Newcastle United aren't anybody else: When comparing Premier League teams to their American counterparts goes wrong

Gareth Copley

Newcastle United are the Oakland Raiders. No, wait - they're the Atlanta Hawks. Better make that the Chicago Cubs. Wait - what's going on here? Why are we so eager to compare teams across sports?

As you may have heard, NBC will be taking Premier League coverage to a new level this year in the United States. For the first time, all 380 matches will be televised in some form. It's going to be awesome. NBC obviously thinks they're going to be attracting new fans (and they're probably right. Soccer, as we call it, is certainly gaining plenty of traction). They started with a rather funny series of commercials featuring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach taking over for Andres Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspur, launched a tongue-in-cheek (I hope) web app designed to help American fans pick a team, and even aired a 60-minute special on the same subject, which we tried to expand on with our own guide to Newcastle.

Now, as the season approaches, we get the inevitable slew of Premier League to American team comparisons. I have a special dislike of these, because the infamous Bill Simmons article from a few years back compared Newcastle to the Oakland Raiders, a parallel I cannot get behind. Everybody says that the Raiders have great fans, when they really don't. It's a truism that's become accepted because it is repeated so often. They were last in average attendance last year. Yes, things are bad, but when Newcastle were relegated, the fans didn't stop showing up at St James' Park. The infamous Black Hole? An excuse for grown men to dress up in silly costumes and act like tough guys (aka misbehave in public).

So no, I don't like the comparison. The Toon Army is better than that. But look, here's more:

What Phil is referring to is this article by Joe Posnanski, a writer I really like and respect. His reasoning is mostly solid, though he unintentionally points out that one reason this analogy persists is that people can't get past the similar colors.

Really, I think, my main beef is with the business of making these comparisons in the first place. How insulting is it to assume that your audience can't do the legwork required to make a decision of their own? Beyond that, there's no way to get a perfect 1:1 fit for any team. Comparing a team from one sport to another team from another sport that plays on a different continent strips all the nuance out of any analysis that is being performed.

For example: According to Posnanski, NUFC are the Raiders. If you're a Raider fan and you're looking for a team (this brings up another point: Who in the world is going to say, "I'm a _____ fan, let me consult this hastily written guide and blindly follow their advice on who to support?" These articles aren't actually accomplishing anything. At least Simmons had other research in his article), you might follow Newcastle as a result. But if you're a Raider fan and you happen to read this Fox Sports article, you'll end up with Stoke City. According to them, Newcastle are the New York Knicks, which is decent, except that Knicks fans are miserable (NYK fan Phil agrees with me).

There's more. This Yahoo! blog (an entry from a couple of years ago) sees Newcastle as the Chicago Cubs, saying it's "[o]ne of the easiest comparisons to draw," which explains why everybody else is doing it. It's certainly not one that I'd like to invite (See also). Meanwhile, this blog compares Newcastle to the White Sox. Sorry you read the wrong article, Cubs fans! You're actually rooting for the equivalent of your cross-town rivals. Finally, we come full circle with another NBC article, and this one compares the Toon to the Atlanta Hawks, which really makes me scratch my head. From time to time, I forget that the Hawks even exist. I suspect I'm not the only person outside of Atlanta with that reaction. They're just kind of...there. Whatever you have to say about Newcastle, whether positive or negative, one thing you can't say is that nobody knows they're there. By the way, the Fox Sports article linked above links the Hawks to Sunderland. What's a basketball fan living in the Greater Atlanta area to do?

SB Nation's Graham MacAree properly eviscerated the whole process, and I have just one thing to add. If you're a new fan, why not watch a few matches before jumping in? If you're already a fan of a team in another sport, did you get there because of a few articles you read? If you did, you may have ended up rooting for the White Sox when your heart is really with the Cubs. Newcastle United are not the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Chicago Cubs, or Toronto Maple Leafs. They're just Newcastle United. Hopefully, after taking some time to observe, you'll be able to see the difference.

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