Its closest competitor is the German Football League, the Bundesliga, who has approximately 25,000 less supporters per game.
Football is beloved by an overwhelming majority of the American population, and football takes center-stage in many magazines, TV shows and movies. Even the standard American hangout amongst average joes is synonymous with people gathered around the TV set, sipping on some ice-cold beers and watching their beloved sport.
Football ignites the imagination of millions of Americans, the standard cliché being that the most popular person in school is indeed the quarterback. As its popularity has soared, so have the number of people getting into the sport.
However, I am of the conviction that this limelight should be shifted to some other sport, because in many ways, football falls short in several categories. The other sport is, of course, soccer (soccer is used here to designate distinction, and is not a word I use primarily), a sport played and beloved by millions around the world.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world—played by 250 million players in over 200 countries. Nothing unites the whole world as soccer does. So what benefits does soccer present over football?
Let us observe.
Soccer is a perennial sport. It is played almost everywhere and almost all countries have a league that is watched and followed intensely just like the NFL. Take the English Premier League (EPL), the most watched sporting league in the world, being broadcasted to 600 million people in over 200 countries worldwide.
The EPL is comprised of the top twenty teams in England, who battle it out for nine months. Similar leagues also exist all over the world, with European leagues usually taking center stage—the main benefactors being Spain, Germany and Italy. The most lucrative trophy is the league title.
Besides this title, which demonstrates to others that you are the de-facto team to beat, there are other competitions—equally prestigious and attended—that take place all year round. Let us revisit England again, where teams can compete for the Carling Cup and the FA cup, two other highly prestigious trophies.
Furthermore, there’s the UEFA Champions League—a league where the top teams from each league in Europe compete for the Champions League trophy and the World Cup—a competition that gives an equal opportunity for all countries to take part in.
There are also the Euro Cups, the Copa Americas, and numerous others, but I assume you get the point.
Soccer fosters globalization and understanding of each others' culture, and it allows people to transcend cross-cultural barriers. Soccer is at the heart of globalized culture. If you follow soccer, you can go anywhere in the world and people will know what you are talking about.
Take a top-tier club, Chelsea, which plays in the English Premier League: The main Goalkeeper is Czech, there are defenders hailing from Serbia, England, Brazil and Portugal, midfielders from Ghana, Nigeria, France and Ivory Coast, and strikers from Belgium, Spain and the like. Even the coach is Portuguese. And that is only one team.
One country is missing, and that is the United States: For all of its resources and talented athletes, Americans are sorely underrepresented in the top-tier leagues.
Moreover, numerous leagues in numerous countries also gives better bargaining power for players and managers. In case of fallouts, these personnel have the flexibility to go anywhere they desire.
For example: Didier Drogba, one of the stars of the aforementioned Chelsea team, is now rumored to go to a Chinese club because his club did not offer him a two-year contract extension. At Shangai Shenhua, he is expected to make around £200,000 a week, which translates to around $310,000 a week.
Soccer is a cheap sport. Even a professional game of soccer requires only shin pads and football boots.
In contrast, football is an expensive sport; football requires protective gear such as helmets, various pads for areas like hips, shoulders and so forth, thigh guards, mouth-guards and other pieces of equipment.
An argument that I have heard in many forums that soccer enthusiasts hear is that the rest of the world plays soccer because it cannot afford to play an expensive sport like football. Well, soccer is the most popular sport in England, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain—countries that have a very high Human Development Index (HDI).
It is also extremely popular in the slightly less affluent countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ghana and Nigeria. A host of other countries have declared football to be their national sport. So, the correlation between affluence and football simply does not exist.
Another argument against soccer is that soccer is a boring game. One of the biggest turn off for a majority of Americans is that soccer is a low-scoring game.
Well, that is because a goal scored counts for exactly that—one goal. If you were to convert it to, say, one goal totalling six points, equivalent to a touchdown in football, then the scores would also reflect differently.
Taking this logic into account, the game between Manchester United and Arsenal, two of the heavyweights in soccer, would be 42-12, and the game between Manchester City and Manchester United would be 36-6.
But a large number of points on the score sheet is not what this game is about; like in the NFL, there is a high level of adrenaline rush and anxiety in the face of the fans. In a split second, games and tournaments can be decided and even underdogs can seemingly overturn the tide against a top club.
Americans in general also seem to be flabbergasted by the thought that several games also end in draws, or worse, 0-0. Well, in the long run, over the course of the league, these points accumulate and can prove crucial.
In the latter stages of big tournaments such as the Champions League and the World Cup, a winner always emerges, as these rounds are usually of the knockout fashion.
Every sport has its thrill and excitement—any monkey knows that. And arguing in favor of one sport versus the other is like arguing religion versus atheism.
Up to this point, I only wanted to highlight that soccer is a great sport and can become immensely popular in the United States as well. Now, I want to argue why football should really be phased out.
Football is, by a country mile, the most dangerous sport played in the US. Studies have shown that men who play five or more years in the NFL have a life expectancy of 55. This is more than 20 years less than the average life expectancy of the average American citizen.
For linemen, owing to their size, this life expectancy is even shorter at a pathetic 52 years.
There are problems experienced by these players that are directly related to weight gain; coupled with the high intensity of the game, it results in several injuries, the biggest of them being an injury to the head.
Several ex-players have sued the NFL for deliberately concealing the dangers on concussions and trying to repudiate the cause-and-effect between the NFL and concussions.
From 2002-2009, apart from a little dip, the percentage of players suffering at least one concussion has shot up, from around 2.5 percent in 2002 to 5.9 percent in 2009. In the average regular season from 2002-2009, a team experienced 3.2 injuries per week.
Furthermore, a staggering 59 percent of players sustained at least one injury. In total, 21.2 percent of these injuries were classified as “major” injuries.
Countrywide, football also ranks as the most dangerous youth sport—the percentage of players injured while playing football is 13.8 percent. In stark contrast, the percentage of players injured while playing soccer is a mere 3.5 percent.
Like any sport, soccer is also a contact sport and has its share of injuries, but as highlighted previously, these numbers are low. Referees penalize reckless tackles harshly, and the governing football associations step in several times to deem the right punishment for the player.
It is at this point where several readers will jump in with the argument that football is a man’s sport while soccer is for young boys and girls to entertain themselves.
However, American football is rarely played in any other country besides the U.S., and soccer remains the most popular sport in the rest of the world in countries ranging from England to Ghana. So, such a statement is the equivalent of saying only American men are real men.
That doesn’t sound very logical to me.