From the moment you step into an American sports stadium, rowdy fans, team merchandise and advertising surround you. Beer overflows in cups branded by Budweiser or Miller Light, or posters lining the hallways selling the latest smart phone.
American sports culture is so closely engrained with advertising that many don’t even notice anymore, but take a trip to Europe and it hits you like a weight.
During a trip to Spain this past Spring Break, I attended a F.C. Barcelona game versus Athletic Bilbao in Barcelona on a Saturday night. The immediate difference in culture is apparent as soon as I stepped foot into Camp Nou.
The halls were bare stone as I maneuvered my way through 100,000 people to find my seat. Once there, fans around me were tense as they awaited the start of the match, with almost no one holding beers or food in their hands and no food, drinks or candy were sold by workers walking in between aisles shouting “peanuts, lemonade.”
In fact, the only time I saw people around me eat was during halftime, when many pulled out food they had brought from home in bags that aren’t checked at the gate entrance.
Fans stood up to cheer only when a goal was made and politely clapped when a goal attempt was missed. There were no high fives, discussions about the game or casual conversations around me. My friend commented that it was as if everyone was watching the game on television with how they were watching the game so intensely and silently.
European futbol culture is vastly different from American sports, from advertising to fans in the stadiums. While I attended a rather tame game, many matches are intense and even become violent.
Racist taunts of players by fans are a major issue in European matches, as well as fights between fans. Spain’s clubs dominate championships, but a majority of them are deep in debt even though fans fill stadiums nightly.
There are fears of the same happening in England “There is a real danger that English football could go the same, catastrophic way of the financial world. Corrective action needs to be taken now to address serious weaknesses in the governance of the game a well as severe financial imbalances,” said Alan Keen of the governing Labor Party in England in 2009.
In America, advertising, food sales, merchandise and more have commercialized sports in a way that teams generate millions. In contrast, European soccer is still very much about the sport, and fans there scoff at American sports where rules are changed just for television.
While both are rampant with major issues, who’s to say which sports culture is right or wrong? I will say, if you ever find yourself across the pond, attend a futbol game, for the experience if not for anything else.