Florentino Perez says we may need to make football matches shorter than 90 minutes 😳 pic.twitter.com/wvxbIFdp5c
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 20, 2021
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
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.