Monday, June 29, 2009

6/30/09: Why I Hope Soccer In America Always Stays A Competent and Financially Stable Backwater


I would like to take this moment to thank Jim Rome, Skip Bayless, and the average American who cannot seem to grasp their tiny heads around the passion and fanaticism of soccer. Thanks to them I spend $7 bucks on each season ticket. Thanks to the negative stigma placed on the game by them the sport is far from a corporate moneymaking superpower. That's how I like it because if soccer was ever to become a colussus in America the sport would be taken over by rich families and ticket owners, by tons of corporate sponsors, commercials, etc. And, as a result season tickets would cost me well over $1,500 dollars as in the NFL or college football, or in the English premiership. Then instead of enjoying 23 professional games last season home and away, I would be lucky to save up enough money to go to one or two. And, also as a result, passionate chanting fans that apperciate the value of noise as above would be replaced by robotic fans that only clapped but had much deeper purses. So, thank you! Hopefully, this is the last time programs like First Take discuss soccer, as they cannot seem to fathom stoppage time but are fine with 27 NFL commercial breaks. And, hopefully this is the last time they have poll questions about whether soccer will ever matter to Americans, when thousands upon thousands of Americans go to games with similiar passion in the images above; in Columbus, Houston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake, just to name a few. Further, Seattle's team averages 29,000 a game, while Toronto averages 20,000 a game. Many other teams are above 15,000 and close to 20,000 a game. Also, thousands upon thousands of fans hit up message boards. And, the increasingly booming hispanic community in America are big fans of soccer and fill up any American NFL or college stadium like it's nothing when Mexico plays. But, all these groups of people don't matter because they don't fit the stereotypical extremely rich, white businessman club of steak eating, kickball or Lebron James dribbling loving Americans. All the soccer loving groups above are different and that's scary. And, as long as the rest of America is oblivious to the growing passion and numbers of soccer fans, they allow a passionate fan base to get the tickets and for soccer to grow in America in a way that makes me happy at least, as a competent and finacially stable and extremely affordable backwater.

Why I Hope Soccer In America Always Stays A Competent and Financially Stable Backwater

A full season ticket home package(15 games) for a college student in the Nordecke (the rowdy supporters area at Columbus Crew Stadium)= $118 dollars. $118 dollars divided by 15 games equals $7.86 cents per game. One of the perks of going to grad school on my checklist was that I could still claim to be a college student bringing down my season ticket Nordecke costs from around $180 to $118 dollars.

Decent Ohio State Buckeye's college football season tickets on stub hub go for $1,047 to $1,404 for seven home games!

Pittsburgh Steelers professional football season tickets in the upper deck can be captured for an average of around $1,500 on Stub Hub for around 8 games!

My one free complimentary ticket for a Blue Jackets hockey game in seating probably worse than the Nordecke was $75 bucks! For one game of hockey against the Edmonton Oilers in a game that the Blue Jackets lost 7-2! I was really glad it was free. I don't even want to look up what a whole year costs, as that one hockey game was apparently worth more than 11 games in the Nordecke. Even though the hockey game didn't have anywhere close to the passion, intensity, and chanting that I was used to as a soccer fan.

Moreover, prices for other sports are over inflated if you consider the whole event and the atmosphere that goes with it. Being a Cleveland fan and going to a few Browns football games including one at Heinz Field, going to a OSU football game, going to Indians baseball games, going to a Pirates baseball game, a Blue Jackets hockey game, nothing has compared to watching the Crew soccer team play in front of the Nordecke. Yes, I had some enjoyable experiences with other sports such as watching the Browns beat the Patriots in the AFC playoffs as a 9 year old with my dad(minus some robber breaking into our car during the game leading to a cold 2 hour ride home). Or watching the Browns beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2003 with my dad. Or watching, with my college roommate who is a big Indians fan, as the Indians pummeled the Red Sox's two playoffs ago to gain a 3-1 series lead before they acted like a Cleveland team. Or watching for many games in the late 90's and early 2000's as Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome slugged homers during the golden days with my family at the Jake. And, I have also witnessed some downright sad experiences like watching the last Browns game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium against the Bengals at 11. That was my first experience with smoke bombs and cherry bombs until the Nordecke, where smoke bombs are commonplace.

However, none of those moments, although some of them great and special to be a part of, matched live the experience of the Crew vs. Chicago Eastern Conference Semifinal match (a video from that game with some actual passion foreign to most American sporting events, sure fans in other sports cheer but not to the point of absolute insanity, better yet check out all the related videos as well). Or matched the times when we outchanted or showed up a rival. Or matched chanting with the players together as we gained the Supporters Shield for the first time(awarded to the team that wins the regular season). Or matched drinking beer out of the Trillum Cup with fellow supporters when we beat increasingly annoying TFC. Or matched the drunken euphoria of watching the Crew win the MLS Cup. Or matched the tifo two stick banner display we put up against Toronto this year at home. Or matched following a season religiously from the same seat for mere dollars and actually being able to afford to follow a team for 18 or so home games with playoffs and Open Cup and five away games. Yes, I went to 23 Crew games in 2008. Did a little less than that for extremely affordable prices since 2004 when I drove all the way from Pennsylvania for games and each year turned into more of a diehard. On the other hand, the average college football fan or NFL fan will shell out the same money I spent this last year, for one game a year if that, compared to my 23 live games. Only the successful can afford to go to many more.

And, to be honest, if I had to pay $75 bucks once a year to watch any team, I would watch the Crew. To get it for $7.86 cents feels like highway robbery. If they lose by a lot I'm out $7 bucks, if they thump a rival I'm on top of the world for something I would have paid much more for if I could afford it.

It's can't lose economics, especially with this country going through a fiscal downturn many can't afford anything but soccer (being a part of the poor 20 something community I can attest to that). It is definitely the sport for the poor and thrifty in this country; and, possibly the economically smart. It's also the sport that I have discovered the most passion in as soccer hasn't been overally commercialized and the fans are just fanatical and in it like nothing else. I also believe that soccer is the most entertaining sport I have watched, especially live. Further, soccer builds up a community atmosphere in the supporters corner I call home, called the Nordecke. I probably know personally 500 or so of the 2,000 plus faces that call the Nordecke their home every week.

For most of those people a game isn't just a game, it's an event that takes up the whole day. If you're really a fanatical the game can take up the nights leading up to the contest as well(making banners in your apartment or basement, trash talking online against a rival, making away trip plans for yourself and fellow supporters). Saturday's, once they roll around, are a community experience starting at 3 or 4 p.m. at Ruby's or Claddagh's or the tailgate for a 7:30 game, back to the bar afterwards, and concluding when you're stumbling home at around midnight. The total food and beer costs for the day will never surmount $10-20 bucks for getting absolutely hammered and watching your team pull out another victory. Some weeks like this previous week against New York started at 9:30 a.m. at Crew Stadium on Saturday playing in the Corporate Cup for Claddagh's Irish Pub until 5:00(getting second place surprisingly I might add), heading to Ruby's for some pints around 5:30, going to the game at 7:00, going back to Ruby's from 9 p.m. til 1 a.m., then seeing all the same people Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at a packed Claddagh's to watch USA vs. Brazil.

You know how much I spent on Saturday and Sunday for this entertainment? $15 bucks. If I go out to Brothers or any other Columbus chain bar on a Friday or Saturday night, without any game or real entertainment other than Lady Gaga music and the occasional girl that wants to dance, I spend $20 bucks for four beers in a span of three hours and I go home usually disappointed and sober.

And, it's not only the home games that are a riot. I'm hitting up my second away match this season, 7th or 8th total on July 11th. Nothing beats an away match. A bus ride to Chicago and back on the supporters bus, a ticket, a meal, a little free beer, and a free floor to crash on thanks to two gracious offers for a total combined of $55 bucks. Spending a night in Chicago for $55 bucks while watching my team play against a rival and getting some food and beer as well, does it get better than that?! An added bonus is if we can outchant the Chicago fans again in their place and come home with a victory. Anyways, most people couldn't even get a room alone in Chicago for $80 or $90 bucks. Watching an OSU or Blue Jackets game here will either cost you $150-200 and $75 bucks respectively. I'm getting all the amenities, albeit a floor and a pillow but nothing a 23 year old can't handle, plus I get to tour Chicago for $55 bucks.

Yes, so I hope that Major League Soccer stays just like this and stays a little stable backwater in this country. I hope that commentators like Skip Bayless continue to have a hard time fathoming stoppage time and continue to drool over the NBA draft. It would almost be better if they didn't mention soccer. In the world of Jim Rome and the average American, devoted soccer forums containing thousands upon thousands of supporters on bigsoccer and many other supporters forums like section8, redpatchboys, etc. don't exist. And, that's just how I like it. It's almost better if they didn't understand the passion of soccer(below), because they are keeping it affordable for me and other poor to middle class 20 something nothings that absolutely love this sport like me.



They are also allowing an atmosphere that has been shut off in England and in most big American sports to keep flowing. I feel if soccer becomes a big money maker someday in America, that the passionate and sometimes trouble ridden(although their passion trumps the few problems) fans will go and be replaced with happy families that clap alot. As you see mostly nowadays at baseball, basketball, or football stadiums. I feel that what happened in England is about 10-20 years down the road sadly for Major League Soccer. Here it is highlighted in,

A chapter called Graduation Day from the 1992 Nick Hornby book Fever Pitch. You can find this scenerio in many other books as well, but I thought this was a poignant example. It also sort of reminded me of the tepid battles over swearing that have been brewing between the Nordecke and regular Crew fans:

An hour before the kick-off the view from my spot was spectacular. No corner of the pitch was obscured, and even the far goal, which I had imagined would look tiny, was quite clear. By three o'clock, however, I could see a little strip of the pitch, a narrow grass tunnel running from the near penalty area to the touchline at the far end. The corner flags had disappeared entirely, and the goal beneath me was visible only if I jumped at the crucial moment. Whenever there was a near-miss at our end, the crowd tumbled forward; I was forced seven or eight steps down the terracing and, when I looked round, the carrier bag containing my programme and my Daily Express that I had placed at my feet seemed miles away, like a towel on the beach when you're in a rough sea. I did see the one goal of the game, a George Graham volley from about twenty-five yards, but only because it was scored at the Clock End.

I loved it there, of course. I loved the different categories of noise: the formal, ritual noise when the players emerged (each player's name called in turn, starting with the favourite, until he responded with a wave); the spontaneous shapeless road when something exciting was happening on the pitch; the renewed vigour of the chanting after a goal or a sustained period of attacking. (And even here, among younger, less alienated men, that football grumble when things were going badly.) After my initial alarm I grew to love the movement, the way I was thrown towards the pitch and sucked back again. And I loved the anonymity: I was not, after all, going to be found out. I stayed for seventeen years.

There is no North Bank now. The Taylor Report recommended that, post-Hillsborough, football stadia should become all-seater, and the football clubs have all decided to act on that recommendation. In March 1973, I was among a crowd of sixty-three thousand at Highbury for an FA Cup replay against Chelsea; crowds of that size are no longer possible, at Highbury or in any other English stadium apart from Wembley. Even in 1988, the year before Hillsborough, Arsenal had two crowds of fifty-five thousand in the same week, and the second of them, the Littlewoods Cup semi-final against Everton, now looks like the last of the sort of game that comes to represent the football experience in the memory: floodlights, driving rain and an enormous, rolling roar throughout the match. So, yes, of course it is sad; football crowds may yet be able to create a new environment that electrifies, but they will never be able to recreate the old one which required vast numbers and a context in which those numbers could form themselves into one huge reactive body.

Even sadder, though, is the way that Arsenal have chosen to redevelop the stadium. It cost me 25p to watch the Ipswich match; the Arsenal Bond scheme means that from September 1993 entry to the North Bank will cost a minimum 1100 pounds plus the price of a ticket, and, even allowing for inflation, that sounds a bit steep to me. A debenture plan makes sound financial sense for the club, but it is inconceivable that football at Highbury will ever be the same again.

The big clubs seem to have tired of their fan-base, and in a way who can blame them? Young working-class and lower-middle-class males bring with them a complicated and occasionally distressing set of problems; directors and chairmen might argue that they had their chance and blew it, and that middle class families - the new target audience - will not only behave themselves, but pay much more to do so.

This argument ignores central questions about responsibility, fairness, and whether football clubs have a role to play in the local community. But even without these problems, it seems to be that there is a fatal flaw in the reasoning. Part of the pleasure to be had in large football stadia is a mixture of the vicarious and the parasitical, because unless one stands on the North Bank, or the Kop, or the Stretford End, then one is relying on others to provide the atmosphere; and atmosphere is one of the crucial ingredients of the football experience. These huge ends are as vital to the clubs as their players, not only because their inhabitants are vocal in their support, not just because they provide clubs with large sums of money (although these are not unimportant factors) but because without them nobody else would bother coming.

Arsenal and Manchester United and the rest are under the impression that people pay to watch Paul Merson and Ryan Giggs, and of course they do. But many of them - the people in the twenty pound seats, and the guys in the executive boxes - also pay to watch people watching Paul Merson (or to listen to people shouting at him). Who would buy an executive box if the stadium were filled with executives? The club sold the boxes on the understanding that the atmosphere came free, and so the North Bank generated as much income as any of the players ever did. Who'll make the noise now? Will the suburban middle-class kids and their mums and dads still come if they have to generate it themselves? Or will they feel that they have been conned? Because in effect the clubs have sold them tickets to a show in which the principal attraction has been moved to make room for them.

One more thing about the kind of audience that football has decided it wants: the clubs have got to make sure that they're good, that there aren't any lean years, because the new crowd won't tolerate failure. These are not the sort of people who will come to watch you play Wimbledon in March when you're eleventh in the First Division and out of all the Cup competitions. Why should they? They've got plenty of other things to do. So, Arsenal... no more seventeen-year losing streaks, like the one between 1953 and 1970, right? No flirting with relegation, like in 1975 and 1976, or the odd half-decade where you don't even get to a final, like we had between 1981 and 1987. We mug punters put up with that, and at least twenty thousand of us would turn up no matter how bad you were (and sometimes you were very, very bad indeed); but this new lot
... I'm not so sure.


My thoughts are: As soon as Major League Soccer becomes a money making league like the NFL or the Premiership and garners the attention of all the news media then that passion will go. The chanting and the passionate supporters sections of standing fans will no longer be needed and will be replaced by families and etc. willing to pay more. Because these passionate-less fans are less likely to create the once a year unfavorable headline of bottle throwing or obscenities or what have you because the whole thing means less to them. They do not have a symbiotic relationship with the team, they haven't attached themselves and most of their hopes to the hip of brillant players like Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Further, if MLS becomes a money making machine instead of being just stable and if I want to continue to watch on gameday with the Columbus Crew, I better hope to have a nice job someday so I can lay down the $1,000 to $2,000 dollars annually to be a real fan at every game similiar to other USA big time sports.

I just don't get why American soccer fans complain about their status in America right now? We have it perfect. I'm paying $7 bucks per ticket, to watch a highly talented and competitive team week in and week out, I get to chant, I get to drink cheaply, I get to be creative and make banners, I get to make friends and socialize. It's a total cheap ass fun release from the mundanities of normal life.

But, I can tell you if American soccer went up in price like the other sports. My passionate behind would be watching at home replaced by some boorish family. So, please, American media and Americans in general, don't give soccer the credit it deserves. Continue to be soccer dunces, I'm fine with that. I'm totally happy with the current status quo of American soccer and the idioicy of a few in the American sports media. You make my sports enjoyment cheap as hell.

8 comments:

  1. Ryan, great passionate article.... if I was you, I'd clean it up a bit and send this out for editorials...it's truly a well written piece of work.

    -Mabe

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  2. Any chance you have a link to the video of skip discussing soccer? I'm in the mood to punch my computer screen.

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  3. Ryan:

    I agree with you and the need to keep this underground. My son and I stayed with La Turbina until midnight after Saturday's game. Eating food, playing soccer, dancing and socializing. Not something you see after a Blue Jacket or Reds game. We do have to guard against those that will use a tragedy like Hillsborough or mindless acts of violence as a reason to take this away from us. In the end, corporate and media America will find our game to be unworthy of their attempts to commercialize and exploit the game. It is up to us to enjoy the game, create the passion, celebrate with the boys but continue to guard against a "Hillsborough like" tragedy that will take the Nordecke away from us.

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  4. AMEN!!!! The thing that always bothers me the most is when people say they don't like soccer and when I ask have they ever watched or even been to a game it's always "No, it's not for me" How do you know it's not for you if you don't even give it a chance. Since watching soccer, I can't even watch American Football anymore, the speed is so slow and there are way too many breaks! But I agree with you on the low key part. It's awesome spending $200+ on season tickets!!!

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  5. Thanks guys for the comments.

    I just had to laugh when I listened to Skip Bayless and other sports commentators complain about soccer(I'll try to find the clip) and how no Americans will ever get it, after USA almost thumped another soccer power for the second time in four days! And, I watched the Brazil game in a packed Claddagh's with about 1,000 other average Americans, having to strain my neck to get a view.

    I spent six months in England, and England would be going nuts right now if they beat Spain 2-0 and then almost beat Brazil. They would be saying 2010 is our year. When USA does it, Spain and Brazil were not really trying, they were tired from a long season. Like the US players haven't played and trained all year, lol.

    Well, it's fine if them, the Europhiles, and the English, etc. feel that Americans don't get it and don't have talent or passion when it comes to soccer/footie. All they would have to do to see otherwise is check out some MLS team forums, supporters pictures, and videos. There is a quite rampant underground supporters culture in America, with many established supporters sections with thousands of members. We all know this.

    If they still want to make soccer out as some joke that's fine with me. Let me enjoy it for cheap, hell it's almost more special to me because not everyone I know is glued watching and because idiots are not discussing every single idiosyncraicy of offseason training camp.

    If everyone else wants to spend thousands for a couple of games watching overpriced athletes, while I go to over 20 games for a couple of hundred. That's fine with me, so be it. :-)

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  6. I completely agree with you crewfighter! I talk with my Crew fans constantly about how amazing it is when you are walking down High Street on Campus and when you see someone wearing Ohio State or Browns or Bengals...what have you...it's nothing special, but when they're wearing the Black and Gold it's something awesome! A conversation starts out of thin air whether you know them or not. Because even though there are few soccer fans in the US (compared to other sports) the fans are more passionate then any other sport out there! Including the OSU v Michigan rivalry!!! Soccer is truly a passion for us Yanks who support our clubs and our country!!!

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  7. Very well said. I wish i could see Jim Rome or Skip in a bar so I could show them how I feel. I agree with the others that you should send this out.

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  8. I'll clean it up tomorrow. No clue where I could send it out to that would be willing to print something like this.

    Probably not much of anywhere. But, doesn't hurt to email it and try. I guess.

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