118 million people tuned in to the first-round France-England match, which was decided in the final minutes. That figure trounces the 89 million-person American audience for the Super Bowl last year, which was the biggest television event of 2003; and the 90 million for the Super Bowl this year, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.
Not only is the Euro 2004 tournament bigger than the Super Bowl, but nearly every game of the 31 involved blows it away in the ratings. In Holland, for example, the semifinal match with Portugal scored a 50 share – half of all televisions in the country were tuned to the game. Unlike American sports, there’s no need to schedule around things, instead, everything else is scheduled around it.
Now, there are no bigger fans of the NFL than me. I’m such an old school purist that I’m still irritated about the 16-game schedule since it messed up all the old records. (Although, I admit, it’s hard to deny that a longer season = more football, which is an obviously good thing.) But to be honest, the disdain that some football fans show for the Beautiful Game strikes me as a weird combination of ignorance and insecurity.
To a connoisseur of both sports, the two are perfectly complimentary. The latter half of the league seasons and the international tournaments are in the NFL offseason, and whereas the NFL is the ultimate game of pre-plotted cerebral strategy, soccer is the pinnacle of impromptu creativity. I simply laugh when I hear Philistines of either continent dismissing the other continent’s favorite sport; such poorly founded contempt reveals nothing but the ironic snobbery of the ill-informed parochial. For every American sneering about low scores and Nancy boys, there is a European scoffing at martial homoeroticism and interminable breaks in the action.
A pox, I say, a pox on both houses.