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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Four early season storylines in the NHL

The opening of the NHL season will take place overseas this weekend, and there are a few key storylines to keep an eye on during the first week of the season:

NHL invasion of Europe
A year ago, the Anaheim Ducks opened the season against the Los Angeles Kings in London, England. This season, four teams are kicking off the 2008-09 season in Europe: the Ottawa Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm, and the Tampa Bay Lightning open their season against the New York Rangers in Praque. The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) President Paul Kelly announced that the number of teams opening the season in Europe could double next year, as multiple European cities have expressed interest in hosting NHL games next season.

Selanne resigns with the Ducks
Forward Teemu Selanne signed a two-year contract worth $5.25 million with the Ducks after the club traded defenseman Mathieu Schneider to the Atlanta Thrashers to free up the necessary cap space. Selanne didn’t want to miss time in training camp like last season when he was contemplating retirement from the sport. With a two-year commitment to the team, Selanne is committed to getting the Ducks back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Possible trades due to salary cap restrictions
Rumors have been circulating that a number of teams are looking to deal players due to salary cap restrictions. The Chicago Blackhawks have solved their salary cap problem by putting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers this week. The writing was on the wall that his days were numbered in Chicago when the team signed free agent goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal worth $22.5 million in July. The San Jose Sharks are looking to trade defenseman Kyle McLaren and his 2.5 million dollar contract to avoid starting the season $225,000 over the salary cap. McLaren became expendable after the team added Dan Boyle and Rob Blake to the backline in the offseason.

Inventive marketing plan on the West Coast
In an unusual joint venture, the Ducks and Kings announced a ticket-sales package for games that will be played Oct. 14 in Anaheim and Nov. 16 in Los Angeles. The package will be called the “Freeway Face-Off” and $60 will get fans tickets to both games.

London has tough shoes to fill

Anyone who saw the opening and/or closing ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing knows that they were… well… simply amazing. I don’t care what people say about the fireworks being fake, and a ton of other stuff being CGI, it looked great, and was a real treat to watch. The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in London, England in 2012. Yahoo! Sports columnist Martin Rogers wrote a great piece on the high standards that were set by China, and how hard it’ll be for London to match them.

Any attempt by London to replicate the extraordinary exhibition staged by the Chinese capital would ultimately be doomed to abject failure.

The 2008 edition was the kind of Olympics that is only possible if you have the world’s biggest collection of humanity at your obedient disposal.

Few other countries have the kind of political control needed to order factories to temporarily shut down to reduce smog, or forbid half of all car owners from taking to the road on any given day.

It’ll be really interesting to see what London is able to pull off. However, we’re going to have to wait four years to find out.

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