The Premier League continues to be the most watched and discussed soccer league in the United States among English-language audiences. This is the case even as other European leagues make dedicated efforts to corner the US market.
Much of the credit goes to the Premier League’s head-start in the US. Also, the work with NBC Sports stands out against other leagues in Europe. Still, it is a reflection of the increasing cultural influence of Britain on the United States. This influence is especially prominent among younger generations.
Explaining Premier League success in the USA
This is the most logical and commonly held explanation for the success of the Premier League among English-language fans in the USA. While it may not be the biggest factor for Americans, it is elsewhere. The Persian Gulf, India and Malaysia have massive Premier League followings. The seamlessness of language benefitted the league’s global strategy.
British Movies and Music
In 1964, British culture spread rampantly in the United States. James Bond’s From Russia With Love was a hit. The Beatles led the “British Invasion” of rock music into this country. Prior to the Beatles, it was almost impossible for a British recording artist to sell records in the United States. Since 1964, it’s become commonplace for British or Australian musicians to register hits in the US.
Almost 60 years later, the James Bond franchise and the Beatles are as big as ever. Young people in the United States don 007 merchandise or listen to the latest remastered version of Beatles albums. For many young Americans, it is a rite of passage. This longstanding success is a strong testament to the lasting cultural influence British exports have on subsequent generations of Americans. Likewise, English football remains omnipresent in the discussion of soccer in this country.
In fact, since the 1960s the penetration of British culture into American households has increased. It ballooned to the point where many in the United States look across the pond for inspiration in any number of things. British actors and actresses are regularly tapped for roles in Hollywood films. Productions from London-area film studios, like Pinewood, see regular releases in US movie theaters, unlike the pre-James-Bond era.
For what it is worth, The Beatles have had a direct impact on making Americans into soccer fans.
Oftentimes, for middle-class Americans, London is the first major trip outside North America. Multiple people relayed through the years that a trip to West London turned them into Fulham fans. The frequent appearances for USMNT talents at Craven Cottage like Clint Dempsey, Tim Ream and Brian McBride.
More critical, though, is the location of the club. Craven Cottage sits on the north bank of the River Thames. Americans always have a fascination with the river that bisects London.
Traveling to London sometimes hooks Americans on the sport. Even more seductive is a trip to Liverpool, the proving ground of the Beatles and Gerry and Pacemakers. A trip to Merseyside for music or culture often results in absorption into soccer culture. American-football- or baseball-driven friends of mine have made the pilgrimage to explore Beatles sites like Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields. As an unexpected result after a weeklong trip, they walk away supporters of either Everton or Liverpool. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of my contacts this has happened with.
In other cases, the supporters’ culture of certain clubs grabs Americans who want an authentic cultural experience. Smaller, more remote locales like Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers adopt fans seeking a more rural English experience.
There are other examples of Americans tracing their roots to smaller towns in the Midlands or the North. To connect with their home, they take on the fandom of those clubs. That could be Wolverhampton Wanderers or Sunderland AFC, for example.
The same patterns exist for Serie A or Bundesliga fans. However, due to frequency and connection, it adds another layer of fandom to the English game in the States.
American servicemen serving in WWII once English food considered bland, boring and tasteless. Now, English culinary delights now have a large following in the US. Indian food, with heavy British influence, has become more popular in the US in the last ten years.
The British staple Fish and Chips, once considered pedestrian, has experienced a comeback statewide in the last 20 years. Additionally, the Ploughman’s Lunch and various British types of cheese have become more popular in the US. This is especially the case in suburban areas over the last decade and more.
British ales and beers, as well as various chocolates, Heinz baked beans and drinks such a barley water, have increasingly penetrated American tastebuds. Local grocery stores now often have a British section within the international food aisle, something we didn’t see 25 years ago.
Ever since Fawlty Towers and Monty Python became a thing in the United States and Masterpiece Theatre surged in popularity, PBS has become a destination for Americans looking beyond the stereotypical experience of American sitcoms and soap operas.
Keeping up Appearances and Are You Being Served? became huge hits many years after their runs in the UK. Accredit that to PBS.
In the era of streaming, you can get a plethora of previously unavailable entertainment options. It is amazing how much cultural sway PBS’s library of British shows continues to have. Eastenders, for example, has had a 40-year run on PBS. The program turned some people, including my wife, from not caring about sports at all, to being a West Ham fan.
Speaking of streaming, BritBox brings Americans the best of ITV and BBC programs for a small monthly fee. Its popularity continues to rise. Therefore, it is delivering British programs to younger American audiences. These people may not watch PBS or other linear TV with regularity.
Other British Sports
The number of people in the United States that are younger than me and have an interest in Cricket, Rugby and Formula One Auto Racing has shocked me. Almost universally when engaging these young Americans, they prefer the Premier League to other soccer leagues. Oftentimes, they exclusively watch English soccer with a focus on the men’s and women’s England national teams.
Whatever your opinion is of these attitudes, it’s real and demonstrates the massive penetration British culture and sport have on younger Americans, who fit the demographic group advertisers and sponsors are most concerned about.
British culture is ubiquitous in the United States in this day and age and that has served to drive audiences toward English soccer. This cultural penetration gives England’s leagues and teams a built-in advantage over its competitors in the US markets.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Colorsport
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