Sporting monoculture

Nike’s advertisement celebrating Ronaldo prompted an interesting post on Run of Play and an even more interesting discussion as people settled on the idea that the ad is really an autobiographical tribute by Nike Soccer to their influence in the game.

My initial response to and problems with the ad had to do with the facts, as presented by Nike.

It’s not like Nike invented the replica jersey or the concept of boys putting posters on their bedroom walls. I just saw a lot of the “after” as being stuff which had to have existed before. Whether the befores survived the Nike-wash is a different story…

But I quickly realized the larger issue at hand and it got me thinking…since the soccer I follow is not local.

You could also do a really depressing verison [sic] of this ad which shows how kids all over the world used to have replica shirts and posters of their favorite local players and now they all have the exact same Ronaldo shirts and posters.

I follow European soccer in general, Spanish soccer in particular, and am a fan of Barcelona. My favorite players are all Spanish and I know more about the Spanish National Team than I do about the US National Team. I’m a huge soccer fan yet I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have never been to an Earthquakes game.

At the same time, the reasons I chose Barcelona as my team nothing to do with any sort of global marketing phenomena. I found myself liking Barcelona as a city based on what I saw during the 1992 Olympics. I ended up admiring players such as Romario and Stoichkov during the 1994 World Cup. My interest in design and art placed Barcelona on my must-visit list.* And that between La Masia, club membership, and political history, Barça has an importance locally which transcends sport.

*Also on the list, Glasgow (between art/design and Claudia Reyna, I have a soft spot for Rangers), Rome, Paris, and Vienna.

I chose Barça because Barcelona as a city appealed to me first and then the soccer part of things just happened to clinch the deal.

This approach is not the way it’s done now. Nike’s “After Ronaldo” world is all about individually-marketed, globally-recognizable players.* There is no context outside the players and it’s not even about teams anymore. It’s enough to be a Ronaldo fan—regardless of whether he’s wearing a Cruzeiro, PSV, Barça, Inter, Real Madrid, Milan, Corinthians, or Brazil shirt.

*Not that Adidas and brand Beckham is any better…

While I can’t conceive of a sporting world where fan loyalty is just to the handful of global megastar players, it seems we’re heading that way. The concept flies in the face of what is supposed to be a team game and it waters down the global appeal. While I obviously don’t prescribe to pure localism, I do like there to be more camps than just Adidas superstar vs Nike superstar. Pick a team because of the team not because of any corporate shill.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

5 thoughts on “Sporting monoculture”

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