Football remains the exception. According to the NFL, only 74 players out of more than 1,600 roster spots across 32 teams were born outside the United States. The overwhelming majority of those came to the country as children and were developed as players in U.S. high schools and colleges. And football’s audience is mostly American as well. Sunday’s showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers will be broadcast in 180 countries but, while exact viewership stats are hard to come by, it’s a safe bet that outside the United States — or at least North America — the vast majority of those staying up late to watch will be American expats. The winner of the game will also have a plausible claim to the title of “world champion,” but mostly because the rest of the world isn’t particularly interested. …

It’s probably not the innate Americanness of the sport. Few activities are more quintessentially American than baseball, but the national pastime has found a wide following throughout Latin America and Japan. And geopolitical tensions with the United States haven’t stopped Venezuela from producing Major League stars or millions of Chinese from following Yao Ming’s NBA career. Plus, successive generations of immigrants to the United States from Notre Dame’s legendary Norwegian coach Knute Rockne to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Pakistani-born owner Shahid Khan have fallen in love with the gridiron game. …

More likely, non-Americans aren’t all that interested in watching football because they don’t grow up playing it, or at least watching it at a local level. “Our sport is not played in many curriculums in schools around the world,” says Chris Parsons, vice president of NFL International, which promotes the league abroad. “Other sports have the benefit of that, such as soccer and to some degree basketball, so they have greater opportunities to engage.” In the United States, high school and college teams serve are the incubators of NFL talent, and the lack of such infrastructure abroad is one major reason why so few non-U.S.-educated players have made it to the pros.