MLS, but that’s a whole other story!
I am a Liverpool supporter.
I am a Buffalo Bills fan that doesn’t live in the Buffalo region.
I played American football in high school and in college.
I have only been watching soccer since the 2010 World Cup.
I have lived the majority of my life in the northeast of the United States where college sports are 5th on the importance list after the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.