The 10 and only 10 American Sports

If you are an American sports fan you know all about Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and the websites DraftKings and Fanduel as they have inundated TV, radio and internet with countless ads. These sites have taken advantage of a loophole that makes fantasy sports legal to allow Americans to lose a lot of money not gambling. They advertise that it is not gambling and they are going to payout billions of dollars in prize money. We have different definition of gambling and for whatever they pay out you know they are taking in at least 10% more. I wrote about “The Explosion of Daily Fantasy Sports” back in May and you can read the article just by clicking “Fantasy Sports” under categories. Fanduel only allows games in the four major team sports: American Football (NFL an NCAA), Baseball (MLB), Basketball (NBA and NCAA) and Hockey (NHL). DraftKings has all of those and Golf (PGA), Soccer (UCL, EPL, MLS), Auto Racing (NASCAR), and MMA (UFC). I actually enjoy entering contests in PGA, Champions League, Premier League and NASCAR more than the major American team sports (no MMA). It’s not that I am bigger fan of those sports, but that I have played season long fantasy in the Big 4 every year usually with multiple teams. The exception is hockey and because of that I play in many NHL games on the DFS sites. Therefore I play a lot more on the DraftKings platform. Both sites send e-mails at least once daily with some promotion, Tonight DK sent a message “Introducing the next BIG thing.” The last similar announcement was for the debut of DK’s NASCAR daily fantasy contests. Something I had been eagerly awaiting and thought was long overdue. Tonight my reaction was quite different. “1-Day Fantasy eSports are now on DraftKings”. I was in complete shock.

My first reaction was this ridiculous and that DraftKings was really overreaching. E-Sports, is not sports. It is watching people play video games. I don’t understand how this could possibly qualify as a sport. I don’t see how this is entertaining. You could theoretically be watching the demo. How do you know that a human is controlling the characters? I can’t wait for the first major cheating scandal or the six-fingered player, who comes in and dominates the game. Is there Adderall testing? What happens when the game freezes like my old Nintendo used to do? I don’t even know what I’m talking about. I actually went in to make a lineup in a free game in LoL. No, that is not “laughing out loud”, but League of Legends the video game they are playing. The draft screen looked like it was in another language. I skimmed the rules and that didn’t clear anything up. I put in a totally random team that got just under the salary cap. I can’t say I am eagerly awaiting the results.

What really blew me away was how many entries have already been submitted. They had 16k free entries (which is high as you can only make one line per account), but also many pools were already about 20%-30% and these games are being played October 1st, a week from today. DraftKings is obviously not overreaching. They are going to jump in on this gravy train and skim cash from E-Sports fans and will be “LoLing” all the way to the bank.

I will define sports in the next paragraph, but I will tease that the first condition is “physical exertion”. Playing video games is the opposite of physical exertion. It is what you do to avoid exercise. These players are just using their fingers. I am typing all of these words with my fingers. This is not exertion, my waistline proves that. DraftKings had the gall to call them “athletes” when stating 5 gamers earn over $1 million per year. I put the quotation marks in, they didn’t. DK did also state that E-Sports had $143 million in revenue and a global audience of 134 million with 32 million watching the North American championship. That is obviously significant, but should be classified in a different branch of entertainment, but not sports. It is similar to poker which is shown on ESPN, but requires no physical exertion and is a game not a sport. I can’t say I’m an athlete by pushing in a stack of chips into the middle of a table. All while I’m eating a bag of chips.

When writing about the great sports weekend that was the first weekend of May 2015, I mentioned that I believe there are 10 and only 10 major American sports. I didn’t want to get into the debate at that time, but I will now. First let’s define what a sport is. As you do in the 21st century you type “sport definition” into Google. First thing that pops up: (noun) an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. I was very happy to read that as I would have had a very similar, but less eloquent definition. The key part of the statement that will disqualify much of what some consider sports is “physical exertion AND skill”.

What that does is eliminate the majority of the “Olympic” sports like track and field and swimming. I don’t believe these are skills. Running, jumping, throwing and even swimming are basic human movements. These are things you learn how to do so you can play a sport. They are not sports by themselves. I would consider track and field as “athletics” and not sports. I look to the Boy Scouts of America. They have separate merit badge for Sports, Swimming and Athletics. To earn the Sports Merit Badge a scout must participate in a season of: baseball, basketball, bowling, cross-country, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, water polo. There are various other requirements as well. Cross-country is my only objection as that really is just running. Surprised to see it on the list, every other one is clearly a sport. I’m was a little surprised to see field hockey and softball on this list as these are almost exclusively sports for girls in youth and high school sports. Either way I think there is a clear delineation between sports and other athletic competitions. Ultimately many of these athletic competitions you aren’t really competing with other humans, but with the clock or measuring tape, that’s another knock against.

I am not a fan of the vast majority of the events in the Olympics. I don’t care about them during the 3 years in between and only have passing interest in the Olympics even when a top American is competing. However I downright loathe cycling. I don’t consider it a sport for a bunch of reasons. I don’t think riding a bike is a real skill. It is something you should learn to do as a young child as a mode of transportation. Cycling really just is a test of endurance. The more interesting competition is among the “doctors” who manipulate the human body with drugs and other means of doping. The other problem I have with it is I don’t see how it is entertaining. You are watching people exercise. I would rather watch bike messengers and Chinese food delivery guys navigate the New York City streets than skinny men in bike shorts climbing up a mountain in France. The fact that there is only one event that matters and it is in France would disqualify it from it being major or American.

That leads us to defining what a “major American” sport is. I would think it would require network TV coverage, major annual events on US soil, significant annual attendance, large age range in participants and wagers offered on results (in Nevada) on its professional level. This knocks out the Olympic sports as they don’t have annual events of note or attendance. I also think that extreme sports or the X-Games would not qualify either as there is a very narrow age range in participants and fans. The “X” in the X-Games should stand for exhibition as the only scoring is based on the opinion of the judges.

The ten American sports (note the logos on top of the webpage) are as follows:
American Football
Ice Hockey
Auto Racing
Boxing/MMA (Fighting Sports)
Horse Racing

This list is in order of importance, though it is very hard to differentiate between much of the positioning from sports 4 through 8. I will have more on the ranking of these 10 to come.

I had written way back in May that I lumped together Boxing and MMA into one as “Fighting Sports”. This probably would upset fans of both sports as there seems to be some animosity between the fan bases. I feel that most Americans are fans of one or the other or neither, but very few both. In fact they often have major events on the same night. I am a boxing fan, but not an MMA fan. Without the major cross-over in fans, I think they can be lumped together, just as betting information website Don Best does.

Lacrosse is the 11th sport and I think will be added to the list of major American sports in later part of the next decade. It is still mostly a regional sport and doesn’t have a strong enough professional league. Lacrosse has strong roots in Canada and is very popular in pockets of the Northeast, in the Mid-Atlantic, in areas of the Carolinas and Colorado. The sport is showing incredible growth in the state of California and if it ever gets popular in Texas baseball is in serious trouble. Lacrosse and baseball both share the spring athletic season for youth, scholastic and collegiate sports. Where I grew up in the outskirts of the New York City suburbs there was no lacrosse at all, now there is significant participation taking away from boys and girls who would play baseball or softball. There is a professional league, but it doesn’t move the needle in terms of attendance or TV viewership. Also, I have never seen a betting line or odds to win on any lacrosse game or season. I will need to see available wagering first before it can be considered a major American sport.

Bowling believe it or not might just be the 12th sport. I know it may be hard to consider bowlers “athletes”, but it does fit the definition and qualifies as a sport for the Boy Scouts. There isn’t much physical exertion, but drop a ball on your toe my friend, talk about a rush, you’ll be throbbing, you’ll see visions. There is a significant professional league the Profession Bowlers Association. They play for considerable prize money and players come from around the world. The sport has always had a place on television here the states. ESPNU shows quite a bit of women’s college bowling. It actually is entertaining to watch. There still are a lot of youth leagues, for four seasons I bowled in a league as a kid. There also has been huge growth in the game in urban areas as cool bowling/rock venues have been built, like Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, Las Vegas and London (shameless plug). I haven’t seen any widespread gambling on bowling, though I know that odds are posted for the big PBA event in Reno, Nevada.

A sport I feel I need to mention which certainly isn’t an American sport, but has tremendous growth potential is cricket. To use trader’s speak, along with lacrosse, cricket is a sport to get long. This may sound surprising as our bat and ball game, baseball is losing popularity. Cricket’s growth is all about demographics. I think there will be massive emigration from South Asia to the Western world. The countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and especially Bangladesh are projected to see explosive population growth while water and consequently food supplies will be a problem. There already is a 24-hour dedicated cricket cable channel that I occasionally will watch, called Willow, which shows games from around the world in stunning HD. The sport is popular on many islands in the West Indies so it does have some “American” roots. I often seen cricket played in fields and even basketball courts throughout the New York City area. I have never seen “stickball” being played, a street version of baseball that is virtually dead in NYC. I can’t imagine the sport will gain many traditional US sports fans, but with the vast number of South Asian and West Indian immigrants along with ex-pats from the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, cricket will have a increasingly important place in the American sports landscape.

I certainly need to mention Rugby as there seems to be some increasing popularity that sport as well. The Rugby World Cup is going on and I have heard quite a bit of buzz about the Eagles, Team USA’s nickname. I am not a rugby fan. The game is similar to football, but without the best part, the forward pass. I’m not sure why it seems like there are more Americans gravitating towards rugby, we have a much better version in gridiron or American tackle football. I feel that in Australia the Victorians and in the South and West have it right. Aussie Rules Football is the superior game as the forward pass makes it far more exciting than the code that is more popular up in New South Wales and Queensland.

Other minor American sports include volleyball, water polo (which is only a major sport in Hungary), field hockey (for girls and women only here in the States.) These are played at the scholastic and collegiate levels, but have little to no professional opportunities. Beach volleyball had a moment of popularity, but was really just a flash in the pan. I should mention sailing as the biggest event in the world is called the America’s Cup. I do think that is a sport, but is an elitist sport and has a similar audience to polo. Polo and sailing as spectator sports are really excuses for the super rich to get drunk together with ultra-luxury brands sponsoring.

There are games that get confused with sports. Like chess, which is a board game and can be played by mail (post or electronic) and by a computer. Poker as I mentioned is not a sport it is a card game. If card games are sports, than I was a world class athlete as I couldn’t be beaten in “Go Fish” as a kid.

Pub and basement games aren’t major American sports. Billiards (pool), ping-pong (table tennis), or darts don’t make the cut. Ping-pong is a sport, but only a major one in Asia and maybe some other pockets. Though I will throw out another shameless plug, if you are looking for a table and are in New York City go to SPIN NYC on 23rd street. I’m not sure if billiards or darts requires enough exertion, sorry Phil Taylor. If darts qualify than it is a major sport in the UK.

I was half joking when I mentioned that watch cycling is watching other people exercise. From what I understand people attend and view on television the Cross Fit Games. This is literally watching people exercise. I am having a hard time figuring out what passes for entertainment these days. The world strongest man competitions were watchable because they were tossing around barrels and doing other crazy feats of strength. Here the competitors are doing squats and pull ups. There is a gym in the building I live in, I could just take a seat there and be a spectator to those exercises. I’m sure that will go over well. Watching people play video games doesn’t sound that bad compared to this. Do the Cross Fit Games have a radio broadcast?

Hopefully I have convinced you that there are only 10 major American sports. I will get into ranking these 10 in the coming days.

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