John vs. Capitalism, the Soccer Shoe Edition

This is what happens if you oppose our marketing juggernaut

This is what happens if you oppose our marketing juggernaut

The Cast:

The Great Multinational Shoemongers hire platoons of designers, analysts and marketers to fine-tune their zeitgeist-piercing value propositions and beam them into the cerebral cortices of impressionable young shoe-shoppers, such as my son.

My son sees the images; he watches the videos; he reads the SEO-optimized web copy; he’s even downloaded the app, so he’s among the first to know of upcoming ripples in the Product Force. He is The Ideal Consumer.

Then there’s me, Just a Bloke Trying to Do Right by His Son and Keep His Wallet from Hemorrhaging

The Backstory

The Great Multinational Shoemonger’s latest creation is lurid, sparkly and complicated, the the novelty make my son’s eyes swim like this: @ @

Later, as if recounting a dream, he spouts its marketing specifics: “The Mephisto Dynaforce Attack 3000 has a bionomic cleat distribution pattern and a mechan-o-ptimized friction coefficient for precise shooting and passing. Oh, and they’re only $284.99!”

The Epic Battle of Epicness

This week I took the Ideal Consumer to the soccer store for a new pair of soccer cleats. On the Shrine of Consumerism (i.e., the back wall), an array of dazzling Lethal Viper Hyper Force Ultra Magic Attack gleamed, their allures singing like sirens trying to dash my wallet on the rocks of fiscal ruin.

My son’s eyes did that googly thing as his favorite pair of shoes dazzled his eyes. Reflected in his irises I saw the orange gleam of the shoes, which resembled a kind of deadly Amazon toad that emitted its own LSD.

“Dad, those are the Mephisto Dyna–”

“Can we see a pair of these black ones in a size 8?” I said to the clerk.

The black ones were sensible. They were made of leather, instead of Next-Gen ProVita Polymers, and had well-sewn seams so they looked like they might last a winter in Oregon. They had some heel cushioning too, unlike the Mephisto Dynaforce ballet slippers. I pictured those black shoes offering support and protection. My son might have to suffer a season without a Lethal Impact Friction Zone, and cleat distribution that hadn’t been optimized by a NASA supercomputer, but he wouldn’t have to suffer persistent heel pain, or a visit to the doctor.

Needless to say, my son the Ideal Consumer was aghast I would even consider ancient, graceless clunkers like those. (Ignoring the fact that his older brother had a pair, and liked them.)

The virtue of going to an Actual Soccer Store is they expect you to use the shoes to play Actual Soccer. As a result, the clerk is not one of those you find at the mall, whose enthusiasm disguises the fact that he’s been completely lobotomized by his own shoe inventory. This clerk was sad to inform me they didn’t have the black ones in my son’s size.

Sensing opportunity, my son again pointed at the beacon on the wall. The shoes looked like a pair of booties Daredevil or Spider-Man would wear, if a designer made a special edition of his costume for Pride Week.

I shook my head and recited the dull reasons for my decision: Durability. Protection. Cost (one-third of the Mephisto Dynaforces in Orgasm Orange). I wondered, briefly, how I’d become so dull and pragmatic, and then remembered all the money I would save if we bought shoes that weren’t coated in a sheen of lethal Amazon tree frog poison.

Father and Son Go Mano a Mano, in List Format:

  • There was sadness and pouting.
  • There was back talk.
  • There was an exasperated, desperate, helpless glance from father, and sympathetic clucking from the shoe clerk.
  • There was a cruel ultimatum, issued by this correspondent, to leave the Holy Shrine of Consumerism empty-handed.
  • There was a cooling off period, and some wandering around to look at soccer jerseys on the sale rack.
  • There was a cautious second approach, reciting the fact that while the Mephisto Dynaforce 3000 shoes did contain super-awesome rare earth metals, they were for indoor soccer, not turf. (E.g., footage of Ronaldo/Neymar/Messi slipping and falling on his ass didn’t make it into the YouTube Awesome Skills videos.)

The Denouement

Finally the effects of the Shoemonger Marketing Charm ebbed slightly, and the Ideal Consumer realized he could get a pair of shoes that would work on turf, and were still pretty eye-stunning — but in a more muted way, like psychedelic lake trout.

But before I could declare victory about saving enough money to buy 10 weeks of beer, the Ideal Consumer hit me with a counter-proposal, in the form of a matching pair of techno-hosiery (cost: 2 weeks of beer), which I felt I had to include to close the deal.

Post-Match Analysis

Hard to say who won this round. Did I get what I wanted? No, the Psychedelic Lake Trout 9000s look pretty flimsy, and the battle cost me 3.5 weeks more of beer than I’d budgeted.

Was the Ideal Consumer satisfied? No, his consumer lust for the Mephisto Dynaforce 3000s remains unfulfilled (though he did manage upsell me on the mint-infused soccer socks).

But fear not: the new, flimsy shoes should self-obsolete before long, and soon we’ll be back in the store to do it all again. In the meantime, if the Shoemonger ever made Mephisto Dynaforce 3000 beer cozies in that shade brilliant orange, I just might be persuaded …

Beckham Injury Causes FIFA to Postpone World Cup

ZURICH — In an unprecedented move, FIFA officials decided yesterday to postpone the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament until 2011, in order to give David Beckham’s torn Achilles’ tendon time to heal so that he could play in the tournament.

“Missing Beckham would devastate our ratings,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “Let’s face it: Beckham and his wife, Victoria, are the fifth-richest couple on Forbes money list, and we were counting on substantial ad revenue from his fragrance brand. Without Beckham, no one gives a shit about the Honduran squad. No offense, but Rigoberto Padilla doesn’t sell hair gel.”

“We are elated by FIFA’s decision,” said Armand André, spokesperson for Victoria Beckham. “This will give us time to tailor our denim and eyewear offerings to the billions who will be enjoying David Beckham at the World Cup.”

However, many in the world are speculating that the severity of Beckham’s injury will mean the end of his playing career.

“He was already as slow as a dunce with a head injury,” says Nigel Stoke-on-Trent, who writes for a soccer blog called The Old Onion Bag. “What is England going to do when he gets back? Sub him on to take a one-legged corner kick?”

Others disagree with Stoke-on-Trent’s prediction, noting that FIFA is not the only organization that stands to benefit from Beckham’s appearance. The English national squad recently negotiated a deal to make David Beckham Underwear the team’s exclusive supplier of athletic support garments, and the team would lose millions if they stopped carrying the David Beckham jock.

In related news, FIFA officials announced Tuesday that their creative team is busy re-conceptualizing the FIFA 2010 World Cup mascot, Zakumi.

At the press conference, organization released a preliminary sketch of the new mascot, “Becky.”

Book Review: How Soccer Explains the World

soccer_world.jpegFranklin Foer’s book How Soccer Explains the World has the subtitle, “an {unlikely} theory of globalization.”

And his title and subtitle are, perhaps, my only quibbles with his excellent book. This isn’t one of those “Worms: How Fat, Soft-bodied Invertebrates Explain Human History” books.

It doesn’t exactly explain the world, though it is very much about globalization. The first part “tries to explain the failure of globalization to erode ancient hatreds in the game’s great rivalries.”

He calls this the “hooligan-heavy section of the book,” and once or twice he comes perilously close to retreading the same ground covered in Bill Buford’s harrowing and amazing Among the Thugs.

But Foer, an editor at the New Republic, goes the extra mile here, and it shows. His first chapter is how about a Serbian a soccer thug who helped organize troops who became murderers in the Balkan War. By the war’s end, the thug’s men had killed at least 2,000 Croats and Bosnians. There’s another, equally fascinating chapter about a soccer rivalry in Scotland inflamed by religious hatred.

The second section is more economic, with an excellent dissection of the disease-ridden state of football in Brazil, a look at Italian oligarchs, and arguably the most globalized chapter, about a Nigerian playing professional soccer in the Ukraine, where “Even the ruddy Ukranians line up in wool hats, long pants, and heavy parkas. Many Nigerians playing in the Ukraine complain bitterly about their inability to maneuver in these temperatures. They say that their frozen feet feel like sledgehammers, while their style of play demands a chisel’s delicacy.”

Apart from readers such as myself reaping the benefits of him roaming the world and watching soccer (in Brazil, Spain, Italy, the Ukraine, Scotland and the US, among others), the book is a whole new reading on politics, sometimes showing a country in an entirely new light as a result. One of the best chapters is about Islam, and the way that soccer has been a liberating influence for people there (especially women). The chapter on Brazil is no less illuminating. There’s even a two-chapter detour into The Jewish Question that describes Hakoah, a soccer team that’s a bona fide Jewish Sports Legend.

For as well informed as the book is about world events, Foer is no less astute when it comes to the US. He makes a fascinating argument that for children who came of age at the same time he did (I’d estimate he’s between 35 and 40), soccer was

a tabula rasa, a sport onto which a generation of parents could project their values. Quickly, soccer came to represent the fundamental tenets of yuppie parenting, the spirit of Sesame Street and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Unlike the other sports, it would foster self-esteem, minimize the pain of competition while still teaching life lessons.

That leads to a strange inversion in the United States: “In every other part of the world, soccer’s sociology varies little: it is the province of the working class.” In the US, as sporting goods surveys show, “children of middle class and affluent families play the game disproportionately.” I found that a shocking conclusion—not because it was wrong, but because my son plays youth soccer, and I still somehow didn’t see how obviously right it is.

In other words, soccer is an elitist sport, and thus derided by sports talk shows and conservatives who see it as yet another unpatriotic symptom in the American liberal disease of Europhilia.

Again, I’m not sure soccer explains the world, but it does make me see it in a whole new way.

Stayin’ Alive


We interrupt this working day to bring you news of brilliance on the internet, in the form of Nate DiMeo’s proposal in Slate, “My Plan to Save Hockey.” (He tells it in the form of a letter to the NHL, which explains why he keeps using you).

First the problem: “Thanks to a functional but deeply imperfect revenue-sharing system, you’re getting by. But you’re propping up franchises that have no business surviving. … you let salary growth far outpace revenue growth. You expanded all the way to the breaking point (if you’re looking for this point on a map, it’s suspiciously close to Nashville).”

Then the proposal: Make the NHL like The English Premiership, where “the three worst Premiership teams are kicked down to the league immediately below them. The best two teams from that lower league move up; the third team gets promoted after winning a thrilling playoff series.”

It’s no accident that English Premier League soccer is addictive. It’s great. But it takes some getting used to, because it’s geographically chaotic, and you have conversations with yourself like this:

  1. Manchester City is playing Manchester United?
  2. Cockswold on the Glen is playing Buggerborough? Oh, like I’m going to tune in for that — oh wait, doesn’t Buggerborough have that amazing Nigerian striker I saw in the last World Cup? I take it back. What time is it on?

But back to the ice. Is relegation for NHL a good idea? Yes, it’s unalloyed genius. Here’s why:

You’re not just rooting for your own favorite club and watching what happens at the top of the league. You’re also watching teams duke it out at the bottom as they fight for survival. Plus, it means that there aren’t perennial basement dwellers. Team owners have to keep investing in their team if they want to stay in the spotlight (and stay where the money is). If baseball had this system, the nation would have been rid of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays a long time ago.

Not only that, the league contracts (which it needs to), and other hockey hotbeds, which now have great owners and fan bases, get a shot at the big time:

If the Halifax Mooseheads are slugging it out with the New York Rangers for the 2012 Stanley Cup, then all the better. That will mean the Mooseheads can draw 18,000 rabid fans and have owners who’ve invested in building a great team.

And damned if I wouldn’t be first in line to buy a Mooseheads jersey.