Europeans have always had a curious relationship with US Sports. However, times are good for those wishing to expand across the Atlantic. The popularity of NFL, NBA and, even MLB and NHL, has surged in recent years.
NFL games at the iconic Wembley Stadium in London have been a massive success, perhaps more than anyone expected. The average European sports fan knows that the Warriors are the best team in a generation in the NBA. They know who Tom Brady is. They know that the Red Sox and the Yankees have a rivalry that reaches back a century through history. But, ask them about the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn? You will likely be greeted with a blank stare.
It is strange that something that holds so much weight in the pantheon of American sports barely registers in Europe. Especially given how popular NFL has become.
Many Europeans simply cannot get their heads around how popular college football is in the States. Part of the issue comes from the fact that there are no comparisons with the college football system. Comparing it with soccer – by far the most popular sport in Europe – is futile. Soccer players do not go to college in Europe, nor is there a draft.
In fact, soccer players are incorporated into youth teams of professional clubs at a very young age, normally as adolescents.
Clubs may have partnerships with high schools, so the kids can attain a basic level of education, but that’s it. The thing is, you only hear about these kids when they make it to the top level. There is no mass scrutiny of the youth leagues, no excitement of who the hottest young player is going to sign for.
Often a soccer player has ‘made it’ as a teenager, when their counterparts in the US are still playing high school football.
College football, although incredibly popular across the US, is still a sport with deep roots in the various regions. When Michigan takes on Ohio State, the buzz around the campuses, the cities and towns of the Mid-West reaches fever pitch. Would the average New Yorker know it is going on?
If Manchester United play Liverpool, everyone from London to Edinburgh knows it is happening. There is also a huge betting scene around soccer in Europe, one that has provided fans with a connection to games taking place across the continent. Click here for betting odds on various football games.
There is an argument that college football can take off in Europe. The NFL’s popularity has shown that Europeans have an appetite for football. In the UK, NCAA football matches are regularly shown live on television (BT Sport/ESPN), but viewing figures are not very high. It may be a question of exposure.
For Europeans to fully embrace college football, they must first recognise that it is not a poor version of NFL. It is not just access to the games, but exposure to the rivalries, the history and the high stakes. This will take time. Could an event like the Iron Bowl be a big deal across the Atlantic some day? It is not inconceivable, but perhaps not just yet.
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