Let's make football matches shorter!!

by @edent | # # # | 3 comments | Read ~119 times.

On the face of it, I sort of get it. Viral football clips of sporting prowess (or failures) do Big Numbers™ on social media. Casual fans love them, and even non-fans might watch them.

A regular football match is a 2-3 hour commitment to watch - if you include half-time, extra-time, pre- and post-match analysis. True, that's not much compared to binge-watching a boxset on Netflix. But the problem is, most of a football match is boring. Lots of running around with inconsequential action. A dodgy tackle to liven things up occasionally. But there's just not a lot of stuff going on.

The average score in football is 1-0. That means, during your two hours, you get one moment of elation - assuming your team wins. Even if you like the frustrated anticipation of your team shooting and missing it is pretty slim pickings.

So shorten football. Make the pitch smaller so there's more action and less pointless running. Make goals bigger so there are bigger scores. Dress the players up in sexier uniforms. Ratchet up the tension by encouraging penalties. Put GoPro cameras on the goalies and have drones tracking the strikers to make the viewers feel more immersed. Give the referees weapons.

This is, of course, all nonsense. Having a 30 minute game, where the players run around in hot-pants, and is an endless stream of penalty shoot-outs - is not going to make me watch a game. Because I just don't care.

It turns out that most people just don't care about football

Table. 38% of men never watch football. 61% of women never watch it either.

Football, so it seems to me, is an exercise in tribal loyalty. I don't think fans really care whether their team wins or loses. They want to tickle the part of their brain which is hardwired for being part of a crowd and supporting their tribe. That's not a bad thing - I think we all do it to a varying extent.

Football fans want to belong to a tribe. While it is nice when their team wins, it is pretty irrelevant. In some cases, losing matches helps solidify the bond with their tribe.

Again, that's fine if that's what you want to do. But for people outside the tribe, it all looks a little weird.

But there's nothing I can do to get a football fan excited in a big-endian / little-endian flame war. Political Junkies aren't going to care about PHP vs Python. Religious fanatics don't want to spend all day discussing whether The Beatles are better than The Stones.

I'm sure football can bring in more casual fans by tweaking the game, making events more family friendly, and reducing the cost of attendance. But they can't adjust the fact that all tribal rivalries look ridiculous to outsiders.

3 thoughts on “Let's make football matches shorter!!

  1. That is why I always have been a fan of basketball and not of football.

    Maybe getting rid of the goalie and having results being 50-34 would make it more interesting for short-attention-spaners.

  2. 35% of British adult males frequently watch football. That’s still a pretty high number….UK governments get voted in with less (probably).

    As good Developers/UXers/Designers/Whatevers it is really important to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective and leave our own baggage behind, and football seems to be a real challenge.

  3. Alex Gibson says:

    Also not a big sports fan – I love Formula 1 but I’ve been forced to pretty much ignore it for the last couple of years as a sacrifice to work/family life balance, as it really does take a good bite out of a weekend.
    But it really seems like football (soccer) evokes a higher degree of frustration and anger in its fans than other sports, and I think it has a lot to do with the rare goals. When 1 in 4 games ends in a draw, often 0-0, and especially after a lot of tedious running up and down, being taken to the brink of expectation and dashed many times, diving antics and (un)questionable referee decisions, it’s not surprising that a bunch of frustrated feeling people, divided on tribal lines, hit the bars and there is trouble. Looking at the policing presence for a Reading football match vs a London Irish rugby match at the same stadium, it’s clear more trouble is expected – and I think it’s a bit lazy to blame it on classist assumptions. In rugby, the teams spend a similar amount of time, but they are allowed to batter one another fairly thoroughly on pitch and with score lines like 43-25, they only have a draw 2.7% of the time – so both teams’ fans can normally get thoroughly drunk alongside one another in acceptance of the outcome and a good battle between their tribes. So the ‘make goals bigger’ or otherwise more frequent scoring could really help that in football. But maybe the fans actually like some of the tension they experience, and carrying it over into the rest of the day and week?

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