American Sports in Germany

How do the Germans play Football, Basketball or Hockey

American Football with Stars and Stripes
American Football is not quite popular in Germany. Ian McKinnell-Photographer's Choice@gettyimages.de

Well, obviously „Fussball“ or soccer is pretty big in Germany. That could be witnessed in 2014 when the „Mannschaft“ won the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But, what about other sports? Do any of the typically American Sports stand a chance against soccer in the home of the champion?

 

To be honest: No. Not at all. Hundreds of thousands of people pour into soccer stadiums every match day, so that is out of the question.

But it seems that with time comes popularity. The awareness for some of the American Sports (American Football, Basketball, Baseball, Ice Hockey) has been rising constantly in recent years. Let’s have a look at how the U.S. major sports do in Germany.

 

American Football

American Football was introduced to the German population by U.S. soldiers after World War II. When parts of the allied forces stayed behind, some of their culture and activities stayed in Germany as well, even after most of the troops returned to their home countries. Still, the 70-year long history of American Football in Germany hasn’t turned the sport into anything close to the way it is celebrated in the USA.


While the German American Football national team is very successful and won the European Cup in 2014 (defending their 2010 win and remaining undefeated in Europe since 2005), when it comes to spectators the sport doesn’t manage to draw bigger crowds.

When asked about their interest for different sports, Germans didn’t even vote American Football in the Top 25. In reference to the number of athletes it is ranking higher, even if it doesn’t make it into the Top 10. Roughly 45.000 athletes are currently engaged in American Football Clubs in Germany.

 

Basketball

The best-known German Basketball player is of course Dirk Nowitzki (the NBA’s MVP of 2006/2007). But he is not the first German player to have made it in the NBA. Remember Detlef Schrempf? A new German star on the rise in the NBA is young Dennis Schröder. Nowitzki and Schröder both played for the national squad in the recent European Cup, held in Germany (but even with the help of their two NBA stars the team did not make it through the preliminaries). There is a long Basketball tradition in Germany. The first shots were taken only a few years after the sport was invented at the end of the 19th century. The Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) had an average of 4.431 spectators in the 2014/2015-season (at an average capacity of 5.274). Internationally neither the German national team nor German clubs are particularly successful. Within Germany, the most notable club is Alba Berlin, leaving other teams far behind in terms of spectator numbers.

 

Baseball

Baseball seems to be the lost cause among American sports in Germany. Even though it is played, it has almost no publicity at all – thus, no larger fan bases or followers – and is not played professionally. There is not even an all-German league.

The highest division, the Baseball Bundesliga, which was founded in 1984, is split into a northern and a southern conference. In Germany, Baseball is often viewed as boring or too technical. An exception is maybe Regensburg, home to Germany’s only Baseball boarding school. Almost all of the German players that made it to MLB farm teams came from here. Only two of those players have ever actually played in the MLB. But apart from that, Baseballs situation in Germany seems rather bleak.

 

Ice Hockey

If you try to talk about “Hockey” in Germany, you’re in for an interesting conversation that will lack the use of words such as “ice” or “skates”. In Germany, “Hockey” is the more or less official term for field hockey, while the sport that is played in a rink is referred to with its full name. Ice Hockey is one of Germany’s most popular team sports.

Many cities have ice hockey stadiums that draw bigger crowds, some of the highest average attendances in Europe. In terms of popularity Ice Hockey even easily trumps Basketball, though, for obvious technical reasons, Basketball is of course much more played on amateur levels. The highest division is the Deutsche-Eishockey-Liga (DEL), founded in 1994. Ice Hockey is played in Germany since the early 20th century.

 

Well, Basketball and Ice Hockey are clearly the most successful American Sports” in Germany. Even if in the case of Basketball, the sport’s history is almost as long in Germany as it is in the USA. American Football and Baseball are not played on a professional level, neither economically, nor in terms of quality. But none of the American Sports are really a match in popularity for Soccer, Handball or even Ski Jumping. It seems there are more cultural differences between Germany and the USA than one could think.