Writing in The Huffington Post, an American novelist has stated that football* will never catch on in the United States, because it is too boring to watch (1). “American sports fans…crave the excitement presented by the chance of a score on every play.”
One of his European readers responds by suggesting that high rates of ADD / ADHD might account for this drive towards instant gratification. But is it true, anyway, that people in the United States generally lack restraint, live more “in the moment”, thoughtlessly follow their impulses and desires?
If so, the US would, for example, have higher rates of alcohol and substance misuse compared with other cultures. Recent large-scale studies do not confirm this (2). The best physical indicator of alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, is still much more common in supposedly non-impulsive France (3). Moreover, despite a steady fall in the real price of alcohol, and relentless promotion (not least within sporting events) both overall alcohol use and misuse have declined in the US over recent decades (4).
The sport of the aspiring American businessman is golf, and US television ratings for major tournaments indicate an abundance of patience to follow such events over four days, far in excess of a ninety minute football game.
This Sunday the world cup climaxes. If the USA team had gone even further than the last sixteen (drawing against England), if they were playing against the current European champions, Spain, in the final, would football have become more of a credible spectator sport for Americans? I think so.
* This blog is primarily for UK readers, so “football” means “association football”. Note added 10th October 2011
(2) McBride et al (2009): Further evidence of differences in substance use and dependence between Australia and the United States. Drug and Alcohol Dependence
(3) World Health Organisation (2004 figures – published 2009)
(4) Zhang et al (2008): Secular Trends in Alcohol Consumption over 50 Years: The Framingham Study. The American Journal of Medicine. This study found that “heavy” use had declined, but not alcohol dependence.