The eyes of the sporting world were fixed on Russia for the 2018 World Cup. Whether your country qualified or not, there is a magic about the tournament that cannot be matched in the summer months. Beer gardens are packed to the rafters with punters, enjoying a pint or two, revelling in the soccer on display. However, it might not be the case in the United States.
The USA is not renowned for its love of the sport, despite the relative success of their national team. The USMNT failed to reach the competition in Russia, the first time in 32 years they had failed to qualify. They finished fifth in the last round of the CONCACAF qualifying stage, losing to Trinidad and Tobago in their final match, which cost them a place at the World Cup. Panama finished ahead of USMNT and their 6-1 drubbing at the hands of England displayed how poorly the States performed to miss out on the action in Russia.
Failures on this scale will not endear the team to the public, although there are promising players coming through the system such as Christian Pulisic. However, it has a long way to go before it eclipses American football – most notably the NFL – to become a truly dominant sporting market. The NFL endures a sleepy period in the summer months between organised team activities and the start of training camp. A tournament in that period could intrigue, especially if the elite of the NFL were to engage to play for the States.
The IFAF World Championship is the current competition that decides the dominant world power in American football. Unsurprisingly, the USA have won the title in all three tournaments that they have competed in, triumphing from 2007 to 2015. The talent pool that the US drew on came from the college ranks, with players from all three divisions, although none of the elite stars. As a result, it’s not a surprise to see that the tournament went under the radar.
If you asked a regular football fan in the USA about the IFAF World Championship, it would probably be one of bemusement. The star attraction of the World Cup invites a huge global audience and unless the IFAF World Championship is able to entice the superstars of the NFL to represent Team USA, it is unlikely to be the betting and viewership phenomenon that is its FIFA counterpart. Even then it would disrupt the entire balance of the competition, which is already heavily swayed towards the States. Therefore, a new system may have to be developed to capture the imagination of the American and global population to match that of the World Cup and the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl’s viewing figures are astronomical. Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots totalled $103.7m, which was a slight decline on the previous year, although it still blows any other event on television out of the water. However, a new competition involving NFL players could have the same effect, utilizing the model of the World Cup. One idea could be to use a state-wide competition for players to represent their state of birth. Almost every state would have enough talent to cope with the demand for 50 players, while many including Alabama would be blessed with a huge surplus. It would create an environment similar to that of the World Cup, when even top-quality performers can be let out of the 23-man squad, much like that of Leroy Sane’s shock exclusion from Germany.
The state of California would have a very difficult challenge on its hands in such a format. The quarterback position alone could have the best two players in the NFL. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were both born in the state and would theoretically by vying for the place as the starting signal-caller in such a tournament. That would be a mouth-watering prospect, with the duo being forced to split their duties in a situation not too different from when Brady played at Michigan with Drew Henson. Whether all 50 states could compete is a matter that would have to be put under careful consideration. It’s not realistic that every state in the USA would have enough quality to match that of a California or Alabama. Therefore, it might have to be shortened and the best of the rest could be drafted into the fold. A state such as Wisconsin would boast a superstar in the form of JJ Watt, but not a lot else. In a shorter format, he could the join Ohio, Texas or Tennessee to ensure that the tournament has as much star power as possible.
An argument against the competition’s success would be the Pro Bowl. The game that precedes the Super Bowl features the best players from both conferences, pitting the NFC against the AFC. Although the viewing figures are fairly impressive, it hardly captures the imagination of the NFL fanbase. However, the partisan environment of a state tournament could tap into the same emotions that fans feel when watching the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers. It would behove the NFL to test the water with market research as it could be an answer to their problem surrounding the Pro Bowl. A summer series would fill the dearth between seasons given that it may have been seven months since the majority of players would have been in action. It may not be the World Cup, but it could be as close as American football will get to the same atmosphere and environment.
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