It has become cliché to say that Americans think the world revolves around the United States and whatever is popular stateside must be popular around the globe. Now that the internet and social media have shrunk the world and, contrary to popular opinion, have brought us all closer together, we know that this is just not true. The best example of this is soccer. Yes, soccer, not football. Get over it, I’m American.
Soccer is by far the most popular sport on Earth. An estimated 4 billion people watch and/or play. A good way to illustrate how much bigger soccer is compared to football, America’s most popular sport, is to compare the viewership of the sports two biggest games: UEFA Champion League Final and NFL Super Bowl. I have excluded the World Cup Final because it only happens every four year, so it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Just so you know, over 1 billion people watched the 2014 World Cup Final match.
- 2012-13 UEFA Champions League Final: 360 million television viewers
- 2015 NFL Super Bowl: 114.4 million television viewers
The NFL, the most watched sport in the U.S., has been trying for years to break into the global marketplace with very little success. The world is just not interested in our modern-day-helmeted gladiators. In fact, football is now on the decline in the United States (I will save the reasons for another article), so things are not looking too good for NFL globalization. At the same time, soccer is still struggling mightily to get a foothold (no pun intended) in America, one of the world’s biggest sports marketplaces. The combination of these factors has left the door open for another sport to enter the realm of global domination: basketball.
Soccer owes its seat on the throne to longevity; humans have been kicking balls around longer than Draymond Green. In addition, one can play the game anytime, anywhere. Humans have also been throwing balls through hoops for a very long time and basketball can also be played almost anywhere. The game was invented by a poor farmer looking to pass the time by throwing a ball into a peach basket.
Neither sport requires any special or expensive equipment, and both can be played alone, unless you choose to be the goalie. Yes, the taller player has historically had an advantage in basketball, but the modern game has evolved to highlight smaller, quicker players who can shoot, which means people of all shapes and sizes can compete.
Basketball fans can also sit right down on the court, close enough where players can hear what spectators are saying. In big markets like New York and Los Angeles, famous fans sitting close to the court like Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson are as much a part of the hometown team as the players themselves. Football, baseball, and even soccer seem so far away even if you have front row seats.
Finally, not only is basketball accessible to almost everyone, but a full game can be played with as little as two people. In fact, due to the success of the Big 3 league in America, three-on-three basketball will even be featured in the Olympics. What other major sport could earn a spot in the Olympics with less than a “full” team taking the field? This is going to be the perfect opportunity for basketball to showcase its superiority over soccer.
Football and hockey players wear helmets, baseball players wear hats, and soccer players all have crazy haircuts. Ok, the soccer one is a stretch and can also apply to the NBA, but the size of the soccer field and the number of players on the team does make their athletes much less visible than basketball players.
In addition to allowing fans right down on the court, there are also fewer players to root for and keep track of. This is extremely important for basketball becoming the world’s biggest sport, because recent studies have shown that humans now have an attention span of six seconds (fish have an attention span of eight seconds). I am not saying that technology has made us dumber, but I think that donuts are yummy and the Kardashians are so lit.
The best argument for why basketball is ready to surpass soccer is that soccer is just boring. As much bad press as LeBron gets for taking plays off, he really cannot walk around and rest like a soccer player can. I know I will get a ton of messages about this particular point: “You don’t understand the sport and the intricacies of the strategy, blah blah blah.” Yes, you are right, I do not really get it, but for a sport to be the most popular in the world, shouldn’t I get it?
In basketball, any player on the team can have a significant impact on the game at any time. It is almost like any player on the court can be the quarterback or goal-scoring forward or starting pitcher on every single play. This creates the potential for a highlight at any point during the game. This is not really true in the other major sport and is what makes basketball just so fun to play and to watch.
Basketball is the closest sport to soccer when it comes to international reach and representation. This is important to my argument, but the reason I think basketball can surpass the ball-kicking joggers is because professional basketball players have truly embraced social media. Players are seeing the benefit of using social media to reach out to their fans worldwide with larger endorsement deals and off-season pay checks for playing in exhibitions in other countries.
Fans all over the globe feel like they have access to the pros, which motivates them to pick up a basketball and be like LeBron. After all, soccer is not the premier sport because anyone can do it. It is popular because of the diverse talent that orginates from hundreds of different countries and creates an undeniable connection. As fans start to see basketball players as heroes like their soccer counterparts, then Opening Tip will surpass the Opening Kick.