Archive for the 'United States' Category

Dec 15 2013

Profile Image of Morganne Gagne

Moving Forward

A Chat with Sandra Serafini

serafini 

Last week, my classmate Lauren Oliveri and I had the opportunity to have lunch with Sandra Serafini. I was honestly a bit intimidated to meet the former FIFA referee and PhD neuroscientist. (Who wouldn’t be? Only a superhuman has those types of qualifications!) However, my fears were instantly quelled as we dove into conversation – literally. As we sat down to eat, Serafini recounted bets that she would make with her linesmen while officiating notoriously troublesome men’s teams. Before the game, she would wager a free appetizer on how long into the game the first dive would occur. It had to be a real dive – a cautionable offense – not just a weak tumble. The betting would turn into a Price is Right style competition, with the officials one-upping each other by a second. And when Serafini won (as she most often did), she would pull out her yellow card, and then turn and smirk to her linesmen thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m getting the most expensive app on the menu.” From there, conversation bounced between all aspects of Serafini’s career as an official, a neuroscientist, and a professional referee assignor.

 The Referee

The Canadian native began officiating as a means of paying rent through college. In the process, she amassed around 2,000 games, often doing between 15 and 20 games a week. When I asked Serafini whether she always knew that she wanted to become a FIFA, her answer was simple: becoming a state referee seemed like the next logical step and she never looked back. Serafini continued to climb the soccer ranks and became a national in 2005 and a FIFA a year later in 2006.

Throughout her refereeing career, Serafini traveled around the world, officiating CONCACAF games and other international matches. Many of her fondest memories occurred off the playing field. In Mexico fans asked for autograph; in Holland, she shared post-game beers with Dutch spectators, and in China, she worked with an all-Chinese crew where communication consisted of more charades than English.

While at the international level, Serafini only officiated women’s matches, she worked in men’s leagues domestically. We discussed the challenges of being the female authority on a field of all men, and Serafini found that players and coaches are more willing to test the waters when they see a woman in the yellow uniform. Every new team required Serafini to prove herself as an official and demonstrate her command on the laws of the game. Serafini has a self-proclaimed “strong personality,” and that certainly aided her player and coach management skills. On the field, Serafini had a strict “no screaming” policy. When players would lose control, she would tell them matter-of-factly, “There will be no screaming today. Let’s have an adult conversation.” And Serafini would listen. She smiles as she explained to Lauren and I at lunch, “Maybe they’re full of it, but maybe I’m full of it.” Serafini realizes, like all referees, she is human and capable of making a mistake. In the case that she missed a call, she would do everything in her power to listen to the players’ complaints and blow the whistle on the next one.

Serafini takes the same approach with coaches, especially when she’s placed on the sidelines in between the teams’ benches as a 4th official. When a coach would spout off at the head referee, Serafini approached him calmly and told him, “Whisper anything you want in my ear. I’m your therapist for the game.” Coaches were generally surprised but they took Serafini up on the offer. Serafini recognizes that coaches jobs are dependent on results and every call and no-call counts at the professional level. Coaches face extreme pressure during games, so while she occasionally used humor to defuse tense situations, her main aim was to give them a person who would listen.

The Neuroscientist

Outside of the refereeing world, Serafini works as a PhD neuroscientist at the Duke Hospital, specializing in functional intraoperative and extraoperative mapping for neurosurgical patients [1]. She laughed as she explains that in season, she doesn’t really sleep. Her schedule consists of: waking up around 5 am, going to work, catching up on emails between OR cases, heading home and spending “quality time with the spouse,” then working until 11:30 pm, and repeating it all the next day. Luckily, Serafini currently works in a lab that is understanding of her hectic schedule. Her former lab thought refereeing was “something you could just do on weekends,” so she was forced to leave.

The Changemaker

Although Serafini has given up her whistle, she is still very much a part of the refereeing world as a Women’s Referee Coach and NWSL Assignor of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO). Not only does Serafini assign and coach referees, but she also works to make the path easier for women following in her shoes. In Serafini’s day, all female referees had to pay for their own training out of pocket. Serafini now works with PRO general manager, Peter Walton, to acquire the same benefits for female referees as professional male referees. She has also been working to add guidelines for pregnancy-related time off.

When Peter Walton stepped on board, he openly invited women to all men’s professional leagues. This hasn’t always been the case, and Serafini feels that opportunities for women have waxed and waned at the discretion of the person in charge. Serafini is proud to see that times have changed:

“When I go around to the tournaments or when I bring the officials into the NWSL, I’m able to say if you do the training, get the qualifications and demonstrate the ability, which they are all capable of, they have the same chance as anybody else. It may seem minor, but it’s really big for this country.” [2]

At the conclusion of our lunch, Serafini reiterated that women’s refereeing truly is “moving forward.” In recent years, professional women referees have made significant strides in numbers and level of assignments. Serafini has been a both pioneer and a changemaker in this process, and with her continued involvement in the PRO, I do not expect this forward motion to stop anytime soon.

References

[1] Sandra Serafini PhD, MA. Duke University School of Medicine. http://surgery.duke.edu/faculty/details/0271401

[2] “PRO and NWSL breathe new life into US female officiating.” Professional Referees Organization.  http://www.proreferees.com/news-pro-and-nwsl-breathe-new-life-into-us-female-officiating.php

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Dec 06 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

Soccer Satire

 

Satire can be a fantastic way to stimulate discussion about real issues; often, it can be more revelatory than straight discourse.   Laughing at a joke compels understanding and examining why the joke was funny– and in satire, the humor is derived from revealing precisely how ridiculous certain serious subjects truly are.  Satirists are frequently an important part of cultural criticism, from Mark Twain to Bassem Youssef;  humor is an excellent way to make an unreceptive public care about what you want them to care about.  While frequently more ridiculous than incisive, the Onion is one such source; and when I stumbled upon this piece written about the 2010 World Cup, I discovered that many of the premises of the humor of the piece are still distinctly applicable to soccer in the US.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/nations-soccer-fan-becoming-insufferable,17553/

The running joke is that the single soccer fan in American has become insufferable over the World Cup, the humor (and truth) lying in the fact that, of course, while there is more than one, there are far fewer soccer fans in the US than practically anywhere else, despite a deeply entrenched culture of sports spectatorship and participation (particularly, and paradoxically, participation in soccer youth leagues.)  The lone fan, Brad Janovich, is “the only American citizen currently aware that the World Cup begins June 11″; the sources quoted in the article are “only peripherally aware of the World Cup,” and are confused and irritated when he strikes up “several extended but one-sided conversations concerning figures such as “Kaka” and “Ronaldinho,” generally mystifying and alienating everyone he has come into contact with.” I won’t  ruin the genuinely funny piece by quoting further, but you get the gist.  The humor of the piece is predicated on the isolation of the US in its apathy towards the global game, and that the grip soccer has on American audiences is tenuous at best.  These are realities that have seen some movement in the last 4 years, but not much; hopefully this World Cup will do a better job of capturing the American imagination (apart from Brad Janovich’s) better than the last one.

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Nov 16 2013

Profile Image of Michael Reintgen

Changing the College Soccer System

In the debate on how to best achieve the first World Cup title for the United States, the differences between how youth are filtered into professional leagues in the U.S. verses other nations who have had World Cup success is often the main topic of conversation. All other national programs outside of the U.S. have youngsters who dedicate the majority of their time to honing their footballing technique essentially from the onset of puberty. For this to happen in the U.S., it has often been said that education would have to take a backseat to training and preparing for the professional world mainly through bypassing the college system all together [2]. This type of approach would be going against the current trend in the sporting world, as a majority professional sports (basketball, football) have passed rules that require at least a year in college before it is possible to move on to the professional leagues.

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Photo from dukechronicle.com

However, some have denied that the approach to soccer success in the United States needs to be all-or-nothing in doing away with the college-level game, and instead suggested that America can even have an advantage over the rest of the world in containing an additional avenue to success offered by the college system. A possible compromise would be to encourage potential professional players to get involved with MLS academy team while still playing at their respective universities [1]. This solution could allow for a vitally important rigorous schedule while also lessening the harmful bottlenecking effects that exist in nearly every other successful national team and league when 99% of the talent pool doesn’t make it on the professional level. In this hybrid system, all the positives of the college system remain as players would have more to fall back on in terms of education and other career opportunities in comparison to nations like Brazil or England, while allowing the best players to be given access to the top training facilities and programs available.

Additionally, this would fix many of the problems within the college game itself. Many critics of the college system have said that the type of soccer played at this level is too slow, too direct, and too physical to thrive on the national stage [1,2]. The unlimited amount of substitutions is typically cited as the main reason for this, as an endless supply of rested legs can be dumped on to the field in order to sustain a type of play that favors chasing the ball instead of possessing it. With the increase amount of proper training and game time experience where the actual rules of soccer are used, players could get the type of training and preparation they need to succeed on the global stage. Furthermore, the low number of games played year-round in the current setup would be injected with many more MLS academy games, most likely against better competition. Collegiate players could use the additional playing opportunities to fill the large amount of downtime in the college soccer schedule from December to February and in the summer months.

Also, this would eliminate the competition between universities and professional clubs for the soccer talent pool in America. While a child prodigy would still be able to forgo college all together to work exclusively with a professional club around the clock, a player who shows great potential but may not be as sure-set on a professional career wouldn’t have to make such a huge life decision so soon. Rather, this player could attend a university and have 4 more years to develop and decide whether the professional athlete track is really meant for them. This secondary option is extremely beneficial to the overall talent pool available for the national team to draw upon. The college system is phenomenal in the amount of opportunities it gives its players to develop and shine, especially for the type of “late-bloomer” player who may need a few more years to incubate in order to be ready for the next level. There are much more places to play across the three college divisions than in one or maybe two divisions in professional leagues. You also get 4 years to show that you are worthy of the next level, instead of a tryout period that can last only months in a professional environment. In this way, colleges provide a kind of “back-door” into the professional and national team setup that could aide greatly in catching talent missed at earlier stages [1].

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Gabriel de los Rios/MLSsoccer.com

Lastly, and maybe most importantly to American soccer, this option provides the greatest opportunity for Americans to forge an intimate connection with a soccer team by preserving the collegiate system [3]. University teams are virtually the only organizations that can provide the ties to the surrounding community necessary for the development of a deep connection with a team. In improving the level of training given to collegiate players and still allowing them to be nestled in a community which will readily support them, maybe American soccer fans can have their cake and eat it too.

References:

[1] Fox Soccer Exclusive. The Future of College Soccer. Four-part series by Leander Schaerlaeckens. Accessed on November 16th, 2013. http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/usa/story/college-soccer-under-spotlight-as-competition-with-professional-soccer-leagues-grows-102413

[2] Examiner.com. Does college soccer hurt the US National Team? Mike Burke. Accessed on November 16th, 2013.  http://www.examiner.com/article/does-college-soccer-hurt-the-us-national-team

[3] Pitch Invasion. In defense of American college soccer: a community perspective. Andrew Guest. Accessed on November 16th, 2013. http://pitchinvasion.net/blog/2009/08/31/in-defense-of-american-college-soccer-a-community-perspective/

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Nov 14 2013

Profile Image of Balser

The Future of Youth Sports in America

While this post is not about Soccer exactly, I think in light of today’s class discussions comparing youth (American) football to youth soccer in the US it is of interest:

Today a Think Progress article came out entitled “Enrollment in Youth Football down 10%”. The numbers given in the article show how youth football in America has been drastically declining since reaching a highest ever point in 2010, when over a quarter of a million young boys participating in the country’s largest youth organization, and over 3 million participating in total. Since then, these have continued to drop, and many involved do not see an upturn in sight.

What is the cause of this downturn? An HBO real sports article highlights that increased visibility and concern about concussions and their long term effects on players is to blame. 1 in 3 Americans surveyed said that the risk of concussions would make them less likely to let their son play football, and 1 in 5 said long term effects would be a “deciding factor” in allowing their child to play or not to play. While this is not the only thing to take into account in terms of football enrollment rates going down, it is clearly something that is in the forefront of most people’s minds, especially parents trying to decide if they want their children to participate or not.

What about concussions in soccer? While most consider concussion rates to be lower in soccer than in football, true statistics for concussions in any sport are hard to come by since most concussions go unreported – - a recent study found that less than 50% of high school athletes reported concussions they sustained during a single football season. In terms of soccer, it is believed to have concussion rates much higher than other sports, but still smaller than football. Interestingly, heading the football is not always the main cause. Most concussions sustained in soccer are due to running into other players, the ground, or the goalposts, and not the soccer ball itself. A recent book entitled “Is Soccer Bad for Children’s Heads: Summary of the IOM Workshop on Neuropsychological Consequences of Head Impact in Youth Soccer explores this very issue, and a sneak peak of the books chapters can be found here. While concussions do happen in soccer more than in other sports, the overall levels are still much lower than they are believed to be in American football, although again the lack of effective reporting and data is a concern for real comparison.

The bottom line with all of this is that, while concussions are much more prevalent than reported in both sports, the current debate is centered around American football, and it is within the youth leagues of that sport where we are  beginning to see more and more concern from parents about whether or not football is safe for their children. The overall impact of such studies and debates is yet to be seen. Will this increase of information lead parents to encourage their children to play soccer instead of football? Or are they more likely to push their children into other more “American” sports? Going off of our conversation in class today, would such a grassroots shift away from football be enough to help create a sustainable soccer system here in the United States, or will more top-down institutional changes still have to be made? Could the risk of concussions lead the MLS to become the next NFL? Or will concussions become an issue in soccer just like they have become an issue in football? All this remains to be seen, but it does open the door for some interesting debates.

 

References:

Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/sports/2013/11/14/2940571/enrollment-youth-football-drops-10-percent/

HBO Real Sports: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/tag/hbo-real-sports/

Unreported Concussions: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14712161

Is Soccer Bad for Children’s Heads: Summary of the IOM Workshop on Neuropsychological Consequences of Head Impact in Youth Soccer: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10362&page=3

 

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Nov 12 2013

Profile Image of Tuck Stapor

Battle of the Sexes

 

If you are looking for big news on American soccer, pay close attention to the summer of 2015.  Very recently, it has been announced that Fox Sports has acquired the television rights to both the 2015 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2015 Men’s Gold Cup.  Not only are these two tournaments during the same year, but they also take place during the same couple of weeks during the 2015 summer.  Obviously, something has to give.  Even though Fox Sports has multiple television stations, there’s no way that the company will be able to show both national teams with the same amount of coverage.  One tournament has to receive the majority of Fox Sports’s time, dedication, and attention.  Which event will take priority?

 

Clearly, the World Cup is on the biggest stage as it involves international times from every part of the world, while the Gold Cup only involves teams from North and Central America.  However, another difference between the two events is the gender of the players involved.  Unfortunately for women’s sports, they are usually less popular and favorable for fans to watch compared to men’s sports.

 

Although both the US men’s and women’s national teams have both gained popularity in the past decade, the men’s team has generally been more popular.  This result exists despite the fact that the women’s team made it to the finals in the last World Cup while the men’s team has barely made it out of the group stages.

 

Despite recent trends in popularity and preference in games played by a particular gender, the US women’s national team, and women’s sports in general, could achieve a “victory” if they are given more airtime than the men’s national team during the next summer.  In my opinion, this result should be extremely possible if not expected.  The combination of the US women’s team being one of the best teams in the world, along with participating in dramatic/exciting games during the last World Cup (see video below).  What also helps boost this possibility is the fact that the team has having some of the best players in the game like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leurox, who also have some of the best personalities and fan relations.  It will be really interesting to see which team will receive the most attention during the 2015 summer.  My prediction: the US women’s national team will overtake the men’s national team  in the news during the year 2015.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvGfV6qCiOI

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Nov 10 2013

Profile Image of Christopher Nam

United States Businessmen Taking Over the Premier League

This past week, David Goldblatt visited our class to explain his accounts of world football.  One interesting comment he made was describing the English Premier league as a business to be completely hopeless.  This past summer, Shahid Khan, a US billionaire car parts baron, bought Fulham football club for an estimated $300 million.  

Shahid Khan with a personalized Fulham jersey after purchasing the London club this past summer

This purchase made him one of six American businessmen to be owning a Premier League team, including the Glazer family at Manchester United, John Henry at Liverpool, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Ellis Short at Sunderland, and Stan Kroenke at Arsenal.  These six make up almost a third of the entire Premier League, a number much higher than the American representation in any other aspect of the league.

So what exactly is bringing these American investors to the Premier League?  Most of the owners claim that they are avid fans of the club and want to be a part of the rich history that the club entails.  However, more practical reasons underlie why they fork over several hundred million dollars for these clubs.  Shahid Khan said that, “the Premier League obviously has a huge global audience… It’s got a great media deal, it’s got great leadership at the top and most importantly a very, very passionate fan base and it’s an excellent business platform.”

TV deals are a large factor when it comes to earning profits.  According to the Tribune, the 20 clubs will split around $2.6 billion in new broadcast deals this season.  John Henry, the Liverpool and Boston Red Sox majority owner, interestingly told The Guardian that he bought the famous soccer club without ever really knowing anything about the game.  They understood the business behind it, recognizing the enticing profits made through these television deals.  In addition, these clubs come at a fraction of the price to other American sports franchises.  Because the Premier League is run in a way of possible relegations, large swings in income can occur if ones team does poorly and is relegated.  Therefore, these teams offer a higher risk and are sold at cheaper prices than in closed leagues.

Furthermore, the globalization of soccer, more specifically the Premier League, has offered these businessmen a way to globalize their brand.  Shahid Khan is the current owner of the NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars and has vowed to bring his team to London for a game in each of the next four seasons.  Additionally, most of the owners also own American sports franchises like the Jaguars or the Boston Red Sox.  These offer them a platform to gain more fans in America for their English teams.  The purchase of an English Premier League teams offers these Americans another outlet to spread their brand all over the world.

This influx in American owners also underlies the growing popularity of soccer in the United States.  An estimated over 24 million Americans are currently playing soccer with another millions and millions watching it every year.  NBC is continuing the trend by paying an estimated $250 million for the rights to air Premier League games in the US.  With the growth of the MLS as a competitively recognized league by the world, soccer interest in the US is becoming more common, and the influx of American owners in the Premier League is another big step.

These owners also seem to be helping the Premier League teams financially by running tighter budgets.  By owning American sports teams, they are often accustomed to limits imposed by the league to limit their spending including salary caps and luxury taxes.  The European governing body of soccer, UEFA, is encouraging teams to have more sustainable budgets, after years of Russian and Arab owners spending millions and millions of dollars for their respective clubs, most notably Roman Abromavich at Chelsea.  American businessman, Stan Kroenke, however, has invested in a business model that brings in over a $20 million operating budget annually, by being frugal with his spending.

With the popularity of soccer growing in the US and the popularity of owning soccer teams growing among rich investors, Americans could become a larger majority of not only the Premier League, but other popular leagues around the world, like the Bundesliga or La Liga.

References:

1) http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/jul/12/fulham-us-takeover-english-football

2) http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/premier-leagues-american-owners-not-2312593

3) http://tribune.com.pk/story/590590/us-owners-buy-in-to-new-era-for-premier-league-finances/

4) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/11/english-premier-league-is-now-an-american-billionaires-paradise.html

5) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1729357-clint-dempsey-may-have-left-the-premier-league-but-the-us-invasion-continues

 

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Nov 08 2013

Profile Image of Natasha Catrakilis

Where’s our La Masia?

A recent article in the The New York Times about “an American boy wonder in Barcelona” caught my eye this morning.  The wonder boy is Ben Lederman, age 13. The Lederman family packed up everything and left their lives, family, and friends in California to move to Barcelona in 2011 when Ben (who was then 11 years old) was invited to train at La Masia, the famed youth academy run by the global soccer juggernaut FC Barcelona, what many would say is the best football club the world has ever seen.

Ben is the first United States-born player invited to train at La Masia, and that distinction, while significant, means little to his overall quest: to work his way up through the Barcelona youth teams and someday, maybe, become the first American to play for Barcelona’s first team.

Ben Lederman

After reading the article, I thought back to a 60 Minutes episode that I watched this summer on CBS – The Super Cartel, Sticker Shock, Barça (while the entire episode is very interesting the part pertaining to this post is clearly the last segment on Barça). In this episode, Bob Simon profiles the Catalonian football club and the training system it built that produces such gifted players that nearly 70% of the current team is manned by its graduates. So it makes sense then why the Lederman family decided to make the life-altering decision to move to Barcelona and give Ben the opportunity of a lifetime. Parents want what’s best for their children, and La Masia is the best.

 

 

It is safe to say then that youth development is a, if not the, key factor to Barça’s success. Perhaps this is something the United States can learn from as we continue in our struggle to build a truly successful soccer league.

 

A fellow classmate of mine (Bryan Silverman) wrote a blog post earlier this semester, “U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.,”  in which he pointed out that

the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer.Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before.

 

So the desire of the youth to play the beautiful game clearly exists in the US, and we obviously have the talent (cough, cough… Ben Lederman). However, most soccer youth academies in the US are simply an extracurricular outlet. Until recent times, the US had nothing like La Masia to nurture our most talented young soccer players, but the MLS has recently launched 19 of its own soccer academies in cities across North America — and they’re modeled on European soccer academies like La Masia. Granted, it takes many years to create the sort of environment, ethos, and reputation that La Masia provides – the program did not just form overnight. La Masia also has the cultural association of being Catalonian – a truly unifying identity, something that, as Barça’s President Sandro Rosell says, is “in their blood.”

 

Many of you reading this are probably thinking that the only reason kids like Ben Lederman go to La Masia is for the hopes of playing for Barça one day. So even if an “American” La Masia was established , which team would those players hope to play for one day? There is no “American” Barça. La Masia is only great because Barça is great.

 

It’s the classic “which came first: the chicken or the egg” question. Which needs to come first: the youth development program or the team? I myself am not sure of the answer in general. But I would say that for Barça specifically, it was the youth program. However if you consider other successful teams around the world, that’s not necessarily the case. Many other clubs owe their success primarily to transfers (and yes, I’m aware that Barça does get some incredible players via transfers, but that makes up a minority of their team).

 

Whether or not the United States is capable of creating teams that rival Barça is not certain, but I do believe that, given the increasing interest and participation of our youth, part of the answer lies within our youth development programs. We are a country that constantly emphasizes the importance of our youth and the fact that they are the hope of our future. In education and the workforce, we strive to give the American youth all the best opportunities. Therefore, the same can be applied to the soccer arena. Perhaps then, families like the Ledermans won’t feel the need to sacrifice a life in the US and move halfway across the world in order to provide “the best” for their children.

 

 

4 responses so far

Oct 08 2013

Profile Image of Natasha Catrakilis

An Uneven Playing Field

I’ve lived in the United States for over ten years now, and yet somehow I still struggle to remember the name of my hometown’s American football team (give me a sec… oh that’s right, Atlanta Falcons – Rise up!). Being a Greek South African (born in SA, but 100% of Greek descent), my sports upbringing was dominated primarily by soccer (with rugby and basketball coming in close second). However, the stop-and-go pace of American football as compared to the rhythmic flow of “the beautiful game” has always deterred me from ever watching more than one full quarter of a game.

I’d be lying if I told you I knew which NFL team won the most recent Super Bowl or who the best quarterback in the league is right now. In fact I’d be lying if I told you I even cared. But there is one thing that I do envy about American football (the NFL in particular), and that’s the fact that, unlike most European soccer leagues, it embraces an even playing field.

I’m a huge fan of the underdog. Ask me which team I want to win in a match and (unless it involves my beloved Olympiakos) I’m almost always rooting for the non-favored team. Perhaps it stems from being both the only daughter and youngest child in a loud, obnoxious Greek family, but there’s something about an unforeseen victory by an underrated opponent that gives me the utmost satisfaction. With all this being said, those of us who are avid European soccer fans know that the chances of an underdog team ever winning a domestic league championship are slim to none.

If we take a look at the champions of both La Liga and the English Premier League since the start of the 21st century, we see both leagues are dominated by less than a handful of teams. Since 2000, Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the two most undoubtedly successful teams in La Liga (with the rare occurrence of Valencia breaking through El Clasico barrier). Real and Barça have won 32 and 22 titles, respectively, since the establishment of La Liga in 19291. In fact, no other club has won the title on more than nine occasions1.

In the EPL, a similar trend can be seen, although it is not quite as strong or as historically rooted.

spanish english

However, if we take a look at the winners of the Super Bowl over the same time frame, we see a trend that falls on the total opposite end of the spectrum. In the last decade, 9 different teams have won the Super Bowl.

super bowl

What constitutes for this stark difference in playing fields? In essence, it is the drastically different economies of the NFL and European soccer.

Firstly, the NFL’s revenue-sharing model is what makes it possible for the sport to survive in any size market across the US. The majority of the league’s revenue comes from TV broadcast deals, and that income, in addition to any revenue made from licensing deals, is shared equally among all teams in the league5.

Secondly, the NFL consistently rewards mediocre franchises with the most talented young prospects through a reverse-order draft2. Any team from any city has the same opportunity to compete, and in order to ensure this, the NFL has created a variety of mechanisms to prevent a free market for talent2.  Player movement and salaries are severely restricted: a rookie draft denies young players the opportunity to have teams bid for their services, a salary cap prohibits teams from spending over a certain amount of money on players, and a franchise tag forces teams to give up two first-round picks to sign each other’s most coveted free agents2.

On the other hand, European soccer leagues are financially fractured. It’s every team for itself, a strikingly capitalistic nature when compared to the NFL.  In La Liga each team has different sponsorship and TV deals, creating a dichotomy between the value of the big-market teams and small-market teams, and there is also no cap when it comes to how much a player is worth6.

This nonrestrictive structure of La Liga allows clubs like Barça and Real to operate on a financially higher level and thus make deals that other clubs could only dream of acquiring. Who could forget this year’s transfer of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £85.3million, making him the most expensive transfer to date3. The fee eclipsed the £80million that Real paid in 2009 for Cristiano Ronaldo, the second most expensive transfer in the league, but still the highest paid player, making approximately $20.5 million a year, while Barça’s star Lionel Messi comes in close behind with an annual salary of around $20 million4.

Basically, there are no limits to how Barcelona and Real Madrid can acquire talent. However, since they have the best players, they also have the most fans. With more fans comes more money, and with more money, they can afford to buy the best players. It’s a never-ending cycle that gives way to an uneven playing field, but we can’t deny that it generates some incredible soccer.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Spanish_football_champions

2. http://www.policymic.com/articles/2087/the-drastically-different-economics-of-the-nfl-and-european-soccer

3. http://www.mirror.co.uk/all-about/gareth%20bale%20transfer

4. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mli45igdi/11-lionel-messi/

5. http://basketball.about.com/od/nba-vs-nbapa/ss/Revenue-Sharing-And-North-Americas-Major-Pro-Sports-Leagues_2.htm

6. http://www.sportsgrid.com/soccer/european-soccer-teams-dominate-top-of-forbes-most-valuable-sports-teams-list/

4 responses so far

Oct 06 2013

Profile Image of Bryan Silverman

U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.

The United States Youth Soccer logo.

A common question that people often ask is, “why has soccer not taken off in the United States the same way that other sports have?” Although there are a variety of hypotheses, ranging from “it just isn’t the style of play that Americans like” to “it isn’t high scoring enough” to “there isn’t a professional league at a high enough level,” I think it is interesting to analyze the disconnect between I see between the high participation in youth soccer and the lack of fandom that exists.

Interestingly enough, the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer. Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before. There are also a growing number of television channels that provide access to both foreign and domestic games to help with the soccer push even further. An interesting number that seems contrary to what we think about fandom in the states is in a poll from ESPN in the Economist, demonstrating soccer is the second-favorite professional sport behind only American football in the United States for Americans ages 12-24. What do these numbers say to me? There is a large constituent of those who play, and perhaps there is a growing number of fans, but why are Americans thought of as not liking soccer, then?

However, I have to ask myself, “why do I love to play the game so much, and enjoy watching it, but would not consider myself an avid fan of the game?” And I think that there are probably numbers that exist about taking either side of this argument, but to me, I love watching sports because of its social nature. Watching the Masters finals on that first or second Sunday in April, sitting down with chips and dip every Sunday to watch American football, or going to Cameron to be a Cameron Crazie with 1,500+ others, soccer seems to fall into a catch-22 situation. I like to watch sports and be a fan because I get to do it with friends and family. But when friends and family don’t enjoy watching, then I don’t end up watching. Will the United States reverse this cycle and become a nation of fans of this beautiful game? Or perhaps we really are in a period of transition where people think the sport might not be big while in reality it has a huge following? Only time will tell.

6 responses so far

Sep 23 2013

Profile Image of Ian Bruckner

Vulgar Chants a Problem for MLS Teams

The Viking Army, a fan group for the New York Red Bulls, one of several MLS team working with fan groups to kick their habit of vulgar chants. Courtesy of nyt.com

When most fans of the beautiful game hear the term “vulgar chants,” they probably conjure images of English hooligans, racism across Europe or any game the United States Men’s team plays in Mexico. However, according to a recent report in the New York Times, vulgarity is becoming entrenched among fan groups at MLS games and teams are struggling to find ways to induce fans to stop. In this article, entitled “M.L.S. Tries to Mute Fans Vulgar Chants,” Andrew Keh details how similar chants involving dirty language have been popping up across the country. One chant in particular, the wording of which is “unprintable” but has the initials “YSA” (I’ll let you figure it out) originated in Europe.

According to Keh, teams including the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake have sent letters to fan groups asking them not to chant profane language. The Red Bulls offered each of its three official fan groups $500 for  for every game in which they improved. Two of those groups accepted the offer, and have since received $4,000 each towards paraphernalia and travel. A spokesman, nicknamed Terror, for the third group, the Garden State Ultras, said that the Ultras do not support the chant but also are uncomfortable with the idea of incentives.

Understandably for a league that is slowly but surely establishing itself, many teams want to create a fun, exciting atmosphere, but one that parents feel comfortable taking their kids to. In some ways, this is a good problem to have. MLS teams used to be desperate for attendance, but now average attendance at an MLS game is higher than that of the NBA and NHL. Therefore, the problem many teams face is that of creating an atmosphere that is safe and fun but also intense. Hopefully, the Red Bulls and other teams are successful in their efforts. I doubt that the use of foul language is the beginning of European-style hooliganism, but Americans are accustomed to a pleasant atmosphere at professional sporting events. The future of soccer in the United States rests on its youth, and if parents are loathe to take their children to games because other fans are yelling profanities, the game’s future popularity may suffer.

3 responses so far

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