Will American Football Ever Be Popular in the Rest of the World?

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIFebruary 17, 2009

Will American football ever make it big outside of North America?  Since watching American football (specifically the NFL) is my favorite sport to watch, it is hard for me to be neutral in this topic, but I will try my best. 

My guess is that the answer to this question is yes, however, I think it will take a long time – perhaps as much as a century.  Hence, there now seems to be 2two questions to answer:  1) Why will it become popular?; and 2) Why will it take so long? 

Since the factors that will affect the popularity of football and how long it will take are intertwined, I will discuss the answers together.

First, what positive attributes does football have that would make it popular anywhere?

1) It has a lot of action and exciting plays.
2) It has a reasonable amount of scoring. 
3) It is a great stadium and an even better TV sport.
4) It is a great for bettors. 
5) It has controlled violence. 
6) It has a lot of strategy. 
7) The Super Bowl is the world’s most watched single-day sporting event. 
8) While team play is very important, many individual stars emerge. 
9) It has sex appeal with hot cheerleaders in skimpy outfits and men in tights. 
10) Unlike other sports and leagues, most of the time the NFL is not afraid to change its rules to keep the sport fresh, fair, and exciting. 

Second, what factors will prevent football from catching on outside the North America?

1) No tradition established in other countries. 
2) The rules are more complicated than most sports. 
3) Similar sports are already popular in many major countries (Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, and Rugby Union). 
4) It is a violent sport with many injuries. 
5) It is expensive to play because of the necessary equipment that is worn. 
6) Many countries don’t like anything that is American. 
7) Competition from many other popular sports.
8) NFL Europe folded in 1997 after 16 unsuccessful seasons. 
9) The stars wear helmets; hence, they are less identifiable to the fans. 
10) There is more stoppage of play than soccer and basketball, which are the two most popular team sports in the world.

Cricket is a boring version of baseball yet it is more popular than baseball in many countries.  Tradition is the only reason I can think of.  Rugby is a sloppy, hard to follow version of American football yet is more popular in many countries.  Again, tradition is the only reason I can think of.  Hence, tradition is hard to overcome and takes time. 

The effect of violence is hard to figure out because the violence in American football is more controlled than, say, rugby, but it has more violence than soccer or basketball.  As for competition, if a sport is great, it will catch on and will replace other sports, which are not as appealing.  Just look at the United States, with the decline of Horse Racing and Boxing -- American football, basketball, and Ultimate Fighting have become more popular.   

Soccer fans are always saying they don’t need more scoring because the strategy in the sport keeps them interested in what little action there is.  Well, the strategy in American football is more intricate and interesting than any other sport on the planet, so this should be a big plus once the fans learn the rules and nuances of the game.  However, this will take time since American football is complicated and most potential fans did not grow up watching the sport.

As you can see from the negative factors in the way, it will take time for American football to catch on.  However, I think American football is too exciting a sport not to become popular worldwide eventually.  But, what do I know?  I am just a football-loving egocentric ugly American.  Or, maybe, just maybe, I just know a great sport when I watch one.