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Futbol? Oh, You Mean Soccer? Why Americans Don't Care For the Beautiful Game and What This Means Politically

(Wordcount: 1,102; Pages: 3) "They're out! They're out!" So it came to be that I learned of Brazil's defeat in the 2006
Fifa World Cup from a hyper-enthusiastic worker at an electronics store. His frantically delivered news, compounded by a rush of energy that zipped him across the sales floor and bounced him between floors in seconds, were humorously ignored by unperturbed New York shoppers, but to him and I, signaled a titanic shift in the state of global affairs. Brazil was the favorite to win its 6th World Cup and uphold 24 years of tradition. It had the most brilliant players, whose president, Lula, defended in major news conferences; the best coaches (other countries nationalized Brazilians just to coach their teams); and it was the most experienced team, with most players playing in their 2nd Cup (a major accomplishment considering the World Cup is every 4 years). But at 4pm, Saturday, July 1st, they lost to their arch-nemesis, France, in what was billed as a poorly played game by the Brazilians. Grown men cried this day.

France, of course, celebrated. To them, and the 5 billion humans who passionately follow this sport, the French are heroes of a mythic caliber. To the U.S.'s 290 or so million people who couldn't care less for the sport, they would care even less to learn that those lazy, anti-war Socialists, after which our deep-fried, fast-food potato sticks are named, won it.

It's been said that America is a country without a name. As the descriptive name implies, the United States of America is nothing more than a bunch of states unified by a government, but each town, city, county, and state all have their own rights independent of the federal government. The system is so ingrained, (nameless amalgam of named states), that most Americans associate names with states, and thus, many aren't even aware that whole countries, despite being named like a state, indeed have states, too, rather than being just one big amalgam under one name. What's more, many Western Hemisphere'rs begrudge that America appropriated a title ("American") that technically belongs to them, too. It's not uncommon for the average United States'er to associate themselves with their community, but rarely their state or even country on an ongoing basis. Elections, wars, and other major disasters occasionally bring the country into solidarity, but rarely does it last for more than a couple of weeks and never indefinitely.

Thus, is it any wonder the most national of global sports, futbol, hasn't caught on in the U.S.? It doesn't have to do with American unwillingness to like a sport not theirs, nor game logistics such as few scoring and few breaks, but, in our opinion, their inability to identify with a country team. The American Olympic teams don't work (in terms of national interest); the World Series doesn't work. And they don't work because American audiences don't associate with unfamiliar teams, they associate with individual players and coaches they know for some personal reason.

It's no secret the powerful grasp of communities and neighborhoods on the history of the U.S. Millions of immigrants who passed through Golden Gate, Ellis Island, or the Mexican border for their own personal reasons found camaraderie solely among their own "kind", which bred neighborhoods predominantly occupied by specific ethnic groups (which last today). Each group had aspirations and cheered during occasions of national importance when one of their own achieved that aspiration. Italians had Rocky; Irish had Kennedy; Puerto Ricans have Daddy Yankee; and Dominicans, Sammy Sosa. And all these achievers hold the exact same high status among their kind (which presents the unexpected phenomenon that one man's White House is another man's concert stage, baseball diamond, or boxing ring; understand that and you'll understand irrational behavior.)

Economic, religious, and political ties, shared by entire geographic regions in other parts of the world and thus bringing those regions together, have much less influence geographically in the U.S. Besides the obvious - geographically, the U.S. is big, and before (and even after) quick and cheap transportation became available, many were born and died in the same place - early immigrants also had differing perspectives on family sizes, particularly in light of the economic realities of poor families raising large families. (Today, big families are trumped by delay; people are just starting later.) As a result, families remain(ed) relatively small and household-income-based, limiting their influence in the community. Economic aspirations of first-generation American youth were further influenced by the success of the local rich guy, who came about his wealth questionably; religious beliefs where ethnic and flexible enough for someone to ultimately choose not to live religiously without severe cultural repercussions; and politics evolved into a purely relationship-based form of elective government, that ironically permits, with enough time, to actually represent all peoples.

Why is Futbol beautiful? Its rules are simple and absolute, respected by all for their fairness; it's truly democratic for its ability to permit anyone - regardless of economic status - to participate; and it's the quickest way to resolve even the most sticky differences between two sides. For example, two fouls, received for anything from touching the ball to punching another player, can get a player disqualified for the next game. An expulsion during a game prohibits an immediate replacement on an 11-player team. Thus, players are incentivized to not get fouls or expelled. American preferences for loop holes and second chances, something permitted by virtually every American sport, make adoption of futbol a cultural challenge for owners, leagues, and players. The rules of futbol are very nearly a form of democratic government; the rules of American sports are very nearly a dictatorship. Not surprisingly, American sports rules emulate the American legal system.

Oh, and playing one major game every four years is too un-capitalistic. With the notoriously short American attention span, waiting a whole year for a Super Bowl presents too much of a challenge in itself; waiting four years is practically impossible; even presidential elections don't yield 100% turnout. This essentially means that futbol players with global audiences numbering in the billions are told that their audiences aren't worth nearly as much as the relatively miniscule American fanbase of tens of millions of distinctly American sports.

And it's not just financially; a friend watching the June 17th game against Italy said that if the U.S. won this Word Cup, it would change everything, to which this author casually responded: "Not really, [because] the only people who care can't vote." Of course, this statement is not accurate, but it succinctly captures the importance the whole U.S. places on this "beautiful game", despite its social significance.

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., an innovative strategy consulting firm advising leaders on the impact of human behavior on their strategies and on how to change their organizations to address the behavior. Write to Consumer Strategies Report at editor @ alberrios.com.


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