Some sports are destined to never be popular in the United States. Most of the time, these sports aren’t popular for a fairly obvious reason.
Soccer (unfortunately) will never be popular here. Different pundits will give any number of reasons for this but all it comes down to is our short attention span. Most Americans just don’t have the patience to sit for 46 to 50 minutes at a time without a break or a goal to appreciate the beauty of the game.
Tennis isn’t manly enough and golf is too elite for us to care about more than four times a year. Volleyball is even less manly than tennis. Cricket makes soccer look like arena football; even twenty20, the stripped down one-day version of cricket is still about fifteen15 too long for the average American.
And no, I don’t believe anything I just wrote so there’s no point in arguing with any of it.* I just write what the average American thinks. Sure, much of this has to do with promotion of the sport from the powers that be; fans are followers and they will watch whatever sport ESPN decides to promote. But the general point is that most of these sports that are popular in other parts of the world aren’t popular in the United States because they don’t fit our taste buds for a specific reason.
* I can think of at least one big tennis fan that reads this site that will take issue with my not-so-manly characterization of tennis.
As you have probably gathered from the title of the post, there is one sport that I can’t fathom hasn’t become popular in America.
Rugby sevens is awesome, addictive, exciting, and any other similar superlative you can think of.
Rugby sevens isn’t rugby. Like soccer, rugby will never be popular in the United States. Rugby is even less popular than the sports above for two reasons. First, the play of the game is like soccer – a typical game lasts eighty minutes and there are no breaks in action. Second, Americans are protective of the NFL and rugby is considered a poor alternative. Although American football and rugby really aren’t all that similar, fans persist in comparing the two sports. Football fans cannot handle no forward passes and rugby fans seem to think pads make football sissy.
Sevens doesn’t suffer from these problems. Only seven players compete on each team (down from 15 in rugby) so the game is wide open and barely resembles an American Football game. Furthermore, a match lasts only fifteen minutes. If only they showed sevens on ESPN, you could flip this on:
Like you wouldn’t stay on that for the fifteen minutes a match took, even if you had absolutely no idea what’s going on. I barely understand what is going on in that clip, but I know one thing: I’d absolutely watch that over a random NBA or NHL game. At only fifteen minutes a match, it is a super addictive game. As soon as a match ends, two more teams run out for another match.
This weekend, Las Vegas hosted a tournament in the IRB Sevens World Series. The World Series consists of eight two-day tournaments staged around the world over the course of a season between sixteen national teams (the Hong Kong event is contested by 24 teams over three days). Many teams have significant followings – England, South Africa, and New Zealand among them.
Not many in the United States cared and/or even heard about it. A few games did make it on NBC during the prime 2:30 pm hour on Sunday. Of course you wouldn’t know it to look at their website, which hasn’t been updated since January 22. The website seems more concerned with the collegiate sevens championship in June, the next time that NBC will show rugby sevens.
The lack of coverage isn’t a case of the United States being bad at a sport either. Although the Eagles (as they are nicknamed) are not one of the top few teams, they finished 11th in the points standings and 10th last year. In the Australian Sevens last season, they even qualified for their first ever final before falling to Samoa. Currently they sit 11th in the 2010-11 standings. Certainly not great, but it’s not like they are getting dominated either.
Sevens has pretty much everything an American sports fan could want. It is fast-paced, there is plenty of contact, outrageous amounts of athleticism, and fans only have to pay attention for fifteen to eighteen minutes at a time.
Last year, the International Olympic Committee announced that sevens will be a part of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Now would be a fantastic time for sports channels to start promoting sevens. There is no reason why it couldn’t be a popular sport in the United States. I have no doubt that in 2016, American fans will briefly flirt with the sport, similar to what we do with curling every four years. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and watch a sevens tournament next time it is on. You may have to wait until June, but trust me on this one: it’s a fantastic sport.