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Testing the Appetite for U.S. Sports

January 2nd, 2015 · No Comments · Baseball, Basketball, College football, Cricket, Football, NBA, NFL, soccer, Sports Journalism, The National, UAE

Running the sports section of The National is a bit of an out-of-body experience for an American.

The Big Three of American sports are baseball, basketball and football.

The Big Three of sports in this part of the world are cricket, rugby and football — football, as in soccer.

We run cricket off-day stories here. We thoroughly cover domestic rugby.

Generally, we do one half-page package per week on the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. And generally ignore anything else in the U.S. Or Canada.

Today, however, we did something sorta radical.

A full page of American sports!

Four of the six columns of space went to an NFL wild-card round preview. We generally do that, so that wasn’t revolutionary. We did a focus on Cam Newton’s comeback.

But then we did 400 words on LeBron James being out with an injury for at least two weeks … and 300 words on the curious (over here) sport of American college football.

That is, we did a story on who won the Rose Bowl and who won the Sugar Bowl in the first playoffs in Division I college football history. (And we appear not to have posted that story to the web.)

The NFL actually does get some attention over here. NFL Europe stirred up some interest, two decades ago, when the NFL also was producing video packages and, now, the annual games in London have caused a bit of interest in places outside of North America — as has NFL fantasy leagues, which are surprisingly popular.

A fair number of people in Europe have heard of the Super Bowl. They won’t watch it, but they know of its existence.

LeBron is the new Kobe — the face of the NBA. And basketball, too, has a bit of a following in the area. Basketball is big in Lebanon. It’s fairly big in Egypt and Jordan. Most of the big UAE sports clubs field a basketball team. So LeBron out with an injury … can be justified when it’s a slow-ish news day.

College football, however, is terra incognito, outside North America.

The rest of the world just doesn’t get it.

Can’t blame them, really.

The trouble starts with the idea that college football is at a level of football lower than the NFL. To those whose minds are organized to recognize football (soccer), you pay little attention to lower divisions or age-group games. So why, they wonder, should anyone care about college kids playing sports, way over in America, when the professional version of it is bigger and (certainly) better?

Exacerbating recognition is the whole geography thing. People outside the U.S. don’t know Oregon and Ohio State from Ontario and Ottawa — or probably not Oslo from Osaka.

Why should anything the Oregon Ducks do matter? And where is Oregon? (A fair number of Americans probably couldn’t answer that, either.)

It might best be explained, to the English, at least, as a sort of big-time “county cricket”. If county cricket were attached to a major university, that is.

It’s regional. It’s unique. It’s like rooting for your neighborhood, or your region.

But, end of day, they may grasp the comparison, but there still is no understanding of what it is all about. Rooting for USC or Alabama … that’s a lifetime of context.

If you could get someone over here to attend a college football game, with the bands and cheerleaders and odd traditions, they probably would find it fascinating. Almost sensory overload. (We have one Kuwaiti in our newsroom who attended USC, and last week I did, in fact, say “fight on” to him.)

But getting everyone from the Old World to Camp Randall or the Rose Bowl … that is not going to happen, and you can’t really educate non-American readers with 300 words a couple of times a year.

I just felt like running it, is what it comes down to. One of the perks of being sports editor.

One of the other Yanks in the room announced, as we were moving towards deadline: “Wait, a whole page of American sports?!?”

Yes. Pretty radical.

We won’t let it happen more than a couple of times a year.



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