Soccerizing American Sports

“Americanizing soccer” is always a topic for spirited debate, but how might other American sports benefit from being “Soccerized.” There are a number of great things about the beautiful game that could be translated to the NFL, NBA and MLB. Here are three things from soccer that could make some American leagues more enjoyable.

Sounders, big and little, take the pitch together.

How Teams Enter the Field
Recently I attended a Denver Broncos (American football) game. Just prior to kick-off, the speakers in the stadium started to blare with the latest hip-hop, the cheerleaders lined-up and a giant horse head was inflated near the south stands. As the announcer implored the fans to cheer for “your Dennnnvvvvver Bronnn-cooooos” smoke started pouring out of the inflated horse’s nose and large columns of fire shot into the sky. The players then charged out of the inflated horse head and started jumping up-and-down.  (And I didn’t even mention the five skydivers that landed moments prior.)

Quite the sight for sure, but it really did nothing in regard to the game. The fans listened to the anthem, sat down and then waited for the team to take the field again for the real game. Contrast those theatrics with the gingerly walk on the pitch by 18 players a side holding the hands of kids that typically happens in professional soccer games.  Different intention, different tone and different mindset.

American football is an inherently more violent game and perhaps players need to be hopped up to make hits, but it isn’t any less cerebral than soccer. Cultural differences and “fan experience” carry the day in America. However, can you imagine if NFL entrances were soccerized?

Picture the Super Bowl in February…Drew Brees and the Saints versus Peyton Manning and the Colts. A hush falls over the crowd as the teams are about to enter the field. Then, without fireworks, a bass line or a tumbling pass Reggie Bush trots out holding a hand of a youngster in a matching Saints jersey followed by the rest of his team. It would probably be the most talked about entrance in years.

Game Officiating
Performance aside, soccer officials take a better approach to officiating contests than most other sports. Unfortunately, in most American sports, the officials have evolved into a major part of the game. NBA referees are said to “control the game,” NFL officials throw yellow laundry at the players where an infraction occurred and MLB umpires are notorious for going chest-to-chest with players and managers.  In soccer, the official is rarely the center of attention (unless they miss an egregious double handball that results in a World Cup finals spot.)

As in any sport there are good and bad officials in soccer, but most do a good job of not becoming a part of the game. Soccer referees let players play and only ratchet up their own involvement beyond obvious rules violations if players are not competing in the spirit of the game. Often times, the first step in discipline is a discussion followed by a stern warning and then escalation to cards. In soccer, officials routinely attempt to influence the game in the right direction through gesturing to their pocket, calling players over for discussions before going the route of formal discipline and potentially altering the game.

Imagine if instead of tossing around double technical fouls, NBA officials decided to bring the sparring players over, talk to them like men and get them to shake hands, however forced. This approach wouldn’t diffuse every situation, but it will help to refocus the competition on the players and the game and not the official and their whistle.

Maybe it is just that soccer has history on its side, but as all sports have “gone corporate” in the past 15 years, soccer seems to have maintained the most passion in its fan bases. One of the outlets for the passionate soccer fan is singing. It is quite the thing to witness nearly an entire stadium of supporters singing in unison.

In America, fan led songs and cheers are few and far between outside of college fight songs and the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! cheer. In their place teams play Jock Jams, “De-Fense” chants are led by the PA announcer and noisemeters are placed in stadiums.

Could inspiring songs at the right moment give players of the home squad a boost? Might a player stepping to the plate in the 9th inning of a ball game in an opposing stadium be just a bit more distracted by a deafening song than the white noise of clapping hands and stopping fee? Would fans feel a certain sense of camaraderie through song much like you put your arm around the nearest stranger when Auld Lang Syne comes on New Year’s Eve? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out.

Pittsburgh Pirates. Kansas City Royal. Cleveland Browns. Detroit Lions. (gulp) New York Knicks. In all the major American sports, cheap owners, poor personnel decisions and general ineptitude has lead to a handful of perennial losers with virtually no motivation to improve due to monopolies of the major sports leagues. Relegation is perhaps the greatest gift soccer could give to other American sports, but also the most unlikely due to finances.

How else should American sports be soccereized?

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by michaelneis on 2009/12/21 at 8:36 PM

    less TV timeouts….I can’t stand the NFL commercial breaks after the touchdown, then immediately after the kickoff. One of the joys of watching soccer is being able to watch an entire half without constantly cutting away


  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/21 at 8:49 PM


    Kind of funny because I actually liked the timeouts in the middle of the halves of college soccer. I say add one per half (to make the game more advertiser friendly), but that’s it.


    Relegation, relegation,relegation. It sets the appropriate expectations. You know that Pittsburgh Pirate know they have 0 shot each year. Let them play for survival of relegation to make the season interesting or some junior title.

    I absolutely love that about the EPL. I like the extremes–either add *both* a salary minimum and maximum…or make the game about relegation and alternate titles against those most similar to you.


  3. Posted by Rich on 2009/12/21 at 9:20 PM

    All games should finish under two hours. This is primarily a complaint about commercials, but still, I have other things to do on a Saturday or Sunday.

    Would love relegation as well. Also, a tournament like the FA Cup would be great. I think baseball would benefit most from this, but hockey and basketball would be good options as well. The NFL basically has this already with its playoffs–albeit a very small version.

    This has got me thinking; a question for a future article might be, “what would you bring from the American sports culture to soccer culture?”


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/21 at 10:00 PM

      Two absolute no brainers there.

      Instant replay



      • Posted by patrickhattrick on 2009/12/22 at 7:16 AM

        I ,like the soccer clock better.


      • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/22 at 10:17 AM

        They need Instant replay on all LA Galaxy games. XD had to say that because up until this year’s playoffs I always thought not having instant replay was part of the game. Now I understand more why people go crazy for it in Europe.


  4. Posted by Dave on 2009/12/21 at 9:43 PM

    I was just discussing today how I dread the eventual singing at Columbus Crew games or if Michigan/Detroit ever gets a team their games. I am fine with screaming at times during sporting evens when the opponents have the ball or someone is getting some momentum but the singing of the songs does not interest me at all. I am all for making an ass out of myself and I don’t embarrass easily but whenever I see the EPL fans or MLS fans singing I just get embarrassed for them. It seems to cheesy.

    I am also completely against relegation for US teams. There are too many other teams and things to do that if my NFL team or MLB or whatever went down to the lower divisions I would just stop watching. Just too many other things to spend my time on then a team that doesn’t even have a chance to win a title. Also I reject the notion that relegation/promotion makes things more exciting. What is exciting about watching a team in the Championship that you don’t care about getting the opportunity to get its ass kicked the next season in the EPL? Also if I don’t like the team what do I care if they go down a level for one/two years before they bubble up again and get their ass kicked in the EPL.


  5. Posted by hawaiinate on 2009/12/22 at 1:13 AM

    It is really hard to have promotion/relegation in a league with a salary cap. There is simply too much parity between teams, and its not needed like in England where its obvious that a town of 2,000 cant compete with teams from Liverpool or London.


  6. I for one am tired of the concept of “Americanizing” soccer, the game has been in the US for around 150 years, at least, it is an American game. The reality of this so called “Americanizing” is that it makes it more commercial friendly for TV, does nothing for the game. Typical American professional sports center around TV and not the fans or the in stadium experience, I like the idea of bringing these sports back to the fans with lessons from soccer. Good post.


  7. Posted by MrTuktoyaktuk on 2009/12/22 at 7:05 AM

    You would think that pro/reg would be perfect for the US, where winners are gods and losers are garbage. However we also have the conflicting cultural tradition of hating the big shot and believing in the level playing field. Thus, finishing last gives you the first draft pick in so many US sports. Also we have many surrogates for lower league play: college and high school football, farm league baseball primarily. IMHO if there wasn’t the historical tradition of college and high school team sports, we would have substantial league pyramids in both American football, and instead of farm teams in baseball, AAA and AA ball would be independent and widely followed nationally.


  8. Posted by kaya on 2009/12/22 at 10:53 AM

    Relegation. Definitely. And eliminate playoffs.
    Makes watching games at both ends of the table interesting all season long.


  9. MLB could use a salary cap and something like Champions League.

    NCAA football could use promotion/relegation, and playoffs.

    NBA should cap referee age

    Every American sport should have visiting teams wear their home jersey, unless its color is too similar to the other team. They also should have jersey and playing field ads to cut down on commercials. I realize the commercials will never go away, but they can be reduced.


  10. Posted by shane on 2009/12/22 at 12:01 PM

    Brian is spot on.. The reason why soccer in the states refuses to grow is because the corprate interest wont let it..

    If Corprate America cant fit a commercial in every couple minutes then so sorry soccer fans..

    As far as the entrance in NFL for instance.. It is all show..


  11. I like the entrance idea for all the major sports. Not only is it a more humble, less 18-year old, testosterone raging way to enter the field, it would also help connect youth players to these teams. Think about all the little pop-warner football players out there who idolize their local NFL team, or kids playing basketball in Cleveland who think LeBron James is Jesus’s cousin; how cool would it be for those kids to walk out with their favorite players. Plus my wife loves that part of the game.

    As for promotion/relegation in the major American sports, I agree that it probably wouldn’t work, but the idea behind it (scaring the hell out of owners so they make their team more competitive) is spot on. Giving the worst team in the league the highest draft pick each year, or putting them into the lottery for one, gives teams license to trade their best players and mail it in if the season isn’t progressing as planned. For a culture that usually only rewards excellence, I’m still baffled that we reward utter failure in this manner as well.


  12. […] 1. The Shin Guardian: Soccerizing American Sports […]


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