Monthly Archives: May 2005

More on Soccer and America

One of the most frequently-accessed items on newley.com is “On Soccer and America,” an essay I penned following the American national team’s surprising success at the last World Cup. I’ve been meaning to follow up on the topic; recent news developments have brought the issue to my attention once again.

Of particular interest is the story of Malcolm Glazer, the American sports tycoon who recently purchased a controlling interest in the venerable Manchester United Football Club. Hardcore Man U fans are up in arms—they say he’ll raise ticket prices (which he probably will) and, mostly, they say he’s a clueless Yank who doesn’t understand the game (which is also probably true). But the bottom line is this: the club is a publicly traded company and that means anyone with enough cash can buy it. End of story.

Here’s an excellent article in The Economist that addresses the issue. Key passage:

To boost revenues, Mr Glazer is expected to try to end joint negotiation of television rights by the top English teams that play in the Premiership, instead negotiating separately the right to screen United games. That sort of rampant individualism, after all, is what American capitalists are famous for. In fact, American team owners tend to profit by suppressing, to some extent, their individualism, points out Stefan Szymanski, co-author of “National Pastime”, a superb new book that compares the economics of the sport business in different countries. American sports leagues—above all the National Football League, in which the Bucs play—tend to be cartels, with fewer teams than there would be in a free market, protected by the absence of relegation, and often using socialistic practices such as salary limits for players and a centralised sharing out of young players to stop any team becoming too hopeless. As the Premiership evolves, and, above all, as Europe’s top soccer teams, with United to the fore, debate how to take Europe-wide competition to the next even more profitable level, Mr Glazer’s knowledge of American sport’s anti-competitive collectivism may prove priceless.

Another interesting look at the differences in attitudes toward the game worldwide can be found in this post on the excellent Marginal Revolution Weblog, although the author’s observation that international soccer’s “days probably are numbered” is absurd. The item does, however, provide some perspective on why baseball is more beloved than soccer in the US.

My feelings about the popularity of futbol in America haven’t changed since I wrote my original article on the topic. But what I find interesting now is how globalization is affecting the economics of the game. Again, back to the Economist piece:

Mr Glazer’s main offence seems to be that he is a businessman who intends to run United as a business. That is not what owners of British sports teams—or, indeed, of teams in most of the world—are meant to do. Businessmen and other wealthy folk, even foreigners, are welcome as owners—but only if they plan to put money into a team, not take it out.

So what if by so doing they are merely trying to boost a flagging public image—as Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed and, earlier, the late Robert Maxwell, did by buying Fulham and Oxford United, respectively? Or if their aim is to cement a valuable friendship, as the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi’s, 2002 investment in Italy’s Juventus did with the team’s main owner, the Agnelli family? Better, though, if he or she is a lifelong fan whose dearest wish is to spend money to help the team they love. A star of the English soccer season now ending has been Norwich City’s main shareholder, Delia Smith, a celebrity cook, who made headlines by delivering an alcohol-assisted speech during a half-time interval urging fans to get behind the beloved team that she once rescued from the brink of bankruptcy. A more pertinent example for Manchester United fans is Chelsea’s devoted owner, Roman Abramovich, a Russian oil billionaire, who has spent a large chunk of his controversially gotten gains to assemble the team that easily won this season’s English Premiership title. His unprecedented redistribution of money from the people of an economically struggling nation to a handful of wealthy foreign sport-stars bothered fans of Chelsea not one bit.

And a New York Times article about the Man U protesters (which is sadly no longer available online) contained this telling passage:

“No offense, but it just smacks of imperialism,” said John Marchant, a 28-year-old advertising executive and Manchester United fan, walking past the team’s Old Trafford stadium the other day. His indignation accelerated from 0 to 60 in the space of a single sentence. “He stands for everything that’s bad about globalization.”

Indeed. But to Red Devils fans everywhere, I say this: welcome to the 21st century.

Drug Smuggling News

Miami: “Customs and Border Patrol officials said they have stopped an operation that was trying to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. by hiding it in a shipment of plantains from Ecuador.”

Australia: “Many Australians reacted with anger and shock after a Queensland woman they believe is innocent was found guilty of smuggling drugs into Bali and sentenced to 20 years’ jail.”

Joyous Liverpudlians

Watched the fabulous ending to the excellent Champions League final last night. Liverpool was down 3-0 at halftime against AC Milan and yet they rallied to even the score and then win in penalty kicks.

I’ve always loved the Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek—a Pole whose dad was a coal miner—and he proved his mettle by producing some real heroics in the shootout.

(Sidenote: I watched the game at the slightly-too-Euro-for-me Gazuza, a bar in Dupont Circle. Was there with some work friends. Some genius at the bar set up a system in which a huge LCD projector displayed the game on a big brick wall, which all in all is just a shitty way to show a sporting event. Why do it all?)

On Getting Up Early

“How to Become and Early Riser.”

I always struggle to get out of bed in the morning, even when I’ve had enough sleep. One semester, when I was teaching in Ecaudor, I taught a class that began at 7:00 a.m. I got up every day at 6:00, took a shower, drank some coffee, taught my class until just after 8:00, and then had the rest of my morning off. Nice leisurely breakfast, newspaper, etc. It was fabulous. But I only got up because I had to. Also, I was living in a town that shut down at 9:00 p.m., so I was always asleep by 11:00 p.m. Perhaps I need to start scheduling 7:00 meetings…