13 November 2010

Why is football (soccer) so popular?

I enjoy practicing this sport but I don’t really like watching it on TV and, following the latest World Cup I found myself wondering what makes this sport so popular.

There are fairly obvious reasons that come to mind, for example, its simple rules and the fact that anyone can play, with the only things required being a ball, a rather small group of people and goals which can be symbolized by simple objects placed on the ground. This makes football easy to take up among younger people who will retain an interest for this sport when growing up. It is different for basketball for example where you need baskets at a certain height. It is worse for tennis where you need several balls, rackets and nets, and I don’t need to mention windsurfing and even car racing.

In contrast, Football surprisingly lacks any serious action on the field. The games are rather long, offer few interesting actions and very few successful ones. This already makes the game fairly frustrating to watch but it gets worse when half the players spend their time simulating faults and injuries and thus killing the little action there is.

In comparison, tennis and basketball (and most other ball sports) provide sustained levels of action and no shortage of twists. Motorsports offer spectacular views, thrilling actions and impressive technology. The Olympic Games offer variety, etc.

So why on earth do people love football so much?

I will put forward a possible argument, among many others, and which probably does not tell the whole story in itself but which I think is relevant.

The results of a football game are very random. The great difficulty with scoring goals in football means that many goals are the combined result of talented players (of course) but mostly of a good amount of luck. Often a goal is reached as a result of a gross error, or fatigue, or simply a momentary chaotic disruption. In effect, a single little random mistake can lead to a goal and a victory.

This has the effect of creating two major problems. One is that the goals are the result of a lottery and the other is that goals are rare.
Imagine for a second that a tennis match would end after scoring three points. Knowing how tennis works you would think with reason that the results are rarely representative of the quality of the players. Why? Because with only three points, chances are that the wind, the sun, a damaged soil and whatever else, can easily change the results. Too few scores leave too much room for chance.

The lack of goals added to the randomness of their occurrence means that the outcome of a football match is highly unpredictable.

What are the consequences of this unpredictability? Well it means that any team, as long as it meets a team of similar level, always has a chance to win a match at one point or another. And that is what's great for the fans because it allows them to have hope in the fact that their team can win.

If the results are too predictable, where is the interest in watching the game when the outcome is easy to anticipate? In a way this is the problem with tennis or athletics. If the athlete that you support isn’t the best you already know against whom he or she will lose the advantage, with little hope in things happening differently.

Olympic Games compensate for this problem by having a variety of disciplines and increasing the chances that there is a sport in which your country excels.

In conclusion, a sport in which chance plays an important part gives fans a greater chance of seeing their team win, even against better teams, and thus more efficiently keeping its supporters loyal.