THE BLOG
03/12/2013 12:14 GMT | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 GMT

The Curious Case of the Silent US Sports Fans

There's one aspect of the sport Stateside that doesn't subscribe to the same law of hyperbolic excess - the fans. If the rule that governs the rest of American life is observed, then those followers of MLB, NFL and the rest should find themselves reduced to orgasmic ecstasy by success and frothing rage by defeat.

Everything's bigger in the United States. Their political gatherings aren't conferences, they're rallies, and they don't take place in convention halls, they take place at street parades. Their choice of cars make them appear a country gripped by the unerring belief that any day now, their transport infrastructure will inexplicably crumble and force them to traverse impassable terrain on a daily basis. Their portion sizes push the idiom "all you can eat" to its gratuitous limit.

Sport on the other side of the Atlantic is no exception. Such was the outcry when the showpiece of English football, the FA Cup Final, was shifted from its traditional 3pm kick off, it can only be assumed that the English national identity would cease to exist altogether if, during the halftime interval, those in the lower reaches of Wembley Stadium were invited to swarm onto the pitch and enjoy a (mercifully) truncated Black Eyed Peas concert. And yet when this happens at the Superbowl, it seems right at home amongst the razzmatazz of cheerleaders and fireworks and the extravagant ethos of America's most popular pastime.

But there's one aspect of the sport Stateside that doesn't subscribe to the same law of hyperbolic excess - the fans. If the rule that governs the rest of American life is observed, then those followers of MLB, NFL and the rest should find themselves reduced to orgasmic ecstasy by success and frothing rage by defeat.

And yet this couldn't be further from the truth. Football games - both in the National League and at college level, which boasts several stadiums that dwarf the likes of Camp Nou and Old Trafford - may begin with the day-long ritual of tailgating (a sort of en masse BBQ conducted in the stadium's car park, something altogether more palatable in the sunny pastures of South California than on a drizzly afternoon in Wigan), but upon entry to the bleachers it's as if the astronomical athletic talents on display render the crowd collectively mute.

It's not for a lack of rivalries. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, for example, contest fierce derbies, and their supporters certainly don't shy away from throwing punches on radio phone-ins or social media, but once the players take the field, they appear content that their work is done.

Why is this? One thing that marks almost all US sport is the lack of away fans. Without these antithetical figures, fans must do without anyone to spar with. Sure, some intrepid devotees do make the intimidatingly vast journeys from state to state, but those that do tend to cut lonely, pitiable figures rather than intimidating kettles of rowdy hardcores; hardly catalysts for some vociferous banter.

There's also no jeopardy. For some, particularly those following NFL teams (whose regular season lasts just over three months), dreams of glory will be extinguished within a matter of weeks, but they never need fear the dreaded spectre of relegation thanks to the franchise systems in place across the Major Leagues. The only real danger teams face is relocation, such as the Montreal Expos baseball team swapping Quebec for the US capital. This habit of picking a team up and dropping it in an alien community has contributed to the erosion of local rivalries, best seen in New York, where the Yankees lost two long term rivals (the Dodgers, now of Los Angeles, and the Giants, now situated in San Francisco) in exchange for perennial losers the Mets, another blow to the necessity of fan power.

Maybe it's just that the US is too nice. This is a country where not holding the door for someone is social suicide, where not wishing somebody good morning akin to spitting at them. Maybe it's the desire to make sport into universally-popular, family friendly entertainment that has neutralised the raw, primal tribalism of the support. Perhaps the inherent optimism of the American people just means that they're too gosh darn happy to walk away from a loss with the only possible remedy retribution in the next fixture.

Whatever it is, an exception to prove the rule has emerged in the form of America's latest major league. The MLS appears to finally have solved the riddle of getting soccer to stick with audiences who previously considered it too slow and tedious, and with its success (it is now the fastest growing sport in terms of US fans according to Forbes), it's brought with it a slice of the fan culture that is indelibly tied to the game elsewhere. The fans of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are blazing the trail, routinely filling CenturyLink Field and Jeld-Wen Field with orchestrated displays of devotion that would impress the likes of Borussia Dortmund.

Quite whether these are the actions of a group merely aping their European and South-American counterparts in an attempt to feel a part of the global conversation, or if football does indeed hold the higher power purported by everyone from Bill Shankly to Albert Camus, it remains to be seen. What is for certain is that the sport that is best known in the US for its ubiquitous "moms", soccer is now making an awful lot of noise.