Seed Grant Awardee: Andres Martinez
This grant would be a follow-up grant to my 2018 GSI Sport 2036 seed grant to research “The Premier League and Globalization’s Contradictions.” Both research projects will inform the publication of a trade book on this global contest between our US-centric sports and the world’s default game, and this latter grant will also help defray reporting costs for a monthly sports globalization column published in Global Sport Matters.
The noted British historian Eric Hobsbawm noted that “the twentieth century was the American century in every way but one: sport.” This is a truth not often appreciated by sports-crazed Americans, but sport does in fact lag behind every other facet of American popular cultures, such as music or film, as a global force. Our nation’s prime sports fixations seem to prove the rule of timeless American exceptionalism –we have traditionally sought to play our own games, and proclaim our own domestic league champions “world champions.”I can remember coming to the United States at the age of 15, feeling I would have no trouble whatsoever adapting to life in the US, given that my American mother in Mexico had made us speak English at home and had raised us with an awareness of American culture. And, to paraphrase Hobsbawm, I did indeed end up feeling at home in the US in every way but one: sport. I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of being so isolated from the rest of the sporting world; it was as if I had been dropped behind some iron sports curtain, in a place closed off from the rest of the world, where no one talked about the upcoming World Cup or Bayern or Barcelona–where the Washington Redskins were touted as world champions. Of course, I am dating myself, and not just in NFL terms!
US teenagers nowadays are far more connected to the rest of the sporting world. They play FIFA, watch Champions League highlights on their social media feeds, and can tune into English soccer on NBC. And more of them are playing the world’s game than any other sport. Our incumbent, ‘domestic’ sports are still not as globally established as broader US pop culture. Imagine bringing together teenagers from a half-dozen countries chosen at random –Argentina, Nigeria, Korea, Denmark, Russia, and Morocco, say –and establishing their common references. It is highly unlikely the kid from Argentina will be up on Moroccan music, or vice-versa, but all six kids will likely be able to talk about the latest Hollywood blockbuster or American rock band. If they can communicate at all, it will likely only be in English. Their one shared set of references (at the risk of generalization) that may not beUS-centric will be sport-related. Barca or Real Madrid? Messi or Ronaldo? Who will win the Champions League this summer? These kids might also know about the NBA or the NFL, in part because broader US culture is powerful enough to help spread awareness of our sports idols, but also in part because in the past quarter-century.
US sports leagues –the NBA first and foremost –have made great strides in exporting their games and passion for them. What’s unfolding is now an intriguing global contest, nowhere more acutely than in China, for market share between our sports and the world’s game. This contest is an athletic, commercial, political, and cultural story, though I have come to appreciate it isn’t always a zero-sum one. Not only are sports like baseball, football, and basketball challenging the unquestioned supremacy of soccer in many parts of the world, Americans are also increasingly asserting their claim to be powerful stakeholders in the world’s dominant sport. More and more young American players are crossing the Atlantic to become rising stars in some of the world’s most competitive soccer leagues. More and more US multinationals like Nike are realizing their future fortunes depend on their establishing a leading role in the global game. The US government brought down FIFA’s previous leadership team on corruption charges, a move that precipitated a frustrated “this is soccer, what is it to the Americans?” outburst from Russian President Vladimir Putin. And a growing number of US sports tycoons and other deep-heeled institutions and individuals are buying into or taking over European soccer franchises (Americans now have ownership stakes in four of the “big six” English teams, for instance) seeking to expand their global sports entertainment reach. It’s no longer so clear-cut that if soccer wins, Americans will lose. It is this ongoing competitive relationship between US sports leagues and international football that will be the subject of my trade book, which will draw upon research conducted with the support of my 2018 seed grant on the globalization of football, with England as a case study.
Last Updated February 2020.