Essay: American Football in Europe

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NLF Europa

By the end of June 1997, NFL Europa announced that it would cease all operations, effectively ending the NFL's hope of selling American Football to the world as a viable commodity. This essay will explore the cause of the failure of football in Europe. The NFL always markets itself as a saleable commodity. Unfortunately, there were no buyers in Europe. Of the many reasons for this NFL failure, some reasons stand out. There is already a sport that has captured the imagination worldwide and especially in Europe, soccer. These and other sports have already been well established in Europe and American football had significant difficulties taking root. American football is a sport that is played in isolation. No other nations in the world have the infrastructure to support this sport. American football is also a relatively expensive sport to play, because the sport requires specialized equipment. Some of the reasons why football failed in Europe are socio-cultural. For the time being, that a football league will not be established in Europe. Until something drastic happens to change the NFL's mind to try again, it would seem that the only forays the NFL will make into Europe is to play one or two token NFL games every season in stadiums in Europe.

History of Football in Europe

But this has not been because of the lack of trying. The NFL has attempted to popularize the sport in Europe, with the hope of having it spread to Asia and the rest of the world, for the last few decades. A Texas a & M. team in 1974 played several exhibition games against Arkansas' Henderson State College. (Essortment.com 2009) it was around this same time that the World Football League was established. This so called World League mostly consisted of franchises from the U.S. with a team from Hawaii being geographically the furthermost from the Continental U.S. The World Football League lasted no more than a season and a half. It is conceivable that the reasons for the failure of the World Football League were the same as alluded to in the first paragraph. These reasons will be detailed later in This essay. The World Football League got some attention because it tried to buy away popular players from the NFL. One of these players was Larry Csonka.

In 1991, the World League of Americal Football was established. It consisted of a complement of European teams, American teams and one Canadian team. At the end of two seasons, one European team left the league, two from the U.S. joined the Canadian Football League. The league was officially disbanded. For the WLAF, the finals was called the World Bowl. One of the reasons for the disbanding of WLAF was that the attendance was less than three million, with an average of 20,000 people attended each game. The television rights brought in revenue, but dwindling spectators and television audiences made this effort unsustainable.

In the hope of giving the league a new edge and a distinctive European identity, the WLAF was reintroduced as NFL Europe with only European teams. Several teams tried to rejuvenate their identities by changing the names of the teams, logos and advertisement set ups. But the league was still plagued by a singular crucial element: the lack of money and the lack of income. Since soccer was more popular in Europe, the rules were also changed to reflect soccer. This meant that the field goals over 50 yards were given four points instead of three in the NFL. One of the problems with NFL Europe was that the infrastructure required to host a football game was not available. Soccer grounds had to be commissioned. In several cases, the pitches did not meet regulation football sizes. For each succeeding year the league was in existence, brought a host of additional problems. In some seasons, there was a preponderance of teams from Germany. The last time it opened, NFL Europe was renamed as NLF Europa. (Infoplease.com 2009) Very often the league timings had to be changed to accommodate the more popular soccer leagues and the tournament that virtually brings the world to a standstill -- the FIFA World Cup of Soccer.

In the U.S., the television rights were originally picked up by the U.S.A. network. This was followed by Fox.net and then the Fox Sports Channel. Each network broadcast either one or two games a week, during the season. But the television ratings took a dive and never recovered.

As has been mentioned above the primary reason for the failure of NFL Europa, in all its forms over the years is that it was not a saleable commodity. The income kept reducing as did the revenues from television.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

Reciprocity and Cultural Differences

In most countries of the world, the popularity of soccer is almost like a religion. But large amounts of money are invested and made in Europe, which is the richest soccer market. Germany with the Bundeslige, England with the Premier League, Italy with Serie a and the Spanish Liga are the richest. The top players make about $30 million dollars a year. South American countries also have strong soccer leagues; but the infusion of money is not the same as in Europe. The best South American and African soccer players play in the European leagues, because of the bigger paydays.

Soccer has not found much favor in the U.S.A., except for the last decade. U.S. soccer teams have performed relatively well in recent soccer World Cup. Despite the increasing popularity of soccer in this country for women, men's soccer has always received step sisterly treatment when compared to football (NFL), baseball (MLB), basketball (NBA) and hockey (NHL). While the Major League Soccer (MLS) is a significant step in the right direction, soccer in the United States still has a long way to go before it becomes one of the major sports in this country. Indeed, even sports like Tennis and Athletics are less favored than the big four. It has been a while before the United States has had a tennis champion. And the big money for Athletics is in Europe.

So what has the lack of popularity have to do with the lack of the popularity of football in the United States? One might surmise that just as the rest of the world, and especially Europe is unhappy with so-called American hegemony in all things political and socio-cultural, not supporting football is Europe's way of retaliating: to wit: if you do not support the sport that we prefer, we will not support the sport that you prefer. While this reason, driven purely by emotion, might be tendentious at best, it needs to be mentioned here.

Difficulty in maintaining Football Infrastructure

Non-contact versions of football exist, but in informal situations. These include touch football and flag football. But formal football, from the Peewee leagues to the NFL requires specialized equipment. The jerseys and pants are specific to the sport as are the cleats. Helmets with visors are a must, as are shoulder pads. Depending on the position, special protective equipment is required. For example, the quarterback often wears a contraption akin to a flack jacket. A football field needs certain specifications: 100 yards in length and 50 yards in width. Goals are needed in order for the game to be played properly. The positions in football are very specialized and need a specialized body structure. Linemen are heavy set, each weighing more than 275 pounds. The wide receivers are best when lanky and well muscled. The best running backs are those who are agile and fast, but with a low center of gravity for balance. Corner backs have to have builds that are complementary to wide receivers. Corner backs tend to be shorter than receivers, but they have to be very fast runners. The strong and free safeties have to be well built. Line backers have to have a built that is between safeties and linemen.

This kind of development takes place from grade school, where young men with certain body structures are developed for certain specific positions -- though depending on how a person grows and the level of skill, this is likely to change. On the other hand, any body with a modicum of athleticism can play soccer. Those possessing the built of linemen or linebackers could never play competitive soccer. Soccer requires continuous running for 90 minutes. In football, substitutions can occur at will. Iron man football is never played. Soccer players of varying height are of relatively slight built and it is not required that they are tall or short. Pele of Brazil and Diego Maradonna of Argentina, two of soccer's greatest practitioners were relatively short. Indeed, Brazil which produces some of the most skillful artists of soccer has most of its players grow up in the slums of that developing nation kicking around cans. Soccer can be played on any sized field. Since breaking the plane… [END OF PREVIEW]

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