Advertising North American 'hinchadas' and the 'mass'

Fall-time, temperature is dropping, at least from the perspective of the otherside of the world and the Major League Soccer excitement is building. I try to keep up with Toronto FC and everything that is going on with supporter culture in the MLS - Canadian Soccer News is a top-quality resource. It is an interesting experience filtered through the football culture of Argentina. Obviously there is no point in forcing a comparison - everything from the history of the leagues to the social, political and economic basis of the supporters is different. Nevertheless how to the 'hinchada' is presented through the media does deserve some reflection.

My interest stems from the early years of TFC advertising. As an example, this commercial from 2008:

The commercial presents a 'primitive' characterization of the soccer fan, obviously attempting to create an appealing image to draw in supporters. This commercial, as can be seen in the comments on youtube, is controversial; and I'm sure there was a lot of discussion on the TFC supporters forums when it came out. Here are a few topics worthy of discussion: First, it is far from the 'reality' of BMO field (few show up painted, no one shows up with torn shirts, and there is no smoke). Second, the 'intensity' and 'passion' communicated through the 'primitive' imagery is associated to the "romantic savage" in North American/European imaginations. Third, the individualism of the image over-top of the masses.

From a comparative perspective, an Argentine hincha is negatively labelled a 'savage' (particularly for the potential to turn passion into violence). In looking at youtube videos and reading comments all over the internet, particularly of San Lorenzo, there is very little emphasis on the 'hincha' and a lot on the 'hinchada'. The most popular videos show very little of the individual and are wide shots of the moving ocean of thousands of people jumping or waving their hands.

This year will be NBC Sports first year hosting MLS matches and they have started their advertising campaign:

Others have commented on how it only shows supporters sections and not one image of actual soccer. Not only does it not show soccer, but outside of a few flashes of an image, it does not show the individual. The majority is the 'mass': scarves held high en-mass, indistinguishable hands thrown into the air, and the 'bounce' of supporters physically unified by their collective embrace to the soundscape of thousands together singing the national anthem of the United States. The Star Spangled Banner, for me, is one of the most individualizing national anthems - no other country invites solo interpretation of their anthem as much as the US (recognizing that it is not uncommonly sung by thousands in stadiums). Not here.

No doubt from the perspective of the 'populares' of an Argentine stadium, I believe there is an attractive experience in being able to dissolve your individuality into the hinchada. Emotions flow faster and more intensely. The weekly release is available at the stadium. Win or lose the shared experience through the mass produces elation and ecstasy, justified anger, or unconditional belonging and support. All emotions, which at their peak, at intoxicating. But impossible if they were not shared.

An interesting question is whether it is the 'idea' of soccer, or something happening in the US, which makes this media image appealing to advertisers. Soccer in the North America draws a lot from its international cultures. From hooliganism to European ultras and South American hinchadas, soccer is a 'mass' spectator sport (even if NASCAR and American football draw more masses). But then, maybe there is also a desire to be apart of a 'mass' right now in the US and advertisers are picking up on this?

Organized supporters sections in the MLS have been at the forefront of creating the stadium experience, most notably with TFC, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Philadelphia Union. Most teams in MLS now have organized supporters. It is without a doubt that, while soccer culture from outside has been useful to these groups, there are creating their own culture and their ability to 'create' the experience has been an advertising boon for the league. The relationship between the media image and the reality of supporters is just beginning in North America and something worth paying attention to, if Argentina is an example.

I'm behind on topics - I have three matches to update from the past week: San Lorenzo's home opener against Estudiantes (ruin the suspense 1-1), Peñarol vs Nacional of Colombia (disaster in Montevideo!), and Argentinos Juniors vs the visiting San Lorenzo this last Saturday (I can now say I've seen el ciclón win; if you were in Paternal and didn't know better you'd think it was a cup final for San Lorenzo). Plus the murgas of Montevideo - spectacular. All of this is coming in the coming days, in some form or another.

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