“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.
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.
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?