Australians visiting the USA - best sporting events to see live
Australians like to think that when it comes to sporting events, no one does it better. Whether it's the AFL Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup, the Boxing Day Test, Sydney to Hobart yacht race or the Bledisloe Cup, Aussies not only know how to win the competition, but also how to put on a good show. Simply the best.
That is, until, you go to the United States. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good State of Origin game or a day at the cricket too, but when it comes to mammoth sporting events, I'm afraid the Americans have the Aussies beat (it was very difficult for me to admit that!). And yes, a lot of it has to do with money (and the fact that quite simply, the Americans have more) but it's also the spectacle that they thrive on. When the entertainment factor is enough to draw tens of thousands of viewers, let alone the sporting event itself, then you know you're in for something special.
So here it is, my countdown of the top 10 American sporting events not to be missed. Ideally it would be great to actually be at the events, but watching on a giant TV will also suffice.
(10) Daytona 500
Last Sunday in February
Daytona Beach, Florida
For any NASCAR fans out there, you're probably wondering why it's number 10. Fast and simple truth; I'm not a big motor racing fan. NASCAR, Formula 1, you name it, it's not my thing. However, I can appreciate a wonderful sporting spectacular when I see it, and from what I've been told by numerous friends, the Daytona 500 is it. It may not be the fastest NASCAR track, but it definitely is one of, if not the most, prestigious. As is the race itself. The most coveted among NASCAR competitors, the sporting extravaganza attracts 168,000 spectators each year. Make sure you get in early for tickets, they will go fast. Tickets for the big day of competition start at $65.
(9) Kentucky Derby
First Saturday in May
Once again, apologies to those who might think this legendary horse race should rank higher. But just like NASCAR, I'm not the biggest horse racing fan. That said, everyone loves race day, right? Billed as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports" (comparable to Australia's Melbourne Cup; "The Race that Stops a Nation"), the Kentucky Derby has run every year since 1875. Consistently ranked the number one horse race in America among fans, it attracted a record number 165,307 attendees in 2012. Combine the infamous drink associated with the event, the mint julip, warm Kentucky weather and fabulous fashions, and the Kentucky Derby is one event every racing lover should attend. General admission tickets start at only $30, so line up early and get in on the action.
(8) Stanley Cup Finals
End of May to mid June
Various locations (depending on competing teams)
It's what all the freezing ankles, busted lips and over-zealous fights lead up to - the finals of the National Hockey League (NHL).The Stanley Cup has been fought over (literally!) for almost 100 years, with 7 teams from Canada and 23 teams from the US all vying to be the last team standing at the end of the season. The location varies with the teams competing, but I can tell you from experience that New York City's Madison Square Garden is one of the best places to watch the Stanley Cup Finals from (should the NY Rangers make the grade!). Grown men (and big men they are!) speeding down the ice at record speed trying to hit a tiny little puck into an equally tiny little net would entice anyone to watch. Throw in a guaranteed fight or two mid-game (I'm not condoning violence, but like I said, it's guaranteed!), and you're in for a treat. Tickets can be expensive, depending on the teams playing, so if there's even a chance your team might make it, jump on them quickly!
(7) NCAA Football Rivalry Week
Last Saturday in November
Nothing gets a college football fan going like Rivalry Week. Some rivalries are new and fresh, some date back to the beginning of college football itself. But no matter how old or new the rivalry is, the fact remains - when it's rivalry week, it's war! And it's one of the best sporting events America has on offer. Held about a month out from the end of the regular season, Rivalry Week can not only shape the season for some teams, but ultimately, it's all about bragging rights. Whether it's Michigan v Ohio State, Florida v Florida State or Auburn v Alabama, if you can manage to score tickets to a Rivalry Week game, be ready for a show. Fierce rivalries on and off the field, outrageous energy felt all around the stadium. Behind the championship games, it's the best weekend in college football!
(6) US Open (tennis)
Late August/early September
Queens, New York
The year's final tennis Grand Slam tournament (after the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon), the US Open is a favorite among hard court specialists. It's also a favorite among fans, with Americans flocking by the thousands to see the best of the best in action. Center court, otherwise known as Arthur Ashe Stadium, is one of the best in the world, giving spectators unrivaled views from every angle. It can hold over 22,000 people wanting an opportunity to witness grand slam glory. Winning the US Open can also mean winning the illustrious 'Grand Slam' of tennis (winning all four Grand Slams in one year), so there's a lot on the line. Tickets for day-time competition start at $65, but sell out fast (it's many New Yorkers' final summer days before heading back to work/school), so get in early!
(5) NCAA Football Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Game
First or second Monday in January (depending on where New Year's Day falls)
One of four rotational venues (Phoenix, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles)
Not in a million years would I ever think college football could ever be this big. Don't be fooled though, these guys mean business! College football isn't just something done to fill in the gaps between studying. It's a way of life, a dream for many, a way into the professional league. And on a Monday night in January, just as most people are getting back to work after the Christmas/New Year's break, two teams embark on one of the biggest sporting events in the country - the BCS National Championship Game. Depending on the venue, a game can attract up to 80,000 people; 80,000 people wishing and hoping their team (or 'alma mater' as the Americans call it) wins. And if you don't get to go to the game itself, rest assured every TV screen in ever bar/pub will be broadcasting the event live. Kick-off is usually set for East Coast prime time (aka around 7/8pm) which allows viewers from all across the country (even Hawaii, 5 hours behind!) to watch. Believe me when I say, this is not a game to miss!
(4) NBA Finals Series
Usually the end of May/beginning of June
Various locations (depending on competing teams)
Just like the Stanley Cup in ice hockey, the NBA Finals Series are the ultimate for any NBA team and player - and fan! If you've ever been to an NBA game before, you'll know what a spectacle it can be - from the players and the game itself, to the entertainment factor, the music and lights and the fanatical fans seated either side of you. Now a best-of-seven series, the NBA Finals is a series that lasts at least a week (depending on results) and rotates locations between the two competing teams. So even if you're a fan of an east coast team who is playing a west coast team, you'll have every opportunity to see your favorites in action. Unsurprisingly, tickets for the Finals go like lightning and can be really expensive - we're talking at the very least $100 for the nose bleed section. But given the chance to see Kobe or LeBron in action, I say go for it!
(3) The Masters
First week in April
One of the four major tournaments in professional golf, going to The Masters is on the bucket list of every golfing fan out there. And even if you're not a golf fan, going to The Masters is about more than golf; it's about history, the artistry of talent, the emotion linked with winning (and losing). Players from all over the world battle it out for the elusive green jacket, and when it often comes down to that final hole, it is something to be seen. It is however one of the hardest sporting events to get into, even the practice rounds. Tickets to the actual tournament are sold only to members of a patrons list, which is closed (since 2008). In 2012, organizers announced a very limited number of tickets would be made available to the public, but given the popularity of the event, thousands still missed out. If you can't watch it in person, head to Augusta anyway. There's a certain 'feel' around the city come Masters time, so even watching it on the big screen will make you feel like you're there!
(2) World Series of Major League Baseball
Mid-end of October
Various locations (depending on competing teams)
As with the ice hockey and basketball, the World Series of Major League Baseball (MLB) is the ultimate in any baseballer's career. And more than that, it can be the ultimate in any baseball fan's life. A best-of-seven competition, the World Series sees the best of the National League (NL) and the best of the American League (AL) vie for the Commissioner's Trophy and competition supremacy. While there might be a little conjecture about naming it the 'World Series' when only one team (from Toronto, Canada) hails from outside the USA, it definitely is the best of the best when it comes to professional baseball. Going to a baseball game at any time of year is something to remember, but a World Series game is certainly up there with one of the biggest sporting events anyone can ever witness in person. And hey, there's every chance you'll head home with a home run ball!
(1) Super Bowl
First Sunday in February
One of 15 locations nationwide
No list of the best American sporting events would be complete without the Super Bowl, American Football's penultimate prize, the best of the best. Held since 1966, the Super Bowl sees the best team in the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL) fight for glory, and the Vince Lombardi trophy. Hailed as one of the biggest sporting events not only in the US, but in the world, the Super Bowl attracts some of the biggest television audiences on the planet. The 2011 Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLVI), attracted 111.3 million viewers, with over 60,000 spectators on hand to watch the game live. The venue changes every year via a rotational system, allowing 15 cities/stadiums a chance to host. And better yet, it allows people from all the over the country a chance to attend. Now if you're not a football fan, don't despair, the Super Bowl isn't just about football. The entertainment put on before and during the game could rival a New York City Broadway show. The half time entertainment alone is a massive spectacle, attracting its own record number of viewers. And if there was ever another reason to watch the game on TV, the commercials would be it. A 30-second commercial will set a company back a mere $3.5million (2012 prices) and the originality and quality of the ads have many viewers talking more about the 'coke' or 'nike' ad more than the game itself! If you're lucky enough to actually get a seat at the game, well...think yourself very lucky! Even the 'cheapest' of tickets can set fans back up to $600, with some of the most expensive seat blowing the budget at more than $2000. But hey, it's Super Bowl, it's a one-in-a-lifetime experience. I say if you have the money, go for it!
There you have it. My picks for the top 10 sporting events in the USA. If you're here on holidays and can time it to coincide with one of these events, then grab the pompoms and get down to the game (or tournament or race!)