Most sports fans and professionals understand that there is a substantial difference between the sports industry in Europe and in the other side of the Atlantic Ocean regarding various aspects. The main ones are: competition format, relationship with sponsors and advertisements, fan engagement, and professionalization.
Most of the Sports championships in Europe have a format which favours consistency, such as the Premier League, La Liga, Formula 1, MotoGP, and so on. On the other hand, in the USA, the major championships such as NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, have a regular season followed by playoffs for the top participant teams/drivers.
In the second format, it is not only important to be consistent in the regular season, but also to be in top form at the playoffs. This set of rules is made with the purpose of maintaining the excitement of an open title fight until the very end of the competition.
Sponsors and advertisements
Sports sponsorship expenditures have been increasing all over the world for the past decade. What remains unchanged during this period is that North America is the region where this number is the biggest. Nevertheless, in European football there is the tradition of having brand logos stamped in clubs jerseys, while in the major American sports that did not happen until NBA allowed it for the first time this season.
In both regions it is normal to have advertisements before, during and after the sports events in television. What is different is the amount of advertisement breaks for each event. NFL, NBA and NASCAR competitions have several breaks, while a football or a rugby match in Europe have only one TV break at half-time. Yes, the matches of those American sports are longer, but, nonetheless the frequency of the TV breaks is higher.
This contrast is easily noticeable for the common European sports fan whenever he decides to watch one of the American major sports. The excess of commercial breaks has also been criticized by American Football fans, which led to NFL’s decision last year to reduce the number of breaks from 21 to 16.
Fan engagement includes many experiences which may happen in match day or in a non-match day, on-site and off-site, that involves the fans with the club or club’s sponsors in order to improve the experience of the fans and their connection with the different brands.
Especially in match day, there is much more going on in the major American sports compared to the traditional European sports. Sponsored fan zones, free experiences and products in exchange of fan’s personal information, kiss cams and cheerleaders during breaks, are some of the activities which are normal in the USA and rare in Europe.
Some exceptions to this are, for instance: the “safety video” Fly Emirates did with SL Benfica and Hamburger SV; Liverpool sending personalised birthday messages by email with video with a player; Amsterdam Arena doing a music and lights show before the Netherlands vs England match and putting a kiss cam during half-time break.
These are just the most recent examples I have heard about and assisted, but European clubs and sports organisations are working in developing fan engagement. Nevertheless, Europe is still some years behind the USA in this topic.
Purists may always counter-argue this saying that in Europe there is more of a focus on the sport itself, while American sports focus on entertainment. However, we should not forget two facts: even in Europe it is already not only about the sport (the business is playing a bigger role as time goes by); and fans, nowadays, crave for more than just a sports match, especially the younger generation – they want memorable and shareable experiences.
Unfortunately perhaps for the hard-core fans and the purists, we have to face the fact that sports organisations will become more fan-centric in the near future. Yet, this is not only negative, as they will also try to provide a better experience for the hard-core fans with safe standing, for instance, and other ideas the marketing departments may come up with.
There is much more professionalization around the American sports industry than in the European one, regarding both athletes and non-athletes who have sports-related jobs.
College sports are huge in the USA, they are even broadcasted internationally at times, and this helps promising athletes to train and compete while studying with good scholarship programs and student athlete statutes. In Europe, on the other hand, it is not very common to have college sports broadcasted on TV, plus, in most of the countries student athlete statutes have very demanding requirements, which only few athletes can fulfil.
Moreover, the top sports management courses, according to the SportBusiness Group rankings, are in the USA, which, along with a bigger sports sponsorship market, proves that the American sports industry is more developed than the European.
All in all, there are some essential components which make the sports industry different in Europe and in the USA. Nevertheless, one of the similarities they have is that they provide us with great moments to enjoy watching the top athletes around the world in several sports.
So which is better: USA or Europe? At the end of the day, either you are a fan or a professional in the industry, there is no good or bad between one or the other side of the Atlantic, it is a rather personal choice.