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What European Soccer Can Learn From the NFL

From broadcast innovations to analytics to entertainment, there are a few things the Beautiful Game could borrow from its American cousin.

Coming off a dominant 3-0 road win over Barcelona to open up Champions League play, new Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann called for more and better technology in European soccer.

Unlike some older school European managers, the 34-year-old whiz formerly of the German Bundesliga’s RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim isn’t afraid to not only embrace technology but look outside the continent to find improvements for the Beautiful Game. What if Nagelsmann could give an earpiece to one player like Bayern Munich goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer to help communicate with the team and make tactical tweaks on the fly?

But hey, why stop at an earpiece?

We came up with a few other things European football can learn from its counterparts across the pond.

An NFL Red Zone Experience for Every League

Why shouldn’t Premier League fans get to see every goal, every fingertip save, every rattle of the woodwork, every red card. Why can’t we get an NFL-style quad box detailing the amazing Premier League action every Saturday?

Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday can sometimes achieve that type of energy in the UK, but it lacks the various bells and whistles of a bright, fast-paced RedZone production that would take it to a new level that fans of the Beautiful Game all deserve.

(We can even get Chris Kamara be the British Scott Hanson. Nothing could go wrong!)

NBC Sports’ Premier League “Goal Rush” and CBS Sports’ Golazo Show during Champions League and Europa League play comes closest, but leagues like the EPL should get rid of their archaic rules and restrictions and provide the best viewing experience possible for those watching at home — wherever they are in the world.

None of this location-restricted nonsense; one feed per language, available worldwide either as a standalone package or as part of existing cable or streaming plans.

You could even promote your popular Fantasy Premier League product and all things gambling during the customary 3-5 p.m. GMT window. Who says no?

More Cutting-edge Technology

Piggybacking off Nagelsmann’s QB earpiece observation, let’s take things a step further. There’s not really anything keeping the soccer world from borrowing or enhancing these elements of NFL technological orthodoxy:

  • A stats and data revolution similar to what the NFL has steadily implemented via Next Gen Stats — or even better, what the NBA does through Second Spectrum or the MLB through Statcast. Who wouldn’t want to gauge which player is the fastest right down to the third or fourth decimal point, or whose golazos have the best exit velocity? Real-time performance analytics take fans deeper inside the game.
  • AI and machine learning not just for talent evaluation purposes, but identifying opportunities and angles for marketing players and teams to the public, strategy the NFL has borrowed from Hollywood.
  • Augmented reality entertainment, like the giant panther hologram that leaps around Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium. It’s cool!

Bigger, Better Musical Performances

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LIII win for the New England Patriots over the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 drew 100 million American viewers, with millions more like watching around the world. That’s cute; the UEFA Champions League final in June 2018 won by Real Madrid drew an estimated global audience of 380 million.

So, why is the Champions League musical performance so lackluster every year compared to the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show?

Surely the biggest club sports competition in the world can do better than Marshmello and a brief cameo from Khalid and Selena Gomez.

Right?

Though not everyone was all the way on board with The Weeknd’s meme-worthy Super Bowl halftime performance in February, it had the big-game feel and the production chops that made it feel like one of the most-watched spectacles of the year. It’s time the Champions League treated its musical opening ceremony the same way.

The overall goal should be simple: One day, soccer fans should be able to look back and say that so-and-so’s performance at the European final in year X was soccer’s equivalent of Prince’s show-stoppingly iconic showing at Super Bowl XLI.

One day.

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The Coach’s Challenge

If we really want to embrace NFL-style technology, let’s go all out!

With so many reluctant to fully embrace the video assistant referee system, this could be a fun and captivating alternative for competitions that don’t yet use video reviews. How about this:

  • Each team gets one challenge on a VAR-worthy goal call and one non-goal call.
  • Every challenge win would allow the team one additional challenge. However….
  • …Get a challenge wrong and your team loses one of its substitutions. If you have zero subs, you can’t challenge a call.

This may be too far outside the box for most European soccer fans, but could you imagine a guy like Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, or Jurgen Klopp agonize over a decision (or non-decision), taking a hankie from his sock and emphatically hurling it on the field to either the delight or agony of the home fans?

In this regard, the NFL way is already rubbing off elsewhere. The NBA is currently working to trigger fewer automatic reviews and instead put more in the hands of the coaches, as Shams Charania reported earlier this week.

This list of examples is certainly non-exhaustive. But Nagelsmann mkes a great point about learning a thing or two from association football’s gridiron cousin. A coach’s challenge would be the ultimate red, white, and blue stamp on the European game.