The Super Bowl in London?

Ross Tucker at Sports Illustrated has a new column up about the rumors going around about a London Super Bowl in the near future. He writes:

For the loyal hometown fans, a regular season game is one of the eight glorious days that they look forward to and pay good money for every year. The Super Bowl, on the other hand, is already an outrageously expensive neutral site game. It is pretty much mainly high rollers paying top dollar for the tickets at this point anyway. How many true fans of the teams playing in the game really go to the Super Bowl? The vast majority watch it on TV and wouldn’t be affected at all by a move abroad, assuming issues like weather, field conditions and kickoff time can be worked out.

I suppose it makes a lot of sense to try and create a more international market for the sport of American football. Mr. Tucker writes elsewhere in his article that basketball and baseball have had “exponential” increases in popularity overseas, and of course the NFL would want to cash in too. A few regular season games have already been held across the pond and the attendance has been pretty high, more than 83,000 for the Saints/Chargers game last year at Wembley Stadium, but the Super Bowl is another beast entirely.

Having the Super Bowl in London give a lot of people a knee-jerk “the NFL is screwing me again!” reaction, but the truth is that this is capitalism straight up. Just because the NFL is on top in terms of popularity in America, that popularity does not extend to other countries in the least. In fact the London games thus far have seemed more like freak shows for people interested in seeing giant Yanks smashing each other for a few hours rather than opening people up to a new and intricate sport.

Speaking from personal experience as an English teacher in Los Angeles, even those people living a few miles from any given USC game or a remote click’s distance from watching the sport have no interest in it. The reasons I’ve been given from my mainly Korean students (with some Japanese, Russians, Chinese, and Bulgarians as well) is that American football is not a sport that can be picked up from simple observation. The penalties can be very frustrating for them and the point values really throw people off too.

I’m not saying it’d be impossible for them to learn the rules (I’ve taught classes proving the exact opposite), but it does show the inability to learn the game passively, or casually. Especially for people whose grasp of the English language is tenuous at best, the rules and intricacies of football seem nonexistent or indecipherable. It’d take one heck of a push by the NFL to break through that barrier. But if any league can become insinuated into a culture, I think the NFL can.

In fact, they may want to start with video games (that’s how I learned hockey). It’s easy to figure out a sport when you can repeat a specific action as many times as you want. Considering the popularity of gaming systems in Europe, it’d be an obvious step to get the next Madden game out there as prominently as possible. Just an idea…

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