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Is your love for soccer ruining it?

I’m not trying to sound like a hipster. This was a topic heavily discussed this weekend at BlazerCon, the decidedly high-end soccer convention in Brooklyn organized by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, who together host the Men in Blazers TV show and podcast. 

Top executives from the European game, while very eager to tap into the American market, consistently pointed to a problem with the globalization of soccer: By transforming clubs associated with their cities and local traditions into global brands, clubs risk losing their identity and what made them attractive in the first place. A club like Liverpool FC is fiercely proud of its history and tradition, of famous Anfield nights where 45,000 fans sing the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in one voice. 

But today, the people who actually go to the stadiums are no longer the target audience; they’re part of the product being sold to people watching around the world. Global football is inherently commercial; it relies on selling TV rights and jerseys to strengthen fan allegiance around the world. That commercialization has in turn changed the local game, where fan seats have given way to corporate boxes, and the formerly ferocious crowds have gone silent. The challenge today for the industry is to find the balance between revenue and local authenticity.