Table of content
2 How popular is American Football?
3.1 Popularity by chance
3.2 American Football and warfare
3.3 American Football and values
3.4 American Football and the education system
Green Bay (Wisconsin), December 31, 1967: An American Football championship game took place between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers received a 21-17 victory, however, it was not the result that made this game unforgettable. The special aspect was the weather conditions. The wind chill temperature was down to minus 40 degrees Celsius, and that is why the game got the nickname Ice Bowl. It was so cold that the official’s whistle froze to his lips when he wanted to start the game. Instead of canceling it because of the arctic temperatures, it was just decided not to use any whistles for the rest of the game. Not only every player on the field fought against nature but also more than 50.000 fans watching the game live at sold out Lambeau Field. Lots of them suffered frostbite, four spectators even had a heart attack.
How can it be that American Football is that important in the United States? How can a game become so popular that people even risk their health for it? On the other hand the question arises why American Football is quite unpopular and unknown in Germany. All these questions are to lead through this comparing term paper so that in the end, a selection of possible reasons can be given.
The term paper starts with an illustration of American Football’s popularity in the USA and in Germany. After that the main part, the comparison, will begin. There are four categories chosen to help explain why American Football is more popular in the U.S. than in Germany - those are chance, the attitudes towards warfare, values and the education systems. It will be analyzed how much influence these components have on the popularity in both countries. Finally, the conclusion follows, in which all results will be summed up and interpreted.
1 How popular is American Football?
In the United States, American Football is the most popular sport to watch. With 31% it easily surpassed baseball and basketball in the year 2011. Furthermore, the Super Bowl XLV, the championship game of the National Football League (NFL), was the most watched telecast of all time. 162.9 million people (total viewers) were watching the game via television, whereas one ought to consider that there are “only” about 300 million Americans. Advertisers were willing to pay 3 million dollars for a thirty second spot during the half time break of the Super Bowl.
Right now, there are 32 teams playing in the NFL. Their games can be watched once a week on TV and that is what “has made football both a habit and a special event”. The frequency is often enough to uphold the fan’s interest and rare enough to emphasize the importance of each and every game. Germany, too, offers organized football. The German Football League (GFL) includes 16 teams on a non-professional level. Nevertheless, the Super Bowl is the only American Football game broadcasted on German free TV, while in the USA even high school football is broadcasted.
Football in the United States is not only popular because of the sport itself, instead, it is very closely connected to social aspects. For a lot of Americans, watching football is kind of a ritual that they share with their friends. A game is also about eating, drinking, and taking part in organized cheers, so in the end, everything comes down to bringing people together.
Germans prefer to socialize at soccer games. With 30%, soccer was the most popular sport in Germany in 2009 and is it until today. American Football is listed at place number 38 with about two percent, behind sport activities like sledding and poker. At least a slight increase in the number of spectators of the Super Bowl can be recognized comparing the years from 2006 to 2011. 520.000 people watched the game in 2006 and already 870.000 Germans switched it on five years later.
After the illustration of American Football’s popularity in both countries, it can be continued with the main part of this term paper. In the following, the four already named explanation approaches will be commented more closely. Every selected explanation approach is to be a suggestion why American Football is more popular in the USA than in Germany. None of them does have to be a reason for this phenomenon in reality.
2.1 Popularity by chance
The first and, as in lots of other cases, too, the most obvious explanation is coincidence. In 1869, the first American Football game was played between the two universities Princeton and Rutgers. This sport was still young and there was no uniform, nationwide set of rules for football, so various versions were played throughout the country. In the game of 1869, the teams played football that was similar to soccer. Five years later, however, an encounter between Montreal and Harvard took place. Montreal proposed to play an American Football version unfamiliar to the Harvard students. It was a version that resembled the English sport rugby. Harvard adopted this set of rules, and as an influential and powerful institution, the rugby version soon prevailed in the United States.
Like in America, the random choice of the national sport could have happened in Germany as well. Maybe it was just all about personal preferences and coincidences. Allen Guttmann also has an explanation that points in this direction. He said that “the ecological niche is filled” because rugby was already present in Europe and it satisfied the need for a violent sport. So there had just not been enough space for two quite brutal sports activities and it was more or less by chance that rugby came to Europe before American Football could cross the Atlantic.
Indeed, rugby is also not very popular in Germany. Perhaps this could be a reason why American Football has gained a little bit more popularity in the last few years - the ecological niche is only half filled, so to say.
2.2 American Football and warfare
Besides coincidence, there is another important point which may be responsible for the different degree of popularity of American Football: the German and the American attitude towards warfare. There are strong parallels between warfare and football, for instance the wish to gain territory, the involvement of violence and physical power, a strong solidarity and loyalty among the participants and the support from outside are only some. Therefore, it should be considered if the attitude towards warfare influences the popularity of American Football. So what is the nature of the relationship between the USA and war?
The first American war was the Revolutionary War starting in 1775 and ending with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. It was a war between Britain and 13 united North American colonies, which were demanding their independence. Approximately 25.000 American revolutionaries died for this intention, but finally, the Declaration of Independence could be proclaimed on July 4, 1776 and the United States of America were founded. This was probably the most important war of the USA and who knows if they existed nowadays without stirring up the Revolutionary War.
The second encounter with a violent fight came in 1861. This time, the conflict was about different economic and political interests within the nation, among them the issue of slavery. The North, which had already abolished slavery, fought against the extremely conservative South, which had retained it. The end of the battle in 1865 led to significant changes in the political system, but the social consequences were preeminent. The North and South worked together from then on, slavery was abolished and the nation became united again.
There were several other wars in which the USA participated and almost all of them had an at least slightly positive outgoing for them compared to the other participants. They were able to protect their territory in the Great War, they helped to dispossess Hitler in World War II and the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Of course a war is almost never very popular and it carries with it high costs and losses, however, because of the experiences Americans have made with battles, a war may have a positive connotation for them. Especially the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were fundamental for the American history and its development. A poll that supports this hypothesis was published by the Gallup Organization in 2000, asking Americans which wars were just. The results: World War II is the most just war with 89% affirmation, the Revolutionary War got 79% and the Civil War 70%. Those are very high numbers and they lead to the conclusion that the American attitude towards warfare is quite positive. After all, the country developed out of a war and the deeply desired independence is founded on violent actions. Battles are strongly tied to American history. So this positive attitude towards warfare may lead to a greater acceptance or even to the need of violence in sport activities, for instance American Football.
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