Tag Archive 'soccer'

Sep 01 2012

Profile Image of Grant Allard

Why Football is Part of the Creative Economy

Football is part of the creative economy because its value lies in ideas. Typically when we think of football, we tend to think of it as “big business.” Real Madrid made over $695 million in the 2011 fiscal year and the combined net worth of the top five richest clubs for 2011 is over $5 billion. But to put this into perspective, we need to realize that the combined value of the world’s five richest companies is nearly $2 trillion. We can all see that in the grand scheme of things, football financially pales in comparison to other sectors of industry. Yet football is both immensely powerful and popular. In FIFA’s latest Big Count, 270 million people—or four percent of the world’s population—are involved in football in some way. Further, more people watch the World Cup Final than any other single sporting events. This leads us to ask—is football really a business at all?

Football is, at the very least, is a part of the creative economy. According to the New England Foundation for the Arts, the creative economy refers to a sector of the economy that derives its value from producing and distributing “cultural goods and services that impact the economy by generating jobs, revenue, and quality of life.” Linking football to the creative economy likens football to artists, cultural nonprofit organizations, and creative businesses. This means that we can liken footballers to actors, dancers, sculptors, painters, educators, and other job paths associated with enriching society with a vibrant culture.
We can find evidence for thinking about football as generating the product of culture by looking at a few examples. First and most notably, many countries’ politics are linked to football. The best exemplar in the last decade is Silvio Berlusconi. He made his rise to prominence in football with his involvement in AC Milan’s top administration. After all, he named his political party after a football chant—Forza Italia!

I argue that football is part of this creative economy because it produces and distributes cultural goods that directly impact quality of life and the connections between people. We first must take up the fact that football impacts the quality of people’s lives because this will lead us to understand the way that it creates jobs.
Soccer impacts the quality of life because the experience connects us with others and allows us to escape the pain, troubles, and hurt that we experience in our daily lives. Jordi Royo, a psychologist at the Palliative Care Unit and Home Care Team at the Fundacio Hospital Sant Jaume y Santa Magdalena in Mataró, Spain, demonstrated in a poster that cancer patients’ symptoms were lessened or alleviated while watching soccer matches. But we don’t need to be cancer patients to understand how soccer shapes our views toward life.
A soccer game is a performance. The players are actors in a drama whose laws govern play but do not predetermine it. The spectators come from different perspectives on the world to share the game. We typically think of soccer as being played in blue-collar, industrial cities, whose workforce turns out to support the local team; yet, (as Pelada would remind us) soccer is also played in schools, in jails, and by construction workers. And now, more than ever, soccer is a global game that brings together not only working class laborers in industrial centers but also white-collar workers from cultural centers such as Barcelona, Milan, Munich, and Liverpool. In this way, soccer becomes a cultural institution that defines our own identity.
The cultural centers I mentioned above were large industrial centers before they were cultural centers with outstanding soccer clubs. Kuper and Szymanski, authors of the book Soccernomics, point out that the aforementioned cities were industrial towns during the early development of the sport. These industrial cities have become cultural centers because they forged an identity from their soccer teams. Where capital cities focused on the standard cultural products such as fine arts, museums, government institutions, and business headquarters that come along with being a capital, these industrial cities defined themselves by their soccer clubs because it was a comparison point between cities

Hooliganism would seem to be a phenomenon that threatens the nexus between people because it pits city, ethnic, and class identities against each other in a violent way. Hooliganism though is universally derided as a major problem for the game. It is something that nearly anyone can recognize. Thus hooliganism is a structure—that even though it pits people against each other—is part of the common shared language that surrounds soccer. Hooliganism is a problem because it is a disjunction between seeing the big picture and hyper-focusing on certain particulars. The hooligan focuses on the fact that other fans belong to a certain group-identity that supports an opposing team and thus must themselves be bad. He loses his ability to see the contextual picture of how violence destroys his connection to the world because of the intoxication that he feels when connecting to a few radicals. As the hooligan focuses on his own identity, he loses sight of the sport and its creative power.

Soccer is a creative enterprise that connects people across political, geographic, and temporal boundaries. It is creative both because of the “product” the players produce on the field, but also because of the “products” the fans make, such as fan tributes, blogs, and cultural memes (chants, songs, fan clubs, etc.). Soccer contributes to humanity because it allows people to create new ideas and cultural institutions. Soccer then is part of the creative economy, because it emphasizes our humanity. And while some people become exorbitantly rich, the majority of people involved in football seek to create experience within a domain that underlines our connections to one another as human beings.

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Jul 09 2010

Profile Image of Joaquin Bueno

Univision, Latino (Dis)Unity, and the World Cup

The Bouncing Babes of Univision

The Bouncing Babes of Univision

In this past month of World Cup football, I have seen my facebook stream lit up by “friends” claiming that they are loving to watch coverage in Spanish. In many cases, these friends speak Spanish as a second language; I even have friends who don’t speak Spanish well at all, yet watch the Spanish coverage because they claim it is more dramatic.

It always strikes me that American football/soccer fans always seem to be drawn in by the aura of American Spanish-language channel coverage of the sport.

The perspective of this type of fan looks down upon the English-speaking coverage one finds in the USA. Typically, the formula goes as follows: a dry, serious, and knowledgeable British announcer, plus one American with some (often tenuous) connection to the world of soccer.

The formula has varied slightly over the years, though in 2010, ESPN has stuck faithfully to it, adding in color commentary in the postgame, pregame, and halftime slots. This year, the coverage has been particularly good, featuring analysis from such legends of football as Steve McManaman and Jürgen Klinsman, and some current figures such as Wigan coach Roberto Martínez.

While I am occasionally annoyed by the (virtually inevitable) stream of stereotyping, clichés, and general lack of knowledge of the commentators (Alexi Lalas is often guilty of this, in my opinion), I am overall pleased with how far football coverage has come in the US since I was younger.

When I was little (we are talking up to the mid-90’s), it was literally impossible to watch many tournaments such as the Copa América, the European Nations’ Cup, or the Champions’ League. By the time I was a teenager, we were luck to live near a bar in Arlington, Virginia named Summer’s that had a ridiculously expensive satellite system (one of only two in the nation, they claimed). There we were able to watch Euro ’96 and many other contests, surrounded by a packed restaurant full of fanatics in their team colors.

With the steady growth of Spanish-language television in the USA, soccer became more and more present. At the beginning, the Spanish-language commentary seemed infused with a true sense of passion enhanced by the novelty of it. Not that the sport was new to the audience, but rather that the means of communicating it was new (a Spanish-language channel in an English-speaking country) and the audience was increasingly new.

These early commentators were best represented by the legendary (and aptly-named) Andrés Cantor (we could call him Singing Andrew), whose extraordinarily long “GoooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOooooool” cry became legend, especially in contrast to the dry “gringo” commentating on the ’94 World Cup. Cantor became symbolic of the “Latin passion” for football, though by 1998 he appeared to me as a caricature of himself, the kind that might sing an opera for the most meaningless goals and appear clownishly disconnected from the drama of the game.

This World Cup, I have been watching much of Univisión, mostly because I get the best digital cable signal from their channel to record matches. Regrettably, I find the commentary to be much like this clownified version of the original Cantor: theatrically-inclined blathering that often does more to distract than it does to enhance the match.

What’s more, this year’s coverage features the illustrious José Luis Chilavert, no stranger to violence and controversy in his day. The instigator of many an on-field brawl, his commentating has been along similar lines.

Among other things, he has slandered not only referees, but the nations they come from–his verbal assault against Guatemalan Carlos Batres was an insult to the entire national of Guatemala, as he dismissed their referee as a disgrace to the game, claiming he does not even come from a place that knows a thing about soccer.

In another rant, the Paraguayan went on a stunning (and unexpected) tirade justifying one of his other famous incidents, in which he doused Brazilian fullback Roberto Carlos with a generous spray of his phlegm. “Chila” claimed that Roberto Carlos had called him an indio (an Indian, ie. indigenous American) after the win, “as if he were a blond-haired, blue-eyed German.” The surprising explanation from the Paraguayan seems to reveal a certain disdain for Roberto Carlos’s own racial “composition,” insinuating that the fact that the Brazilian is of a “lower” race would make it more contemptible to insult his own race.

This is not to justify Roberto Carlos’s provocation, but considering that indio is a word tossed around pickup games like a water bottle where I play (mostly with Mexican and Central American immigrant players), the response of Chilavert is telling regarding the idea that the Spanish-speaking world is somehow magically united. Ironically, the same commentator, talking about the possibility of a Spain-Holland final, voiced his attitude towards Spain: “I was in Spain for a few years as a player, and all I can say is that the Spanish treat Latin American players badly… they are all racist.” Moments before, his co-commentators had said they were going for Spain, being the last Spanish-speaking country in the tournament.

We could immediately pounce on the sublime ignorance of his statement–not that there is no racism in Spain; we could certainly find examples of racism anywhere in the world. There is the obvious mistake of turning racism around and perpetuating it: to that tune, many of the Univisión forums feature posts from Latin Americans who are defending the Spanish based on their experiences there.

Even more, we could speak about how, in voicing his support for Holland, Chilavert is utterly unaware of their own very “rich” history of colonialism. Even in football terms, Holland have always had great black players, yet even in the national team racial division has been fingered as a principal reason for their failures–in the past, such great players as the mythical Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids have spoken about tensions divided along “color” lines. Let’s not even get into Holland’s own sociopolitical issues with racism. And that’s not to mention that word Apartheid, a direct result of Dutch colonialism and institutionalized racism that so disgracefully defined 20th century South Africa. Perhaps Chilavert would do to lift his head from out of his book of rage.

More importantly, the presence of such a quasi-populist character as Chilavert truly is can be traced to the network’s idea of finding some idyllic “Latino” medium to appeal to its supposedly unified audience. Take the character of Chilavert, long outspoken figure of footballing counter-culture, self-proclaimed defender of the oppressed football nations, and herald him as a symbol of “nuestro fútbol.” Step one in upholstering an already loosely-defined identity.

The next step in the formula which has most gotten my attention has been the peddling of sexual ideals via the Univisión World Cup coverage.  Some of it is “universal”, ie, the constant shots of ostensibly attractive women in the crowd, which we could counter with the obvious: endless shots of ostensibly attractive “alpha males” (how many close-ups of every Cristiano Ronaldo expressions are there in comparison to the trademark grimaces of Carles Puyol). These kinds of things are, of course, a part of global marketing culture, not unique to the network.

Of more interest (or concern?) is the exclusive coverage that Univisión provides a myriad of scantily clad (usually in short shorts and cutoff team shirts), skinny, large-busted women, whose only job appears to be bouncing up and down and wiggling while screaming meaningless cheers without ever trying to say anything intelligible. Without fail, this comes before, after, and during every game.

For a channel that purports to be a voice for all Spanish-speakers (all of their award shows use the word Nuestro/a in some way, implying that this is our, the viewers’ award), I am quickly alienated by this “coverage” of the sport that I love. It is not to say that the women are unattractive, or repulsive, or even necessarily degrading themselves by bouncing during the World Cup on Univisión.

It is more a sense of alienation of message. Am I supposed to be, in some way, turned on by these women? Should I revel in their self-expression, their liberation from loose-fitting clothing (not to mention the incessant jumping)? Should I, as a Spanish speaker, or Hispanic, or Latino, be jumping up and down with them, joining in their fake fútbol-joy Or am I too uptight to enjoy “quality entertainment?”

In the end, I can only conclude that such coverage of soccer, coming from such a channel, can only be for those who may less the true fans, and more those who are looking for an identity represented by Chilavert, by the pantomime blathering of the announcers, by the bouncing women, by the feeling that this is ours and not theirs (they, I supposed, are the non Spanish-speaking other). I realize I am not one of them, and find myself regretting that I do not have a more comprehensive cable package; my inner self begs me as I watch the World Cup: ¡en inglés, por favor, por Dios!

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Jan 19 2010

Profile Image of Joaquin Bueno

War and reprieve for British fans (and Liberals): Price drops in TV soccer on the horizon

The British media was reporting on Sunday (here, and here for example) that fans will be paying less to watch their games at home next season.

The news comes after Ofcom, the regulatory body of the British government, announced measures forcing the TV giant Sky to lower prices perceived as threatening competition. Sky hold a veritable monopoly on football and cricket broadcasting rights; the move by Ofcom would force them to sell significantly cheaper to rival companies. The immediate effect, it is hoped, would be to drastically slash the cost of football and cricket coverage by £10, roughly 40 percent of the actual price for that variety of television programming. The two main rivals of Sky, Virgin and BT, are expected to start a bidding war to lure potentially hundreds of thousands of viewers from Sky.

The news is not without intrigue: Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky are major supporters of the British Conservative Party, currently the opposition party in England. The Conservatives hold power in many areas of British governance, and Ofcom is one of them. This places party leader David Cameron in the unenviable position of upsetting an important contributor to their political success by upholding a ruling in their detriment–it would be unprecedented to overturn the ruling (Sky is naturally expected to file as many legal appeals as possible) and could cause the party major political damage.

While the immediate effect of this would be to take less from the armchair fanatic, what does this say about the political implications of the sport? What we mean is not to measure the political “power” of a sport (for example, to enact social change or revolt), but rather to see it as a “liberal” phenomenon.

When such a sport is spread out into the world at the feet of colonizing industrialists, it comes as little surprise. From River Plate to Athletic Club, all the way to the Marinos of Yokohama or the Super Eagles of Nigeria, there are reminders of the ease with which the sport was globalized, slotting seamlessly into the cultural consciousness of many a distant place. While the original Cambridge rules have gradually been altered here and there, the idea, we like to believe, has been constant. Naturally, there have always been ball-kicking games all over the planet, but soccer as such is a phenomenon of a different world order than, say, the Aztec ullamaliztli or the Chinese Cuju.

Indeed, soccer (and here I am being deliberate with the term to distinguish it from football, whose meaning has to do with any ball-foot game) has become the global king of sports in much the same way that Coca-Cola became a drink of choice. Like Coca-Cola, soccer is better or worse depending on where you are and your tastes. You might find yourself sipping a delicious Coca-Cola in Mexico (made with real cane sugar, of course) yet not enjoy the pace of Mexican football. Similarly, you could be in England and damning the contemptibly oversweet Coke, yet being distracted from it by what you find to be a thrilling encounter in the Premier League in the dingy pub that you are sitting in.

While the smoke is coming out of Rupert Murdoch’s ears, many a British fan will sit down and drink a Coca-Cola before watching one of their freshly discounted football matches from the comfort of their well-molded sofa, knowing that the can of Coke is all the more affordable. Why not go for the two-liter next game? Invite a friend, buy some associated products like Tostitos or some sort of crisp, etcetera. Make sure to do it in your official team kit (last year’s won’t do, everybody knows you can get those for pennies in the bargains bin once the new one is introduced), and so forth.

Yet, we cannot underscore the symbolic value of the sport. While we can see it as a source of economic exploitation, we can also see it as something that is served, even created simultaneously by the consumer-spectator. Are we to believe that the world is nothing but Homer Simpsons and Peter Griffins lining up to give away their money and their freedoms? Yet would such characters be funny if there were no truth in them? We identify with them as we do with CR7 breaking out a new muscle-pose or Messi scoring a Maradona-goal every so often. And the truly buffoonish nature of our desire is revealed.

In the case of David Cameron (sorry, soccer fans, no relation to Avatar), he is balanced in a position that reveals this dialectical nature of the soccer phenomenon. On the one hand, refuse to stick your neck out for a very wealthy and powerful supporter in Murdoch. On the other, you fear the reprisals of a multitude that you can never quite trust to be completely complacent.

While in some cases soccer has been a protagonist in military wars (as in El Salvador, Algeria, Angola, or even in the hard-hitting hooligan era of 80’s England), the news today is about a bidding war. The hostilities are between large media conglomerates jostling for size in, as the cliché goes, “an increasing global world.” The interventions of a Liberal institution to offer a minimum degree of protection to the constituents of government.

What is most clear though, is the hope that watching English football becomes easier for those of us who have less important addictions. Is this the dawn of the era of a new Fandom-political citizenship?

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