Thursday, October 20, 2011

Soccernomics: News and Notes

Aaron Ramsey scores the winer for Arsenal, but will the Welshman play for the Great Britain Olympic team?

Timbers Success:

The Timbers have had a great first season in terms of success in the stands.  [I would argue that they have had a great first season on the field as well: an entirely new team that had never played together before, primarily made up of modestly paid youngsters still have an outside shot at the playoffs coming into their last game] But this is not that surprising - Portland is a pretty big city with just one major sports franchise that plays in the winter, the novelty of a new franchise with a revamped stadium was almost bound to draw people in for the first season.  But now something truly remarkable has happened, the Timbers have announced that 97% of season ticket holders have renewed for next year.

This is a testament to three things in my mind:  One, the team itself has struggled at times but the players and coach have connected with fans in a way that most modern sports stars don't.  They are modestly paid, approachable and passionate.  Two, the Timbers Army has created the most unique atmosphere in all of sports.  I used to think nothing could top big time college football for atmosphere in the US, but the Timbers, while different, are just as exhilarating. Three, the Timbers front office has done everything right. This is remarkable considering Civic Stadium is a very difficult venue from a customer service standpoint - inadequate bathrooms, crowded concourses and cramped seats - but the Timbers have had very good attention to detail and have been good at addressing problems.

In addition these three things, and perhaps most importantly, the economics of renewal are right.  The Timbers themselves have shown that the ticket price is good value for money: a great night's worth of entertainment, camaraderie and fun.  And with complete sell-outs and a 5,000 person waiting list, the secondary market for tickets is very strong - thus renewal carries almost no risk.

What is 'British?':

The Great Britain Olympic football team is not going well.  Recall that the countries of the United Kingdom are not that united at all.  In fact, the Guardian newspaper recently ran a series, along with conducting a poll, on what it means to be British in the UK and found that notions of Britishness are fading (I suspect that this is a consequence of the collective memory of the WWII generation fading).  Because of its unique historical place in football, England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland are all recognized as separate footballing nations by FIFA - allowed to compete internationally independently as well as have their own national football leagues.  But FIFA and the Olympic movement are not the same thing and the Olympics only recognizes Great Britain as a single country.  So what to do in football?  The answer, since 1972, has been to not compete at all.

But now with the 2012 Olympics coming to London the push is on to create a Great Britain team.  The England FA is all for it, but unfortunately this doesn't sit well with the other national federations.  One fear is that this will eventually lead to FIFA no longer allowing separate national teams despite assurances to the contrary.  But more than that is the fierce nationalism felt in the other countries, most notably in Scotland where an England loss in football is second only to a Scotland win.

On the Pitch:

The Timbers produced a gutty display last night in DC that wasn't pretty and at times relied on luck but got the road point.  Now we are all Philadelphia Union fans!  The Timbers showed once again that when they get to the final third of the field, they run out of creativity and attacking prowess.  Dwyane DeRosario showed just how much difference a quality striker can make when he is on form.  DC could have easily scored three goals all because of DeRo's quality.

Arsenal gutted out an got a quality win in Marseilles in the UEFA champions league last night as well.  They are playing a pale imitation of the possession and quick passing game Arsenal is known for under Wenger right now, but perhaps this will teach them how to win ugly when the beautiful game is not on.  Defensively they were better, and Koscielny was in great form, but there were one or two heart stopping blunders.  And never, ever leave Merteasacker uncovered when he is one-on-one with a winger.  Still, things are improving slowly.

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