15 January 2007

The Geeks in the Stands: Its About Subcultures

This is my response to a great post by D just below. Please read it first. Basically my thesis is that soccer is a sub-culture outside of mainstream American culture and that the same people who choose to take the path less followed in one aspect of their lives are more prone to do it in another.

I soccer attracts what most people call geeks in America because it is currently out of the mainstream. Just like being a geek is almost by definition. Right now, soccer is like a good indie band before it gets the major record deal. Seriously, I don't know 3/4ths of the bands named at most music discussions I hear at Barra or Screaming Eagles events. The same people that follow indie bands follow soccer. There is a certain amount of overlap in subcultures that buck the mainstream, and the soccer/indie thing is just one example of this.

Soccer doesn't really attract the computer nerd that lives at home in front of the screen. It attracts the people who like the world, but don't want to just follow everyone else and instead consciously avoid the normal. This isn't a dis on fans of other sports as I am someone who basically follows other people when it comes to music or fashion or whatever, but for random reasons really like soccer. So I don't really think it is bad to follow the mainstream (and we all do it in some aspects of our lives). But the fact remains that soccer right now is outside of the mainstream and attracts people that live in an independent world.

An interesting thing that I have noticed is that given a small amount of exposure to soccer at a youth level, American sports fanatics also really like soccer. I am not talking about JoeSixPack who sits down to watch Football on Sundays, and catches the NBA and MLB playoffs. I am talking about the people who have 3 to 5 fantasy football teams, can tell you how the Washington Wizards (for DC fans) match up against the rest of the NBA on a team by team basis, and can explain a balk in baseball. That last one was a little weak, I am not a huge baseball fan, but you get the picture.

I have two friends who are like this, both of whom like other sports teams much more than United. The Washington (darn you KC for making me write out Washington every time) Wizards and Skins in one case and the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Michigan, Tulane, etc., etc., in the other case. But for these guys soccer is just another sport to learn and watch, which is what they love to do. These two guys are the ones that I bring most often to games because they get it, they are already fans and not just spectators, just because that is the way they approach all sports.

Again, I think this is because they are part of a sub-culture of sports fanatics lost in the sporting culture of America. In this case the overlap between the sub-cultures of soccer and sports fanatics is quite obvious, but is hidden because watching sports is mainstream. However mainstream watching may be, being a sports junkie is not. These guys are exactly the people that we can sway to support soccer in the USA. To some extent you can already see this with some of the DCenters commentators, or with the overlap between soccer and hockey fanatics on the Sports Bog. Just like our indie friends of the music world, they have a lot of cachet in their community, because they are usually the most knowledgeable. I think soccer would do well not just to look into our overlap with the regular geeks, but also with the somewhat hidden sports geeks.

That's my take. I would love to hear some other comments on D's idea below.

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At 15 January, 2007 14:29, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commenting seems wonky so hopefully this goes true. I think you and D are both on to something. My theory is that it is in some way connected to the fact that to be a soccer fan is to be... less US-centric and more able to appreciate other cultural experiences be they European, South American, whatever. Which is related to your whole idea of subcultures and having an interest in things outside the mainstream.

For us geeks specifically, the sometimes juvenile and often alcohol fuelled character of soccer fandom makes it an opportunity to have a "do-over" on high school... except with friends, this time around.

I kinda like that aspect of it, myself.

At 15 January, 2007 15:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you nailed it with the "outsider" concept. The interesting thing is that as mentioned there are a bunch of different subcultures. Also it is hard to fight the geek label when commenting on a blog.

At 15 January, 2007 15:57, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dunno whether we should consider geekiness as *the* hallmark....another distinguishing feature may have to do with one's mindset, or how one absorbs information (or action).

Soccer is unusual (in American sports circles) in the mostly non-stop action. Most major American sports feature a lot of stop-start action.

I think that translates at least some into how one thinks and perceives things - some folks just can't "get" sports like soccer that ebb and flow but rarely stop. Maybe their brains wear out...?

Hockey, a sport-relative in terms of fairly consistent action, may attract a similar fanbase compared to soccer, at least in the US. The fistfights are one difference, sure, but still...

So is it fair to label soccer's fanbase in the US as "alternative" -- is that too broad? Is that even true, and if so, will it remain true over time? Hard to tell.

At 15 January, 2007 16:06, Blogger D said...

Kinney: Great follow-up. I think you are definately correct to whatever degree we're actually correct about this entire thing.

Joanna: Dig. I think there's a sweet and (just a little) melancholy point there.

RWHGeek: Yeah, I tend to agree. It's all the outsiders. And it's tought to fight the geek label when it is in your blogger profile name. We're all geeks. We're all punks. We're all hardcore.

Anon: Agreed - geekiness is just one feature of many, but it was an interesting one, especially considering the idea that it might be applied to marketing and demographic concepts. I'd agree with the Alternative label if the 90s hadn't so destroyed that concept.

At 15 January, 2007 20:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people from the DC indie rock and punk scenes that are hardcore united fans. It's pretty wild actually going to the games and seeing people you see in dark, danky clubs acting like drunken, raging fans.

At 16 January, 2007 10:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I have been saying this very thing for some time now. About 2 years ago I was sitting at a bar in downtown Minneapolis watching a soccer game with fellow Dark Cloud supporters (MN Thunder Supporters group) saying that I worried about a day when and if soccer really did become popular in this country, as we all wish for, would I still love the game the same way.

Most of my soccer buddies are broad minded and really take a world view of matters. Which is actually quite different than many of my other friends.

I rarely listen to sports talk shows but when I do I am amazed at the repetitive comments and mindless banter that come from them. Well guess what folks? Listen to Live Five football talk. Yup, it sounds the same as all the mindless sports talk shows in the U.S.

Slate.com had a great article on this very thing back last summer.



At 16 January, 2007 12:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are other reasons why being out of the mainstream is attractive to some beyond a counterculture mentality. Being out of the mainstream means demand is lower, and that means prices are lower and access to the team is greater.

I enjoy going to every game, sitting in very good seats and having reserved parking at the stadium. I couldn't begin to afford that with any of the other professional teams in the region.

I also like meeting the players and collecting game-worn jerseys and the such. Again, I can only do those things because demand is relatively low.

Basically, I like the idea of soccer becoming more mainstream, but not to the extent that my seats become corporate boxes and the Eagles are surplanted by a section of lobbyists, lawyers and politicos who use the seat to entertain.

At 16 January, 2007 13:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of thoughts:

1. I think there's always been a certain europhilic cachet about soccer here in the US, no matter whether the sport is primarily a working-class preoccupation in Europe and elsewhere (and of course, tangentially, football has been climbing the social class ladder in Europe for the last generation or so).

2. For people like me for whom expressions of pride in country are normally suppressed, rooting for the national soccer teams allows us to wave the flag with joyful abandon. Also, civic pride where other local teams' fanbases are so meatheaded (like, say, the Redskins').

3. Soccer is the only team sport in which people of normal (or below) weight and height dominate. Is there maybe one mindset out there that elevates people with superfreak bodies, and another that prefers, well, normal people? Sort of reminds me of the difference between a show at DC9, say, where the bands are right there, and one at the Verizon Center, where the performers are larger than life. Or of a geek culture that valorizes the startup and the outsider and open source over and a mainstream culture that worships the gargantuan corporate titans.

Okay, I'm getting really wonky now.

At 16 January, 2007 13:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, great post. No offense, D, but the previous post (which I read as saying, essentially, "we're all just a bunch of geeks") didn't really resonate with me - not because I took offense, but because I don't think it accurately described what I saw around me in the stands. Kinney's post, however, I think is spot-on in describing it as a subculture (or rather as a collection of subcultures) -- those who don't want to be mainstream. In addition to Kinney's example of the overlap with an indie music subculture group, I also note that there is a large collection of microbeer enthusiasts among DC fans. And it would not be possible to be a member of a supporters' group without embracing a more multicultural environment than a typical American suburb provides. No doubt there are other overlapping nonconformist tendencies as well.


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