In recent years, American sports have leapt across the pond in attempt to make a splash over here in the UK. Associations and governing bodies representing the NBA, NFL and MLB have all invested heavily in what they see as a growing market. American sports have immense resources and it is important to their business models to get an international fan base, but are they succeeding?
Popcorn, beer, loud music and basketball. The scene wasn’t downtown LA, it was the O2 arena right here in London. Transformed for the day into an all-singing, all-dancing UK take on the sport.
London was hosting Barry Hearn’s British Basketball League All-Stars Championship televised for the first time by Sky Sports Arena.
The London Lions may not be the LA Lakers, but you can’t deny the crazed levels of excitement from the UK fans. Along with the small matter of the Sky Sports cameras broadcasting the event live, it began to feel like this was the start of something about to become a big deal.
When thinking of the bigger picture here, it seems that a major stumbling block has already been overcome. Not only have US sporting events succeeded in selling out massive venues like Wembley and Twickenham, they’ve also managed to wangle their way into the British sports fans’ conversations.
Touchdowns, home runs, 3 pointers and timeouts are as commonplace as goals, tries and wickets now. From whichever angle you look at this, you can’t argue the fact that American sports are now very much ‘on the agenda’.
It’s worth taking the time to look at how this works the other way around, just to hammer this point home.
Cricket? Too slow, too boring and too confusing for the average American sports fan. Football? Actually it’s soccer over there, football being reserved for the American giant that is NFL. Rugby? This is a start-up sport in America with a growing fan base. It’s still hard to imagine Harlequins, Wasps or Saracens selling out Yankee Stadium on a Saturday night.
As the events at the O2 unfolded before me, it became abundantly clear that even when mimicking American sport, it’s all about ‘the event’. It’s as if the actual sport is a support act, not the focal point. This doesn’t appear to be the case with British sports, and that is the difference.
Hearn’s take on the BBL Championship was fascinating, but even if it hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s how American sport has managed to seduce us with its sheer showmanship.
London Lions ended up winning the championship at home in front of adoring fans. The American Dream? Perhaps, or maybe now the British one.