The American sports landscape is crowded and I find myself often split in my attention between College Football, College Basketball, Golf, NFL Tennis, the NBA, etc. I watch or try to keep track of everything except for Ice Hockey which I will freely admit I hate.
Soccer is the world’s game. Very few people would dispute that even though most Americans don’t care for Soccer partly because they have not given Soccer a chance, or because the Soccer in the United States is at times (okay, most of the time) unwatchable. I have been a Soccer fan all my life but have found in the last five to seven years I can only follow and watch English Football (Soccer) consistently. Today’s match between Arsenal and Chelsea once again demonstrated that from my perspective there is nothing like EPL anywhere else in the sports world.
The intensity of today’s match was amazing, and unlike American sports, you cannot even attempt to leave your couch to get a cup of coffee or a snack because there are no stoppages of play. The final 25 minutes of today’s match was some of the most captivating back and forth action I have ever watched in any sporting event, in the twenty five plus years I have been following sports closely. My phone rang several times but I wouldn’t even so much as attempt to see who was calling because if I did I would surely miss a key moment in the match.
The EPL has several factors that set it apart from other Soccer leagues and from all American professional sports. The first would be the passion of the fans and the intensity of the players. Unlike American sports where the action is slow, and the players at times seem to be holding back, in the EPL you have back and forth give and take as you did today, although I will admit Chelsea and Arsenal have different styles of play. Arsene Wenger prefers more possession and buildup which unlike Chelsea attacking style often times slows the action down. Jose Mourinho prefers wide play and using his flanks, but with addition of Michael Ballack to the Chelsea lineup, the Lions are making an attempt to play possession football, although in my humble opinion Ballack doesn’t fit this Chelsea team. The passion of the fans at an EPL game has no equivalent in the USA. The closest thing would be an Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball game, but even that pales in comparison.
The second factor would be the International makeup of the EPL clubs. It seemed like almost every major Soccer playing nation (except ironically the US since Tim Howard was loaned to Everton) have a representative on one of England’s big four EPL clubs. (Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U, and Liverpool.) While the NFL may dominate the American sports scene like non other the EPL has the same following worldwide, making it by far the most marketable sports brand. While La Liga, and Serie A have their fair share of international stars, the EPL has a much more representative group of players.
The third factor would be the close proximity of clubs to one another. In the NFL or NBA local rivalries are geographically impossible in most cases. However, in the EPL so many of the top clubs sit right on top of each other and have an intense long running history. The clubs in England unlike pro sports teams in the USA aren’t just sports teams, they are part of the fabric and identity of a town or part of a city. The EPL has the equivalent of twenty Green Bay Packers teams, and the lower divisions in England are filled with the same types of clubs. The Geography of England and availability of public transportation makes it easy for away fans to travel to games adding to the atmosphere of every match.
American sports fans have taken to the EPL in the last few years since more and more games are on TV. I recall in the 1998-1999 time frame I used to have to interrupt my families NFL viewing (that used to annoy my mom to no end especially when the Dolphins were playing) to watch the one hour EPL wrap up show we got here in Florida on Sunshine Network, then the local Fox Sports affiliate. That was the extent of what most of us could see on TV. Nowadays, the EPL is on live with at least five games a weekend and I recently read that the rights for the EPL on TV are now much higher than the rights for own domestic league, MLS. I have also noticed a major upsurge in people wearing EPL kits and merchandise here in South Florida.
From my vantage point the more Americans who get exposed to the EPL the better. Many who truly love sports and appreciate athletic skill will agree that nothing else matches it in the world.