(Editors note: Updates for 2017-18 are in!)
I’m not going to lie, up until about the age of 18, I hated soccer. I didn’t understand it. My father told me it was a stupid, boring game that required no athletic ability other than just running around in circles for 90 minutes only to end in a 0-0 tie.
This is still the opinion of many Americans. Sure, we all get excited for the World Cup every four years, but when the US is eliminated, we go back to not caring.
I was in that camp for the most part. It was a blast gathering with huge groups of people, cheering on the US during those World Cup games, but that’s where the interest ended. Friday nights for me in high school consisted of poker nights, and $20 per match FIFA games, yet I still didn’t really care for the game, but playing it on video games for cash was always a good time.
After the 2014 World Cup, I took a trip to Chicago with a couple of high school friends. The Chicago Fire, the local Major League Soccer team, was hosting an exhibition game against the English Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur. My friend Colin had been a huge fan of Tottenham for years, so I agreed to attend.
The game was a blast. Tottenham won the game 2-0, but it was a total domination that easily could have been 5 or 6 nil. I was amazed at just how many Tottenham fans came out to the game. There were probably 4 to 5 times the amount of Tottenham fans there than there were for the local MLS team.
You would never see that for any other sport, so naturally there was some curiosity as to what the draw was. Colin had been telling me for years I needed to pick a team of my own to follow, and after seeing a Premier League team in person, I finally wanted a team of my own.
— Jared Leeper (@jared_leeper) July 29, 2014
After a little research, I settled on Leicester City. Yes, THAT Leicester City, the team that by some unforeseen miracle just won the League last season. As you can see from the tweet above, I selected them the season BEFORE their miraculous run to the Premier League crown, so you can’t say I jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve been hooked ever since. Here are just a few of things I think make the league so much fun to watch.
Every season in the Premier League, if your team sucks, guess what? You don’t get to come back next season! The bottom three teams from the League are booted to the 2nd division of English football, known as “The Championship”. This means there is absolutely no tanking from any team. Staying in the EPL means millions of dollars in TV money, so no team wants to be relegated.
Since three teams are relegated each year, this also means three new teams are promoted. In “The Championship”, the top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League for the next season. For the final spot, teams that finished in places 3rd-6th take part in a playoff. Each semifinal is a home and home with aggregate scoring. The winners advance to a single game playoff at Wembley Stadium in London. The winner of the final game earns the third and final spot. This relegation/promotion system continues through every tier of English football. One of the teams in the current Premier League, Bournemouth, was toiling away in Football League 2 (the fourth layer of the pyramid) as recently as 2010.
At the top of the Premier League, the top three finishers every year get to take part in the prestigious Champions League. The fourth place teams gets to also take part in Champions League, but only through a qualifying spot. Finishing in these spots means massive amounts of additional television money.
Length of Games
All games in the Premier League take place within a two hour window. There’s a 45 minute first half, a 15 minute halftime, and a 45 minute second half (no overtime). There are no timeouts, no commercial breaks and no video reviews. It’s refreshing to watch a game without all of these constant interruptions that take place in most of our American sports. You don’t have to worry about the final two minutes taking 27 minutes of real time like you do in a college basketball game.
Early Morning Drinking
Though there are the occasional midweek afternoon games, the majority of games take place on Saturday and Sunday mornings, most starting at 9am central time. Who doesn’t enjoy getting up and starting your day with a cocktail and sports?
NBC’s Amazing Coverage
Beginning in 2013, NBC Sports started covering the Premier League. Most weeks, they have a game on NBC, NBCSN, and USA. If the game with your favorite team is not on either of these, you can stream every game on the NBC Sports Live app, or from their website. Every game, every week is available to watch on some type of platform. We actually have better coverage of the league in the United States than the people of England.
In addition to all of the games, NBCSN provides other fantastic Premier League content. One of my favorites is a weekly review show that condenses every game down to just show you all of the goals. They also have top notch studio analysts for pre and post-match coverage, so you’re not stuck listening to airbags like Dan Dakich. Men in Blazers also airs on NBCSN, which is basically The Daily Show except they cover the EPL instead of American politics.
Quality of Play
If you are still new to the sport like I am, it definitely helps watching games with players who are the best in the world. The skill level and quality of the players in the Premier League is unmatched in my opinion. While Spain has arguably the two best players on the planet in Messi and Ronaldo, that league is very top heavy and the quality of teams really falls off after the top three (similar to SEC basketball).
The modern day Premier League is full of parity. Every team has world class players and any team can beat any team on a given week. That’s how a miracle run can happen like it did with the Leicester City Foxes last year.
I’m not here claiming to be a Premier League expert, and you won’t find me breaking down any games. Simply picking a team got me in front of the TV and all of the above reasons contributed to keeping me glued to the action the last two seasons. As someone that used to hate the sport, my hope is to help spread the excitement to more fans in the US and do my best to further the early morning cocktail trend. So mark your calendars because the 2016-17 Premier League season kicks off on August 13th.
So how do new fans go about picking a team to follow? That’s the issue I’ll be tackling in my next post.