The American vs European sports model

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Sports Industry Information

The American vs European sports model

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Sports Industry Information

Have you ever wondered why American sports are different from their European counterparts? We can explain the answer firstly with a history lesson .…

The education system

Team sports became popular in the late 1800s, as more and more children attended school, congregating in one place. Sports were often arranged by separate clubs.

In America, sports clubs outside school were often frowned upon as they provided too much of a distraction for their pupils and injuries led to pupils missing school. The American education system decided to take control of the situation and introduce sports to the curriculum. With the support of parents and communities, sports became a popular recreational and extra-curricular activity within the school programme. Today, the central component of the sports structure is the educational system.

The influence of educational institutes in sport is minimal in European countries as government-controlled schools and sports were not seen to be a major part of the curriculum. Pupils who wanted to get involved in sports did so outside of school. Today, spotting talent is normally undertaken by sports clubs, rather than through educational institutes.

Commercial entities

Today sports in Europe are a mix of commercial sports organisations, sports practised in educational institutions and non-profit or government-sponsored institutes, clubs and associations. This has led to more open sports competitions managed by international governing bodies.

In America, almost all sports clubs are commercially managed entities, run by profit-making management and there are no international governing bodies making them insular.

League structures

Another significant difference between American and European sports is their league structure.

Teams in an American league are fixed and operate a ‘closed system’, a team will always be part of the league and so commercially they are stable and the spectator base is quite constant.

In Europe, we prefer more of a competitive stance, where teams that underperform can leave one division and go into a lower one (this process is called relegation). This can often have a major financial implications and ‘fair-weather’ fans move onto more successful teams. If a team performs and wins a league they will be promoted and go up to a higher league.

Open leagues and globalisation

As more European countries got involved in sports competitions, international bodies were formed to organize, manage and govern the events. More clubs from different European countries began joining these international associations. Lack of government involvement has meant that American sports have not become global and competitions are a matter of prestige.

Changes afoot

While these differences show two completely different sports models, things have changed in recent years. The pressure of globalisation is pushing America to review its sports system. The NBA, for example, has been trying to expand into Europe. At the same time, European countries are accepting the reality of the need for commercialisation to make the business of sports a success. Clubs have become revenue and market-oriented. Record-breaking player transfers, contracts with top brands, and increased focus on fan merchandise are among the top drivers for European clubs.

Interesting times ahead

It won’t be easy for America and Europe to untie themselves of the complexities of their existing sports models and ingrained culture. It will be interesting to revisit this subject in a decade’s time to see whether the next generation in Europe have famous stars in American football or the England vs France are playing in the baseball World Cup finals at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. Although changes could happen a lot sooner, there are talks of a European Super League, or ESL for short, it would bring together the top football teams in Europe in weekly head to head competition. Read more about the proposed ESL here.


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