There is a Spectre Haunting American Soccer


This is what corporate tifos look like.

Last Saturday’s draw between the Seattle Sounders and Tottenham Hotspur didn’t mean anything. Goals were scored, penalties awarded, flamethrowers threw, but it was just a big meaningless exhibition. Hell, the ECS didn’t even make a tifo. But EA Sports did. The video game giant produced and displayed a corporate tifo that was, in effect, a big commercial for the upcoming release of FIFA ‘15.

Soccer is slowly being Americanized. I guess it make senses, as we embrace all the ritual of the beautiful game: singing, scarves and tifos, a little ‘Murica was going to rub in. The global tradition of soccer already subjects fans to brand names on jerseys and along the end boards. Now in the States we have gigantic commercials in the stands. Every Sounders jersey says XBOX, so the game is already both an athletic display and a marketing opportunity. But I can accept the branding on jerseys as a trade for no commercials. I love how soccer puts the game first. Hell, they could slap “TastyKakes” on the Philadelphia Eagles or “Starbucks” on the Seahawks if they cut the all TV timeouts from NFL broadcasts. This seems a fair trade for brand names on jerseys, but we get nothing for ads in stands.

As ads go, it was stellar. If you want your ad seen by 55,000 members of a key demographic (and by even more on ESPN), this is pretty effective. Unfortunately our high attendance figures and cultural clout must be attracting the moneymen. But using unassuming fans up in the Hawk’s nest for a display of marketing also plays into the “Seattle fans as corporate whores” trope. Seattle is the vanguard of soccer’s assimilation into the pop culture of a major American city, and the rise of the tifo-as-commercial is an inevitable consequence.

I guess we should get used to the seeping of consumerism and corporate culture into soccer. At least it was an ad for a soccer video game and not McDonalds. I get that video games are the key to getting the kiddies into soccer. I heard Keith Olbermann’s rant. He wanted soccer to get the red, white and blue makeover, but I am sure he wasn’t expecting this. Video games may be the gateway drug for the rise of our domestic league, but at what cost?

I realize I am a hypocrite as I dream of shoveling money into the registers at the Sounders’ pro shop for third jerseys and other cool swag, but corporate tifos? So disingenuous. We’re here for soccer. We’re here for sport, spectacle and supporter culture. Supporter culture is grass roots. It isn’t piped in music or cheers led by a jumbotron. People make soccer and there should be no co-opting this for some company’s bottom line.

It seems I’m answering my own question from my last post. When more money enters the league we get corporate tifos.

  • Friar Tuck

    “…our high attendance figures and cultural clout must be attracting the moneymen.” I understand the sentiment, but it still kind of makes me chuckle that the above statement could be deemed unfortunate. I know there are several MLS franchises out there that would kill to be attracting the moneymen.

    Also, Keith Olbermann is a bit of a tool. That last rant seemed like he was trying to backtrack from his previous rants throughout the world cup where he continually derided soccer and the USMNT (Funnily enough he was on the same page as Ann Coulter on that score). His repeating that he doesn’t care about the success of soccer and that he derides other sports just made methinks he doth protest too much. He says soccer fans need to stop trying to build up the sport by tearing down other sports? Sort of seems like he may be projecting a bit there as his previous rants have been nothing but tearing down soccer and trying to claim how lame it is in comparison to other sports. And he has his running point about not needing to imitate the European soccer culture, and then he wraps the piece with a picture of him in a Barca jersey? What a knob.

    • Tuck,
      Thanks for commenting!

      Yeah I know. I sound pretty hypocritical in the statement you mention. I am always beating the drum of “growing the game in the States” and yet I get pouty the second the forces of American culture turn their eyes to soccer. Maybe we should be grateful that soccer, MLS and the Sounders are attracting such attention. I bet they would be in Columbus or D.C.

      Olbermann is a tool. But I agree with him about the video game point. His other 6 points were mostly asinine. I do love how people who don’t care much about soccer are always pontificating on ways to improve it. I would never go to India and start yammering about how to improve cricket.

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