Commentary

Your (Our!) Sports Business Weakly

It's an international sports market, and American athletes aren't trading very well on it

Originally Published: June 27, 2011
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to "Wide World of Sports Business." I'm your host, J. Maynard "Kandy" Keynes. Our topic for the day is "American Sports in the Age of Globalization." Let's go right to our worldwide trade analyst, Al Fresco, live outside the Rose Bowl. Al?

Al: Thanks, John. That giant sucking sound you hear is the work of goal scoring heading south to Mexico. There, among the dusty maquiladoras, where soccer is known as fút-bol, goals are being produced in great numbers, far more abundantly, efficiently and much less expensively than they can be made here in the United States by American workers.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAll that investment in soccer, and what did we get in return? These forlorn faces at the Gold Cup final this past weekend.

John: This would explain the Gold Cup game Saturday night, Al, would it not?

Al: Absolutely. Experts agree that all those unanswered goals were made for just pennies on the dollar and that a runaway doubling of offensive production by competitor countries is just one very troubling sign for a lagging American sports economy.

John: Troubling in what way, Al?

Al: John, the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on Earth by a factor of magnitude. Over the decades, we've spent billions of dollars researching, developing and promoting Running and Kicking. We've been raising soccer players from the cradle for a generation. Our national investment in halftime orange wedges is the envy of the world. For what we've spent on youth soccer, we could've sent FIFA czar Sepp Blatter to Mars. For only a billion or two more in unmarked 20s and 50s, we might even have brought him home.

John: Good point, Al.

Al: Some analysts therefore estimate that those two U.S. goals this past Saturday cost about $600 million each to manufacture -- yet we came up bupkis. This against a country with an economy so unstable it needs a note from the International Monetary Fund if it wants a side of fries with lunch. It was a low moment in organized American Running and Kicking, John.

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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesMight as well be a sign o' the times for American sports on the global scene.

John: I can understand why people are upset.

Al: Both strategically and tactically, that game represented the chilling inversion of one of our most dearly held beliefs, John, from one of our greatest American moments of historical defiance: "Millions for tribute, but not one cent for defense!"

John: Disturbing.

Al: Yes, sir. Some experts even fear that there was international sabotage afoot. Personally, I cling to the belief that captain Landon Donovan inadvertently called down a hex on the U.S. with that hoodoo chicken dance after his goal in the first half. If this is the case, according to the Vodun legends of Baron Samedi, the U.S. men's team will not score again until it plays -- and defeats -- the cast of the James Bond classic "Live and Let Die."

John: Many of whom have passed on, I'm afraid.

Al: It is indeed some bad juju, my friend.

John: Does this signal a weakening U.S. position on the world stage?

Al: Our global brand in soccer has suffered, yes. "Incrementally better than Algeria" doesn't put many fannies in the seats. But the number of soccer balls used in American minivan and fast food advertising has remained constant, offering observers and economists hope.

In other unhappy markets, John, this year's modest crop of Williamses arrived at Wimbledon and destabilized trading there. In fact, they've plummeted against the Bartoli and the Pironkova on the London exchange.

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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty ImagesEven formerly reliable Serena Williams (along with her sister Venus) underperformed at Wimbledon.

John: I'm told we're seeing a very down market in U.S. Roddick this season, as well.

Al: It's been an absolute rout, I'm afraid, with Roddick selling like hotcakes. Hotcakes in a region where people hate both heat and cakes. The Federer and the Nadal continue as the only currency of consequence on the men's side -- although a strong Djokovic will benefit Eastern Europe. A modest gray-market appetite for Mardy Fish has been seen in homesick Americans on the outer courts.

John: What about the current climate of protectionism here in the States? What effect might that have on sports going forward?

Al: With the further lowering of barriers to European wingers and Canadian defensemen in the recent NHL draft, and the uptick in basketball imports thanks to the NBA, our balance of trade hovers farther than we'd like from break-even. We're bringing in much more McIlroy and Nowitzki than we should, certainly, but we make up for it with the TV contracts, with the souvenir shotglass and magnetic bracelet sales, and by sending our used Marburys and Iversons to Turkey or China for one last chance at glory and eventual processing into popular, protein-rich energy bars.

Of course, in baseball, a very great deal of seasonal migrant work remains to be done this year. Even in these tough times, I'm afraid Americans just don't want those jobs. Especially with the Dodgers.

John: Even a license to print money is no guarantee of success in times as hard as these.

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AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillProduction is definitely up in Mexico's national soccer program, at least compared with the U.S.

Al: Wall Street expects our substantial imbalance with Jamaica to continue, as promised deliveries of Tyson Gay will be sharply down in the coming year against rising exports of Usain Bolt. The Rubio is trading strongly against the Yang as speculators flood the market, and, on the mercantile exchange, we're seeing rugby and even cycling futures soar while cricket remains stubbornly flat. The Formula One blockade of American drivers continues; and our U.S. embargoes on hurling, kabbadi, team handball and men's field hockey remain firmly in place.

John: Field hockey for men? What a world. There's a lot of political pressure to keep our sporting jobs here at home, isn't there?

Al: Same as it ever was, John. The isolationist tension in the United States is always between the melting pot and the exclusionary impulse of xenophobia, between the needs of the individual and the collective imperatives of an international market economy.

John: At least we never have to worry about the NFL.

Al: Not until al-Qaida fields a team, John.

John: In which case let's keep our fingers crossed for that long-promised IPO of Worldwide Tebow. We'll be back with more right after these messages.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

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