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On the Little Indignities of Following Real Madrid in the United States

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Real Madrid v AC Milan - Pre-Season Friendly
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Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I got a terrible email. A terrible email isn’t like a terrible post because you can’t respond to it publicly without posting a screenshot, which sucks. But I posted it anyways, because it was such a clear window into how unpleasant it can be to follow Real Madrid (the Spanish league generally, to be fair) in the United States.

The problem with a contract dispute between the only cable TV/internet conglomerate that services my building and the only media organization with the rights to broadcast Real Madrid in my country is that there’s no way for me to win. What am I going to do, call Verizon? Everyone hates calling Verizon. And that’s when they have to listen to you because you have a real problem. Imagine calling them to complain about not being able to watch Real Madrid play Cultural Leonesa. “OK, sir, we will register your complaint about....Reeeel Madrid and Culture of Lioness.”

So what, should we call beIN? You mean the media arm of the Qatari government? The ones funded by an infinite supply of petrodollars who bought the rights to this league to improve the image of their country in the midst of dispute with other regional powers?

This is the perpetual state of the US-based Real Madrid fan. Completely helpless as two stupid corporations fight over how much money they have to move between tax shelters in order to put the slightly delayed game footage on my TV between commercials for Taco Bell.

And no, I won’t resign myself to watching my team on a stupid internet stream. I’ve suffered through that for the last fifteen years. I’ve come too far and spent too much time blinking between choppy images of Mahamadou Diarra slamming into a red blur that might be Fernando Torres to just suck it up and watch my games on a shady Bosnian stream run by some guy called LolHitler88. Plus, guess what? I get my internet from Verizon too, because they bought the exclusive rights to the wiring in my building because we have a normal, functioning market for internet services.

And no, I don’t want your recommendations about where I can stream these games, thanks. Yes, I know the contract dispute has been settled.

Another cool thing about being an American sports fan is that everything is sponsored, and that’s coming to soccer now too. The new sponsored thing is “the ESPN Luck Index brought to you by Intel,” which actually sounds cool but is also a pretty transparent attempt to convince you that you need to buy a new computer even though your 2016 laptop is fine, thanks.

In theory, every sports fan should support analytics that try to help remove luck from match and player analysis. Luck is responsible for most of the noise in sports data, and figuring out how to get rid of the randomness of luck is the defining feature of the analytics movement in baseball and basketball. In practice, well, we get this:

I want to believe in this statistic, but I guess I’m just constitutionally incapable of wrapping my head around a branded stat, just like I’m constitutionally incapable of following a team named after an energy drink.

Just another day trying to support Real Madrid in this country. And yes, it has gotten marginally better since I was a kid and had to watch the World Cup on a rented TV broadcasting pay-per-view channels that I could only find listed next to the porn and WWF wrestling re-runs. Now we have the internet, so I can get malware while watching a stream that shows every second of the pre-match Portuguese commentary and immediately cuts out after the first whistle. Now, ESPN actually has soccer commentary. They have a whole show about it. And Fox Sports carries the Champions League and does its own show and because we have all these options for watching the seven matches a year they broadcast internet guys will yell at us if we complain about the dipshit announcer who talks about Cebolla’s or CebaAHlo’s or CEBalo’s “disastrous” 2017.

I guess I was expecting too much of this process. It’s absolutely good that we have ways of watching soccer in this country that aren’t just “go to your weird rich friend’s basement because his parents have a satellite” and “sneak into a bar even though you’re underage”. The issue is that as these options have expanded the experience of this sport has become more Americanized. More of my friends and coworkers are into the sport now; but my experience of watching it is completely dominated by huge corporations either trying to sell me junk I don’t want or trying to use my ability to buy junk I don’t want as a bargaining chip.

But that’s the trade-off we’ve decided to make in this country.

The opinions expressed are the author’s alone and are not those of his employer. Gabe is the Editor-in-Chief emeritus of Managing Madrid and a co-host of the Managing Madrid Podcast.