10 Things the NFL Could Learn from the EPL
It’s the old debate: NFL vs. EPL.
Which league features “real” football? Whose fans care more? Are each league’s players sissy and meek or fat and unintelligent.
What gets lost in the largely nationalistic bravado surrounding both the National Football League and the English Premier League is the amount each could learn from the other.
For instance, the EPL could reconsider the way it generates revenue or the way the top teams control almost everything. You wouldn’t find such problems in the NFL, which has revenue sharing and is only as strong as its weakest team.
And yes, NFL fans, the American football league has something to learn from the EPL. Maybe quite a few things, actually. What follows is an attempt to improve the NFL in 10 simple, EPL-inspired steps.
Listen closely, Roger Goodell. Hear that knocking? It’s the future.
Better Team Entrances
Consider how teams enter the pitch before almost all Premiership fixtures. The two squads, standing side-by-side, slowly walk out behind the referees to the manic cheers of the fans. All the while, they’re holding the hands of young children who look either happy or traumatized.
Contrast that to the way teams are introduced in the NFL: a large, loud spectacle with grown men running onto the field after passing through a giant facsimile of a helmet. Certainly, every team has its own style, but something that doesn’t change across the league is the visitors slinking out to the field to a loud chorus of boos.
Some teams don’t even introduce the entire home side at once, preferring to give the star players solo introductions. After hearing their name, they sprint through the helmet, slapping hi-fives with busty cheerleaders and giant linemen alike.
While obviously the EPL teams are composed of fewer players than NFL teams, the idea of both sides coming out at the same time might be a worthy one. That way, the entire stadium can erupt in cheers, rather than have one side be drowned out with boos. Sure, that would take some of the initial “home-field advantage” away, but it still would be something to hear.
Perhaps teams could just walk their offensive and defensive starters on the field. That’s only 22 players a side, double the EPL size, with the rest heading to the sideline. Maybe this is the kind of classy opening NFL teams need.
More Physically Fit Players
One of the major differences visually between the two leagues is the overall fitness of its players. EPL players tend to be hyper-fit, lightly muscled athletes who can run around the pitch for 90-plus minutes. NFL players, on the other hand, can afford to be out of shape—especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
While it’s a function of the two different games that certain levels of fitness can be tolerated, wouldn’t it be nice to see NFL players as fit as soccer players? Sure, you could argue that the NFL would want heavy, immovable linemen compared to fitter, lighter linemen, but consider the team as a whole when comparing it to the EPL.
Every player taking the pitch in the EPL is capable of running around for roughly 90 minutes of play. Outside maybe the running backs, how many NFL players could last that long? Wouldn’t it add an extra dimension to the game if linemen were as mobile as tight ends?
While these are certainly two different sports with two different approaches to fitness (high cardio for soccer and dense muscle for football), the general idea that, as a team, NFL sides should be more fit isn’t a bad idea. Rather, it could go a long way to promoting healthy living in America with top role models dedicated to incredible overall fitness instead than the building of muscle.
With Jerome Simpson's epic dive making headlines and highlight reels across America, it’s become clear that the NFL needs a lesson in diving from the flop masters of the EPL.
While I applaud Johnson’s effort, his dive could have used more embellishment. The video clearly shows Johnson leaping into the air and falling over after a slight shove from Scott Fujita. Johnson certainly has the basics down of selling the push, but that’s really on the beginning.
Why was there no clutching of face after visually being struck in another part of the body? Why was there no rolling around, no clutching of the leg as if injured?
It’s the little things that separate quality divers in the EPL from the relative rookies in the NFL. With more EPL influence, soon NFL divers could become similarly great thespians, a worthy achievement we’re starting to see more of.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the EPL is the near-constant singing the fans engage in during the game. Every side has its own songbook for certain players and occasions, singing every tune with great gusto.
True, the derby matches take the lyrics to a much darker place, but overall the songs lend an exciting atmosphere to the proceedings.
Very little like that exists in the NFL. Sure, you have the generic chants of “Go team Go!” or “Defense! Defense!” but for many teams, the long, elaborate tunes of the EPL elude them.
Imagine NFL sides being serenaded with songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” or other melodious team-specific chants. It would get the crowd involved, making the atmosphere that more incredible. Amateur NFL lyricists, get on that.
Less Televised Commentary
Televised EPL matches practice a different style of commentary than most NFL fans are used to, often letting the play on the pitch speak for itself rather than speaking for it.
English commentators are far more subdued, and while able to turn a phrase with the best of them, they often only pipe up when the action begins to boil. It also allows fans at home to hear the fans singing at the stadium, which would complement the previous slide.
In the NFL, commentators talk constantly through the action as if it were still radio. Not only do they describe most everything on screen, but they regularly fill the empty time with analysis and anecdotes.
While the staccato tempo of the NFL perhaps necessitates talking though the empty spaces of play (huddling, measurements e.t.c), there is something to be said for letting the game speak for itself.
It’s nice to be constantly updated—and to their credit NFL commentators usually back off in the big moments—but maybe a stop further back into the relative silence of EPL commentary would be favored. With louder crowd noise, deeper immersion into the game could be possible—who wouldn’t want that?
While the EPL alone has less teams (20) than the NFL (32), the number of teams who have a shot at competing in the Premier League or against Premiership sides is well over 100.
Why not put an NFL team in every major American city? Most cities and towns in England have their own team that, regardless of current stature, could eventually play with the top sides if they continue to win. You’d never see the Los Angeles equivalent in England be without a football team, so why does the NFL allow it?
It’s not altogether implausible to add at least one team to every state that currently lacks one. Assuming the league grew that much, the NFL could set up divisions like English football does. For example, the best teams would play in the EPL, while the other teams would work in the lower divisions with a chance to one day get into the top division.
Of course, if we create more teams and a division system, we would naturally need a system of…
Relegation and Promotion
Adding a system of regulation and promotion to our new expanded NFL league would be absolutely necessary to connect the divisions.
In leagues with 20 teams apiece, the bottom three would be regulated and the top three promoted, just like in the EPL. This would give teams an incentive to play well even at the end of the season, with regulation taking away any reason to tank. Is a higher slot in the draft really worth being sent down?
Of course, the owners would hate this. Why invest in something when that investment could lose half its value overnight? It would be a nightmare to seriously pump money into a team, only to watch that team lose and be regulated.
Now that we’ve got regulation and promotion settled, the final addition to our new NFL format could be…
In the EPL, not only do teams compete for a league title, but other various cups and trophies as well.
For instance, teams can compete for the Carling Cup or F.A Cup, trophies with a wider scope of entry than just EPL teams.
Introducing a multiple cup system into our new NFL would allow teams from different levels a chance to play against each other. Since it wouldn’t affect their league standing, top clubs could rest their starters and play reserves, while lower teams hungry for silverware could start their best side in hopes of an upset.
This would lead to deeper teams and excitement among lower-league sides hoping to gain promotion. It also would add meaningful, championship-level games to get fans excited during the year.
Certainly, the question of adding games to an already-long NFL season would not go over with the players union, a body which frequently worries about long-term player health. The only answer would be to make the divisions smaller, maybe between 12-15 which would allow for…
Round-Robin League Play
Instead of playing just current divisional foes twice, if we reduced the amount of teams in each of our new divisions significantly, every team would play each other twice for a real round-robin system.
With this new schedule in place, a real champion could be crowned by the end of the season, with playoffs used only as a tool to break tiebreakers for the championship. Or we could still have a championship match featuring the top two regular season finishers.
A round-robin system of games makes them all count for something, especially when you factor in regulation. Every team would be incentive to play well no matter what time of the year it is.
If you think about it, most teams have the possibility of playing 24 games in a given season if you add 16 regular season games together with four preseason games and four possible playoff games. If our top division has between 10-12 teams, we could have a full round robin with cup games without significantly lengthening the season.
Wouldn’t you want to watch something like this? I know I would.
Similar to other soccer leagues around the world, the EPL allows companies to print their logo on official team kits in exchange for sponsorship money. Couldn’t this untapped source of revenue benefit the NFL?
We could even limit the possible sponsors to American companies in order to promote domestic companies. While there’s no such limit in world soccer, that’s not reason it couldn’t work in America.
Take Everton’s kits, for example. Be honest, how many of you knew what “Chang” was without looking it up? Sponsoring team jerseys would be a great way for American small businesses to get their name out there, just like the Thai-based beer company. What better way to encourage domestic entrepreneurship?
Considering this and so many other changes, the NFL could learn something from the EPL. It remains to be seen if American culture agrees.