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Exporting soccer

It’s often said that part of America’s problem is that we’re an import nation. That we don’t make stuff here to sell, but instead we bring in stuff from China and Taiwan and so on. That’s true for clothes, for electronics, for cars. And now for sports as well.

That’s at least the case in Miami, where they will soon break ground on the new Argentina Football Federation US Headquarters, which, as the Federation has said, will establish their footprint stateside. This will be followed by creating a series of youth training academies across the country. It is part of pushing the Argentinian Football brand in the US as we approach two major events in this country – the Copa América in 2024 and the 2026 World Cup. And to be clear, when I say football, I mean soccer, at least for the purposes of the American vernacular.

Now, what all this means is yet to be determined. But at the very least, young talented soccer players will be training under the Argentinian flag in on American soil. This includes American soccer players of Argentinian descent, who the Argentinian Federation would like to make sure contribute to their national program instead of ours. It’s also a significant move to leverage the Argentinian Football brand with American companies, building more relevance and access to the defending World Cup Champions and home of some of the most historic names in the sport.

The US isn’t the only place Argentina plans to take its brand of sport. They are also pitching to commercial partners in China, India, and across the Middle East, more of a sponsorship play than a place to build a pitch. They argue that Argentinian soccer is a compelling buy, a chance to associate with the best in the world in its most popular pastime. This may be of particular interest to the Argentinian Federation, as so many of their brightest stars play in Europe and largely contribute to the explosive economy of Premier League. So instead of simply giving it all away, Argentina would better leverage their brand, including an expansion into the largely untapped American soccer market.

Of course, in the US, we’ve tried to export our sport as well, with mixed results. Perhaps we’ve been most successful with professional basketball, led most prominently by individual athletes and shoe companies over actual franchises. That, and the 1992 Dream Team, which set a new standard of global sports branding at a time when such potential was far more limited. We’ve been less successful with football, even though the NFL has increasingly attracted audience in Europe on a limited scale. Even at the college level, it’s just been reported that the Big 12 Conference is planning a larger presence in Mexico, taking advantage of their Texas universities. We’ve done a decent job sending our sports abroad, even if we struggle for a larger footprint that might include actual teams and stadiums.

And that’s the real challenge and question here. Part of why it’s tough to do what Argentina hopes to do and what many have tried before and failed is because sport remains largely national, if not local, particularly when it comes to tastes. Sending football to Paris isn’t just hard logistically. It’s also a tough cultural sell, one promoting sensibilities and athletes outside of their cultural orbit. It’s why Australian rules football is big in Australia, and nowhere else. And why Formula One struggles outside its geography – although a reality show has helped. It’s even why college football rules in the South and hockey in Minnesota. The list goes on and on.

That said, Argentina hopes its prominence overcomes any physical divide, particularly as American soccer fans consume more international soccer than home grown. And as much as we may support the US National Soccer Team come time for the World Cup, we all know that the brand of sport played by Argentina's Championship team is far superior. Which is why their federation is hoping our admiration for elite sport overcomes our sense of national allegiance, turning Argentina Football into more of a brand than a national team. Living in a house with two dedicated soccer players under the age of 16 who watch a whole lot of soccer, and not much of it American, I can only say that Argentina’s got a shot.

Will America buy Argentina’s sports export? Hard to say. But the US is an import nation.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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