Long Tail Sports

February 19, 2012

Neymar-mania vs. Lin-sanity?

Lin-sanity notwithstanding, this is a time of year when I always find myself wanting more as a sports fan in America. The memories of the Super Bowl and BCS Championship game have already started to fade; March madness remains a long way off; pitchers and catchers have yet to report for Spring Training; and both the NBA and NHL have just passed the midpoint of their respective regular seasons. Add that it’s the middle of Winter (even an historically mild one), and these factors combine to make mid February a less than thrilling few weeks.

Lately, I’ve partially solved my urge for non-stop sports entertainment by turning to leagues that have much less popularity and almost no visibility in mainstream U.S. media coverage.

First, during a brief trip to Brazil for a conference, I enjoyed watching some early round action in the Paulistão, or the elite soccer league of São Paulo state. With historically dominant teams like Corinthians, Santos, and Palmeiras, São Paulo boasts one of the most competitive state-level championships within Brazil and usually includes several young players who will become international superstars with household names within a few years (e.g. if you haven’t heard of Neymar yet, just be patient, the teenage phenom will likely figure prominently in the Brazilian national team’s efforts when the country hosts the World Cup in 2014).

Then, the week after I returned from Brazil, I spent a few afternoons watching the final games of the Serie del Caribe, an international tournament that wraps up the Winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. The games were tight, competitive and included a number of Major League players who seemed either to have chosen to return home as triumphant stars or to hone their skills among Latin America’s most competitive leagues.

Despite the fact that you’ll never see your local ESPN network cover either of these events, both have a ton of history behind them and tremendous fan-bases (ESPN’s Brazilian and regional Latin American affiliates cover both). They are also extraordinarily competitive and played at a very high skill level.

Latin American soccer and baseball are not the only options. There are also a whole range of winter sports that never show up on U.S. television schedules until the Olympics. In other words, the only thing preventing you from watching terrific, exciting sporting events in the middle of the annual mid-Winter lull is the fact that you would probably either need to pay an inordinate sum for satellite coverage or seek out unauthorized streams on websites that serve sketchy advertisements and mal-ware along with the game.

At the risk of making a very Ethan Zuckerman-esque point, the Internet makes it theoretically trivial to solve this problem, but that theoretical triviality only underscores a much bigger problem in the way our attention is distributed and canalized by a combination of cultural habits and incumbent media networks. In other words, maybe you’d be more likely to watch Neymar and Santos take on Palmeiras if either your local television network would it or if you could easily find a high quality stream broadcasting in English (I also enjoy watching these things online because I get to listen to Portuguese and Spanish language announcers). Indeed, as long as somebody is streaming a broadcast of any of these games anywhere around the world, there’s no practical reason that it isn’t possible to watch that stream anywhere else. But for a whole variety of reasons that I don’t fully understand, that just doesn’t happen yet.

My point is that American sports fans live in a media ecosystem that has not yet figured out what to do with its (long) tail. There has to be a better, less monopolistic solution than satellite and cable providers charging high rates for access to particular sports packages or leagues. This model ensures that only existing fans who are willing to pay to watch teams they already like will ever subscribe to such services, condemning these sports and teams to continued obscurity. Instead, it would be great to see some affordable way for fans to take advantage of existing Internet streams to experiment with new sports, new leagues, and new cultures by tuning into otherwise less popular or less well-known events when their hometown favorites are not in season.

Fun and thought-provoking. Perhaps a little romanticized, but hey – if you spend that much time on You Tube I think you get a free pass.

(Note: video is CC-BY-NC-SA)

As mentioned on Groklaw, perhaps the most striking assertion in this presentation (it’s sudden and fleeting during the first few minutes) is that 88% of the content on YouTube is original.

A second large international survey has found that Danes are the world’s happiest people.

”]Photo by World of Oddy (CC-BY-NC-SA)The Der Spiegel article linked to above offers a few explanations, including a quasi-structuralist class analysis:

The strong social safety nets that cradle Danish citizens from birth until death are welcoming to foreigners, too. Kate Vial, a 55-year-old American expat who has lived and worked in Denmark for more than 30 years, passed up opportunities over the years to return to the U.S., choosing instead to raise her three children in Denmark. Vial knows she will never be rich, but says that she valued family, the ability to travel, and simple economic security above all else. “I just chose a simpler lifestyle, one where I could ride my bike all over and where I don’t have to make a great living to survive,” she says.

And a more culturalist version:

Some people attribute the prevailing attitude among Danes to something less tangible, called hygge (pronounced “hooga”). Danes say the word is difficult to translate — and to comprehend — but that it describes a cozy, convivial sentiment that involves strong family bonds. “The gist of it is that you don’t have to do anything except let go,” says Vial. “It’s a combination of relaxing, eating, drinking, partying, spending time with family.”

Gotta get me some of that hygge.

In the meantime, I’m sure a bumper crop of follow up studies will try to explain the results. Personally, I wonder what sorts of behavioral and political results stem from being happy. Are Danes more cooperative? Do they smile more? If you walk into a bar full of Danes and tell a bad joke, are they more likely to laugh?

Please share your own theories, questions, and dim-witted asides (along with any spare hygge you may have lying around the house) in the comments…

As reported a couple of hours ago by Brazil’s IG News Service via Último Segundo (my translation):

The artist has held the office of Minister [of Culture] since 2003, the year that began Lula’s first term, and he has already prepared to leave the position on more than one occasion. Every time, the president managed to convince Gil to change his mind as well as his post.

Despite considering his term as head of the MinC [Ministry of Culture] as “positive,” Gil lamented that the Commission on Ethics had prevented him from performing live while serving in the government during the past two years. According to him, the presence of a musician in command of the Ministry could have become an “international paradigm.”

“I hope that these four years [have been] important for Brazil and for the world, because many people came in with prejudices about having a musician for a minister,” he noted.

Gil is a beloved icon throughout the country and a passionate defender of Free Culture and Access to Knowledge. Breaking with historical precedent, he dedicated his time at the MinC to creating new programs that supported thousands of small and medium sized cultural projects nationwide.

His departure will undoubtedly raise questions about the future of these projects.