As a Brit who has loved Football and Soccer for almost 30 years I've got to ask Football fans Stateside what's happening to the game at grass roots park level?
My main reason for asking is that while we're jumping for joy on this side of the Atlantic, parts of the Oakland press and fan base aren't happy with this. Kawakami points out statistically this is not good for the home team, and no way would this happened in the Al years. In my opinion, he completely misses why the NFL not only wants to do this, but absolutely HAS to do this. Football, is under attack. From both within, due to the nature of the game, and externally due the competition of other sports - mainly Soccer.
I think most fans would agree that the game isn't the same one we were watching 25 years ago. Penalties for incorrect helmet use, hitting defenseless receivers etc have changed the way the game is played. I welcome the NFL's rule changes to play a safer game. And you can be sure there will be more rule changes to come. Concussions, CTE, and possible suicide connections concerning former NFL greats is not the news you want to hear. Personally, I still dont believe the balance is correct between the Offensive player lowering his helmet and pads, and how a Defensive player can stop this without involving at the very least, incidental helmet contact. But the players are now bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, so it's a tough balancing act between player safety and taking away the wow factor of the big hit. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady have been reported to say they wouldn't want their sons playing football. There are benefits of other sports over Football as well as the safety factor. Soccer, basketball and baseball are easier for a kid to start playing. At most, you need just a bat and a ball and you're pretty much trying to replicate what the pro's do at the highest level. Difficult to do that with Football when you need $500 worth of kit before you start off.
Outside of the game itself, the marketing men behind Soccer are trying to compete with Football. Man City and Chelsea played in America twice in pre-season friendlies. Liverpool went to Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia. Man Utd went to Australia and Japan. They want a bigger slice of the global market. With the rise of professional MLS and a successful American National Soccer Team that has qualified for the 2014 World Cup, that has to be capturing the attention of some aspiring American young athletes. Soccer is an established global sport with one huge market yet to be completely persuaded.
Dont get me wrong, I'm not trying to sell you Soccer. But the NFL recognizes it needs to fight fire with fire. Expect more regular season games not only in London but other parts of the world also. If your market share is going down, viewing figures decline, your TV money isn't there, player wages come down etc etc. So I think it's something you have got to get used to.
So what are you seeing on your local parks? Pop Warner still thriving or mini soccer taking over? Be interesting to find out.