Soccer vs. Football, and Football Might Be Losing

Barclays Premier League TeamsAs I sit here on a Saturday morning watching Manchester City take on Everton in Barclays Premier League action, I am thinking about how my taste in athletic events has changed dramatically over the past few years.

Last month my lovely wife and I went to the Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks game, courtesy of some tickets provided by my brother-in-law. I hadn’t seen a live basketball game at the ESA in years.

I could not believe how difficult it is to watch American basketball live. Constant stopping. Interminable timeouts. So much dead space between the action.

When the Jazz Dancers came out on the court for the umpteenth time during a stoppage in play I remarked “god forbid you have a quiet moment of contemplation during the game.”

On Thanksgiving I was sitting on the couch watching one of the afternoon’s football games when a member of the family asked me if I had an NFL team I followed.

It struck me that this was the most football I had watched all year.

Most evenings during the week I’m refereeing indoor or outdoor soccer. On Saturday’s I often officiate multiple games leaving no time to watch college football. On Sunday’s I prefer the company of my family to the NFL.

Which brings me back to the Jazz game. The constant stopping of the action almost made me itch. I prefer the fluid back-and-forth of a good soccer match (or even a bad one) to the stop, start, stop again, 10 commercials, start, stop action of American sports.

The average televised NFL game is 3 hours and 12 minutes long. During that time, the ball is in play for a mere 11 minutes, while viewers are bombarded with 100 minutes of commercials. Commercials take up about an hour of the broadcast while networks spend more time airing replays (17 minutes) than real live game action.

A friend once complained about soccer that it was mostly a bunch of players “milling around” on the field. That’s what happens for 75 minutes of game time during an NFL game. We’re just not aware of it because of all the commercials.

I’m not going to be a soccer snob and disdainfully opine that people who don’t like soccer don’t “understand” the game. That’s a condescending view of the world. It’s a matter of personal preference. But, it’s clear that I’m no more than a casual fan of football and basketball. Sure, I’ll watch the Super Bowl – but I really don’t care.

American soccer still has a long ways to go. After watching nearly every game during the 2014 World Cup, one could tell that MLS had a long way to go to catch up. The players here aren’t as good as the top players in other places around the world.

There’s also the local connection. It’s hard to ask American fans to root for teams in England or Germany. It’s easier to get caught up in your local sports team than one half way around the world.

But, generationally, things are changing. Utah Youth Soccer had nearly 60,000 kids playing competitive soccer during the recently completed fall season. I can guarantee you there aren’t that many kids in the state playing football or baseball at a competitive level.

NBC paid $250 million for the broadcast rights to the Barclays Premier League for three years. Has it been a success? Maybe, maybe not.

All I can tell you is it’s Saturday, there are some huge college football games on, and I’m watching Manchester City v. Everton.