For American expats living in Europe, the two greatest sporting weekends of the year are: 1) the divisional NFL playoffs and 2) the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. Yes, every four years the World Cup overrides everything, but that is a different sporting animal altogether. For the purpose of this blog, let’s stick to sporting events that take place on American soil and involve American sports teams. So back to the NFL divisional playoffs and the NCAA basketball tournament’s rounds of 64 and 32. What do they have in common? These weekends feature good teams competing in high stakes games that begin at or around 1:00 pm Eastern Time. In other words, these are the only meaningful games that can be watched in their entirety from a sofa in Europe. [**The Super Bowl is the big exception. Check back next week for an expat Super Bowl feature**]
There is one important qualification to the statement above: unless you are an insomniac or do not wish to maintain a regular sleep cycle. Over the past three years, I have run into plenty of these types of European-based fanatics of American sports. There was the German taxi driver who watched every major league baseball game he could find or the chef who’s every Monday morning was devoted to the San Francisco 49ers. I once met a Penn State Nittany Lion fan, but I think that had more to do with her friends’ loyalties rather than her own. Dirk Nowitzi gets plenty of press here in Germany but almost no live coverage. If you want to watch live American sports without ruining your sleep, games that begin between 1:00 and 3:00 Eastern are the only option. Even then, it can get a little dicey. I only caught 30 minutes of last weekend’s Broncos-Patriots game (3:30 Eastern start) before the threat of a Zombie Monday called me away.
American sports fans who spend their lives on Central European Time must continually contend with a +6 hour time difference with U.S. Eastern Time. Perhaps some expat West Coasters at +10 can, if they wake up reasonably early, catch the ends of their teams’ games. There’s also the option to use some type of DVR or watch replays on Eurosport or Sport 1 US, but unless you’re prepared to disconnect yourself from the internet, to not check the scores or read your friends’ posts on Facebook, the suspense just isn’t there. I suspect this is why ESPN America was discontinued in Europe. They just couldn’t match the live events to their viewership.
Why only these two weekends? There are plenty of other American-based sporting events that begin around 1:00 pm Eastern. College football games; the early slate of NFL action; the occasional NCAA basketball game, but most of these feature teams not at the top of their respective leagues and fanbases that still seem half asleep. In this sense, this makes it a little easier to be an Iowa Hawkeyes fan. They regularly play at the non-featured time of 12:00 pm Central. This is the curse of the college football fan living in Europe: the worse your team plays, the more likely it is you’ll be able to watch their games live.
That is why the NFL divisional playoffs and NCAA rounds of 64 and 32 are so great. That is why I’m sad that the NFL playoffs are nearly over but excited that the NCAAs are yet to come. These two weekends offer a chance to be surprised, to watch events unfold as they happen, to hang out with friends over food and drinks (okay, over dinner rather than lunch) and to be in the midst of the greatest thing about live sports: the Spannung auf dem Couch.