Odds are if you are reading this blog, you exist within what I like to call the “soccer bubble.” No, I am not talking about the totally awesome looking soccer hybrid that involves transparent rubber balls, fast collisions, and probably beer. No, the soccer bubble that I am referring to is more of a state-of-mind. Let me try to explain:
People who live in the soccer bubble have certain characteristics. “Soccer Bubblites”, as I like to refer to them, are fans of the game. Soccer Bubblites tend to be weekend warriors, playing pickup games around their hometown. They follow at least one top-level professional team, thinking nothing of waking up at 5 AM on Saturdays just to watch their European club play. And since this blog is mainly dedicated to the NPSL’s Birmingham Hammers ( a 4th division soccer club), you, the reader, probably reside much deeper in the soccer bubble than you realize.
I am an unabashed, self-aware soccer bubble occupant. How do I know? As I write this blog, I am watching a Spanish-language replay of the Barcelona v. Celta Vigo match from earlier today. I already know the final score. I don’t speak Spanish. The struggle is real.
Consider these next few paragraphs your awakening. Those of us in the bubble tend to think the game of soccer is much more popular in the U.S. than it actually is. It is easy for us to think this way because we tend to surround ourselves with the game. We read soccer blogs. We listen to soccer podcasts. We watch soccer on T.V. year-round. We belong to various supporter groups.
Let me give you an example of why I think there is still plenty of room for soccer to grow in popularity despite the fact that I live in a soccer bubble: I was at a Super Bowl Party last weekend. There was probably 20 or so people there. Most of us were more interested in the commercials than the actual game, so we paid particular attention to each little 30-second segment looking for our favorites. One commercial in particular caught my eye. You Soccer Bubblites probably know which one I am referring to already. You guessed it: Neymar selling tacos.
After seeing the Taco Bell commercial, I was thinking how cool it was to see Neymar pushing the new Quesalupa, despite my stomach churning just thinking of trying to eat that thing. While I was excited to see Neymar on the big stage during the Super Bowl, 90% of the people that I was watching the game with had no idea who he was. I bet the head of marketing for Taco Bell is a Soccer Bubblite and totally overthought Neymar as being a celebrity in the USA. Maybe Neymar is a celebrity in the US Soccer Bubble. He is not to the majority of Americans. Painful, I know.
(Tangent: do you think Neymar eats a Taco Bell Quesolupa before each match? That has to be his secret to success, right?)
So the question I pose to you is one of great significance for the development of the game in the US and the development of the game in Birmingham as well. How does soccer start to capture people outside of the soccer bubble and turn them into fans of the game? It’s a question that I bet the leaders of US Soccer all the way down to the leaders of the NPSL and the Birmingham Hammers struggle to answer. But it is also a question that we Soccer Bubblites need to at least think about. What role do we play in growing the popularity of our favorite pastime? Maybe it’s by creating or joining a supporters group? Maybe we can volunteer to be a youth soccer coach, spreading the soccer gospel to the younger generation. Perhaps you have better suggestions. There is a comment section below. Share those ideas with me.
I will close by saying this: as Soccer Bubblites in the Magic City, we need not take for granted the opportunity to support our local club. I am in no way affiliated with any NPSL team, specifically the Hammers. I am just a fan. And so what I say next is purely speculative and my opinion. Margins for teams like the Birmingham Hammers and other NPSL teams are probably razor thin, if not non-existent. Their ability to maintain a healthy bottom line is probably tenuous and under constant stress. I don’t find this opinion to be an indictment of how these lower-level teams are run. It’s more indicative of a reality where lower-level teams have small markets to work with. The soccer bubble is still very small.
These lower-level teams exist for the love of the game. They exist to grow passion for the sport at a local-level. Local soccer players put their bodies at risk for 4 or 5 months a year for little to no compensation other than getting to hold on to their soccer dreams for that much longer. Teams like the Birmingham Hammers exist for you and me. But in order to be around for more than just a few seasons, they must also exist for those that currently live outside the soccer bubble. The bubble must expand. Consider inviting a few of these folks to a Hammers game this upcoming season. The best part about living in the soccer bubble is that it is full of hospitable, welcoming folks.