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The NFL and LFL in Europe

Is this the key to getting Europeans to watch football?  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Is this the key to getting Europeans to watch football? (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Without a doubt the most popular sport in the world is football. Fans love the constant action, strategy, skill, and amazing talent of those who play it. Many find it so incredible to watch it's been called, "The beautiful game". Of course I'm referring to the game that the only things needed to play are a foot, a ball, and some open space that may or may not have grass. In America we call it soccer.

Like a lot of Americans I don't like soccer. I don't mean that to be insulting to anyone who does like soccer, I've just never been able to get that into it, which is saying something since I even got into curling during the last winter Olympics. But if everyone liked the same things this world would be a very dull place. Besides, Soccer doesn't have any of those convenient commercial breaks that allow me to go to the bathroom after having downed a six-pack and an entire 7-layer bean dip.

So while there's no bigger sport in the world than soccer, in America football is king. And no, I'm not going to call it American football because we live in America and every red blooded American (as if there could be any other kind) knows what I'm talking about. My friends are not mates, I don't go to the bathroom in the loo, I eat fries not chips and chips not crisps, and I don't have a John Thomas, knob, or dobber, I have a...well, you get the idea.

Conversely, despite the enormous popularity of football in North America, it's never been able to make much headway into Europe despite the best efforts of the NFL. Remember NFL Europe? You know that league where every team except one played in Germany. And now we have the annual London game that is planning on expanding to two games a season in the near future with the long term goal of basing a team out of London.

More after the jump...

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said recently,

I think we're starting to tap out in the United States. If you look at the last Super Bowl we were in this past season, we had over 180 million people watching - that's almost two thirds of America. So for us to grow the game, we have to expand globally. Having seen the kind of support we have received here in London, it is the intention of the NFL owners to get two games here, starting next year.

So would Robert Kraft be willing to move the Patriots to London? "The only bad part of putting a franchise in London is that I can assure you it won't be the Patriots who are moving there," he said. It reminds me of Homer Simpson's campaign slogan when he was running for sanitation commissioner,"Can't someone else do it?" The NFL may want to have a franchise based in London but they're having a hard time remaining anything more than a curiosity for most people across the pond. Mostly because it's so cost prohibited and there's no real simplified version of the game. At its most basic level soccer is just a bunch a people running around kicking a ball. I realize it's a lot more complex than that, but even a 5-year old understands chasing around a ball and trying to kick it into a goal. Undoubtedly that's why basketball has been gaining in popularity all over the world so much faster than football. All you need is a ball and a place to play, and anyone can understand throwing a ball so it goes through an iron rim.

However football at its most basic level is an incredibly physical game, and that's not really a game suited for little league. Having a ball and field isn't enough. Everyone must understand their specialized role and have a basic understanding of the game. And as you move closer to the professional game it gets considerably more complex and there's the large expense needed for equipment.

Again, I'm not trying to degrade soccer or even basketball. At the professional level soccer is immensely complex and players also have very specialized roles. It's just that anyone can go out with other kids in their neighborhood and have a good time kicking and chasing around a ball with no further understanding of the complexities of the game. But with football there is no simplified version, you have to know what you're doing on every play, keep track of the line of scrimmage, down-and-distance, more equipment is needed, and generally more players are needed to play a game.

So will there ever be a football league in Europe that could have some staying power? Turns out there just might be. Say hello to the LFL or Lingerie Football League. As of now there are 12 teams in America, 4 in Canada, and new leagues consisting of 9 teams are opening up in Australia and Europe with a long term goal of having the champion of each of the 4 leagues travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil to compete in a World Bowl Championship.

The LFL is more like the AFL than it is to the NFL with 7 players on each side playing in basketball or hockey stadiums with no accursed kicker to worry about. As for their uniforms, they wear a hockey style helmet, shoulder pads with the jersey tucked in underneath to expose the chest region, elbow pads, knee pads, and...well, lingerie.

Opponents of the LFL say they're just trying to exploit female sensuality. Supporters of the league say, well no duh, of course we are. So what started as a chance to make money during the halftime of the Super Bowl in 2004 has turned into the somewhat oxymoronic growing women's sport.

At the risk of sounding sexist, and my wife would say I most definitely am, I don't think it's a coincidence that the most popular women's sports leagues are also ones in which the women are nice to look at. Women's beach volleyball, tennis, and the LPGA all have woman wearing outfits that range from attractive to downright sexy. In tennis it's not always the best player that gets the most endorsements but the one who looks the best on the cover of a magazine. You really think Anna Kournikova remained popular for so long because of her excellent tennis skills?

I know that will bother a lot of people but I'm not saying how it should be, but rather how it is. As it stands now, men make up an overwhelming majority of the sports consumers market. So it should come as no surprise that most of these sports consumers want to watch the very best athletes in the world, of which men have an athletic advantage because of testosterone, or they want to watch really hot women run around, in this case also because of testosterone.

So while the NFL has been trying to spread the joys of football for years in Europe to very limited success, it might be the LFL that ultimately aids them in helping people learn the game and grow the sport. After all, most Europeans might not understand football but they understand sexy women running around a field tackling each other. Even the NFL understands the value of sex appeal, hence the hot women standing on the sidelines wearing revealing outfits and shaking pompoms.

Most sports in the world became popular with male athletes before people became interested to varying degrees in watching female athletes as well. If the LFL takes off around the world it might be the first time interest in the sport came from watching the women before the men. Then again, Europe always did seem a little backwards to me in certain areas. How else could you explain soccer being so much more popular than football?