A nerd’s guide to American Football

As I’m sure many of you will be aware, this is the time of year where Americans ground to a halt to watch padded players pummelling each other whilst simultaneously being advertised to and ultimately watch one man, one team fulfil their dreams of winning the Super Bowl. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, you get two types; the first are those who watch this odd event with fascination whilst not really knowing what is going on, the second are those who look on in bemusement and/or concern whilst generally bubbling up some sort of sentiment which conflates their feelings on U.S. foreign policy and American sports. Then there is the third type of non-American viewer. The ones who love, understand, and watch the game with all its idiosyncrasies, its unique culture, and fanatical fan base.  As a person who’d proudly describe himself as being the third type, I’d like to share with you, using facts, why this game continues to enthral so many people.

33% of Americans follow American Football with interest but the questions is why? Why is it that Americans will be spending a total time of 330 million man-hours watching the Super Bowl this year? Why is this sport so successful? Well, let’s take a look at the game as a whole. The average televised broadcast of a game is 174 minutes long, of which 60 minutes is advertising (1 whole hour of adverts, I kid you not), 75 minutes of players walking around or setting up for plays, and 17 minutes of replays. The amount of actual gameplay time is 11 minutes! The 15 minutes left was network promotions, cheerleaders, injuries, and other stuff. Is it really worth watching a game where more time is taken up watching action that has already happened than the action itself?

The thing is that American Football is all about small bursts of action followed by a lot of build up play. Every play is a small victory for one team or the other. Another reason for its popular following is that, more often than not, games tend to be very very close.  More than half of American football games are decided by single digits and about 40% are decided by one scoring chance. The most common scoreline is usually where both teams are separated by only 3 points, thanks to a last minute field goal.

Thanks to its ability to retain large audiences for a large amount of time, American Football has become a bit of a money-spinner. Also, due to the fact that there is a considerable amount of breaks in play, this allows people to be indulged in their second favourite past-time; being advertised too(!) Consider the fact that the average American spends 500 hours a year watching television adverts. That is 12 working weeks per person per year! A Super Bowl has never been the most watched event in America but it certainly has come close. The series finally of M.A.S.H. managed to retain 60% of the American population but Monday Night Football beat American Idol’s 8 year long streak to become the top most rated programme on TV.

In terms of money, American Football is a very wealthy sport. The Dallas Cowboys are the most expensive team in America, worth an estimated $2.1 billion. They had $226 million in profit in 2011, which was more than the Oakland Raiders could amass in revenue! The average American family of four spends $500 going to an American Football game which includes tickets, food, drinks, and merchandise. This all means nice big pay cheques for the players of course. The minimum you can be paid as an American Football player is $300,000 a year whilst the top-earning player in the NFL is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at $22 million a year. Big pay cheques do not mean you’re sorted for life though. 78% of football players are broke two years after retirement.

For me, this game is all about its unpredictability, its mind-boggling tactical plays, and heart stopping action.  Whilst many aspects of the game are true ambassadors for the weird world of American culture, it’s all about where the heart is and as far as I’m concerned, American Football wears it on its proverbial sleeve.

by Ammar Farishta

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