Is the world changing? Well… silly question. Change is really all there is when it comes to the world, I suppose. One can certainly argue football is an ever-changing landscape. But something new feels to be afoot. I am not basing this on much other than a feeling, really. So here goes…
This summer saw the World Cup go home, in a manner of speaking. Yes, football was born in the UK, we all know that. But once matured, it took off for Brasil and became naturalized there. Or so that was the narrative for a while. Five glorious, green little stars above the sheild. So many greats rolling off the tongue it felt like a language of its own: Didí, Garrincha, Clodoaldo, Carlos Alberto, Tostão, Zico, Socrates, Falcão, Júnior, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and now Neymar.
And of course, the greatest of them all: Pelé. He gets his own line.
Brasil will, undoubtedly, continue to produce the world’s most thrilling players for some time. It is a lucrative industry after all, and Brasilian bosses and businessmen are just as fond of filthy lucre as the new masters of the game in such places as Dubai. Money is and of course will always be the thing that drives all recreational sporting ventures. Football feels like life but it’s a game, and truth be told we love our games in the West. And everywhere else in the world, which is why football is sucvh a good business to get into. There’s no end in sight for the crowds this sport can draw. We’re not going to run out of football any time soon, basically.
But the moneyline has never been higher up the side of this particular ship, and one wonders if money won’t drown the game? The next two cups will be held in countries largely devoid of such niceties as civil liberties and human rights, and these bids were won (as they all are, in fairness) with a ton of shmoozing and money. Both are undoubted petro states and leveraged piles of cash to slide the votes in their direction. It’s largely a moot point since FIFA is the world’s governing body for the sport we so love and there is about as much confidence in it as their is hope for transparency and good governance in either of the upcoming World Cup host nations. In a very real sense, they deserve each other. It’s a travesty that we are stuck with them.
And this is so becuase you know that for all of our disgust toward FIFA, we’ll be watching the Euros and the World Cups to come. This is so because we are all hopelessly addicted to it, and FIFA knows this and therefore will not reform, not even under durress. We, the consumer base, demand more of this product by the day and FIFA, as any good pimp or drug dealer would, ensures that the streets are awash in its product.
We hate them but we need them. It’s sick.
It is worth noting just how insanely high the television rights are for just the Premier League this season. $1.6 billion is proper money.
If success and money are twins, and success breeds more success, then the Prem alone will be breeding cash like a chicken coop with a pair of hamsters in it. For the moment, there is no point of saturation. Football has finally managed to really land on America’s shores and looks to be around for good now. The MLS even looks to be growing not only in interest but quality.
Much like the Beatles, England longs to see its sporting ambassador plant a permanent flag over here. The American dollar is still the most coveted currency out there and you can bank your bottom dollar that now that we are seeing the first seedlings of interest are beginning to spring up, there will be a doubling down of investment to promote the global sport here. I’m interested to see which leagues resopnate the most powerfully with the American public. Clearly the Prem is the flashiest, best packaged and most easily absorbed by the curious American consumer. But is there room over here for expansion in such leagues as the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga? As for now, we see NBC hosting all things Premier League, with Bein Sports sort of becoming a grab bag for the rest of the Big Four European Leagues. With access on Basic cable to NBC Sports, the Prem has the greatest likelihood for expansion within the American consumer market. Do we see a foray by the Big Four into any of the other US network conglomerates? Conservative catanaccio on Fox? Lusty Latin passing game on ABC? Efficient, by the book ball of CBS?
Probably not. But it’s a fun mental exercise.
And while the Germans still give off that impression of efficiency over art, recent events seem to indicate the opposite. Germany is no longer boring to watch. Brasil is no longer playing beautiful football. The Spaniards are not invincible. So all of that, too, is changing.
Football has been big business for a long time, of this there is no doubt. That glorious footage from the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, where Brasil seemed to glide about the pitch at will, exerting its supremacy and genius over the ball with such aplomb seems to come from a time that the game was, somehow, purer. It had only yet to reach the global audience it is now attaining. The scary part is that there is still quite a lot of room to grow.
In that sense, football has outgrown Brasil’s millions of potential world beaters. Furthermore, World Cup rosters increasingly reflect the breakdown of racial homogenization in the West. The game has truly gone global, and is no longer just a European or South American thing. The nascent Indian Super League offers the intriguing possibility of high-profile (if retired) former footballing greats gracing the pitches in a market of nearly one billion pairs of eyeballs.
While the growth of football is, for me at least, wonderfull as it offers more football at an increasingly affordable rate. I don’t see a super saturation point anywhere on the horizon, although you have to assume there is one.
With so much interest in this game, and with its potential for growth, one sees the enormous possibility for football being a force for good. The sad truth for now is there is little to no hope for that while it is in the hands of such scoundrels as FIFA. Is it too much to hope that the increasing profile of the game, with its subsequent increased scrutiny, might create an environment of greater accountability within global footbal’s governing body?
For now, they have basically ignored all calls for greater transparency. They do so because they know. They know we will watch. We will yell and scream, but when the whistle blows we will sit down and watch. We saw it this past summer in Brasil. Many thought the Cup wouldn’t go ahead, but in the end, we all just wanted to watch the game.
And so it goes: progress thwarted by our fickle loves. Bread and circuses…
All that being said, I am curious to watch this game evolve over the next 50 years. Either the system will grow so rotten as to collapse in upon itself, or something will change. Either gradually or radically.
Let’s hope, though, they do it during half time.