We brake for commercials | Soccer spectacle fits seamlessly in America’s land of make-believe

In a 2001 title, cultural critic Peter Pericles Trifonas produces a postmodern reading par excellence of Umberto Eco‘s views on football. “Umberto Eco and Football,” Trifonas writes, “is and is not a text about Eco and football.”

Philip Anschutz and AEG marketing shills in Los Angeles, as a New York Times profile of Anschutz last month made clear, have co-opted the language of world football along with its associated passions to serve their own ambitions.

Following a worldwide trend identified decades ago by sensitive souls such as Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, Anschutz has integrated soccer seamlessly into the reality-distorting worldview of the American corporation. Soccer teams and leagues are meant to capture market share, players are properties acquired to serve the corporate agenda. Marketing chiefs and their underlings supply a patter of passive verbs in the course of fashioning a packaged product, much as they might promote a mobile phone or fizzy beverage of no nutritional value. With a background in railroads, telecommunications and movie theaters, Anschutz, whose company owns L.A. Galaxy, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, has treated soccer as a consumable, as Graham Bowley writes in the Times (“Goal! He Spends It on Beckham,” Apr 22).

The sports and entertainment platforms that Mr. Anschutz has developed are also a launching pad for what analysts say is his biggest gamble yet: the rollout of soccer as a major American sport, starring one of the game’s thoroughbreds, David Beckham. [see Jan 22]


Packaged with Anschutz’s outsized influence over the top levels of American soccer comes a veneer of silence—he declines nearly all interviews, what might be viewed as modesty were it not for the multibillion-dollar portfolio, aggressively pursued right-wing social agenda and notion of attempting “some small improvement in the culture” through production of anodyne, focus group–tested films. The appeal of soccer, reports Bowley, rests in the interpretation, skewed by the domestic game’s rise to prominence among suburban youth, of the sport as family-friendly.

Here the naïveté in America’s unique soccer culture—an indescribable fusion of grassroots, girls’ and women’s teams with ethnically aligned tournaments and impromptu play of all stripes, with an emphasis on participation—collides with the “big soccer” of Europe and Latin America: the wellspring of Galeano’s lament about world football as a “sad voyage from beauty to duty.” Anschutz and the new American owners of Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa have become enlightened to this latter expression and the potential fit between the “unseen hand” of free-market capitalism and a game once viewed as anti-American.

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