Fair trade: A dull sport for a bland beer
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Soccer's catching on here in the United States, they tell me. We've reached the point where the American team is somewhat competitive in the World Cup.
I like many things European, particularly the beer. But I have never quite fathomed soccer. Then yesterday I made the connection between the two.
I turned on the TV to give the World Cup a try. Portugal was playing Mexico. People were falling over a lot and the ball was going everywhere but into the goal. The announcer seemed excited anyway. It turned out that Angola was playing Iran at the same time, he said. "If anything happens in that game, we'll switch over to it," he told us.
Well, there you have it: A direct admission from an expert that, during most of the typical soccer game, nothing happens.
Yet that nothing seems tremendously exciting to the fans. Throughout the game, they kept up a din so loud that it must have awakened the scorekeeper from the long naps he takes between goals.
Hence the need for beer. It is impossible to imagine sober people working themselves up into such a lather while nothing is happening on the field. And up till this tournament, European soccer fans had access to great quantities of high- quality stuff. The English have their wonderful ales, the Germans their lagers and so forth.
That all changed this year. It seems that Anheuser-Busch paid $40 million to become the exclusive beer sponsor of the tournament, which is run by a group called FIFA, one of the initials of which stands for "football" even though it's a soccer tournament.
The sponsorship deal went through before the site of the tournament was chosen. But then, trouble. Germany was picked as the host country. And to the Germans, Budweiser's not beer. It contains rice, which is strictly verboten under the hallowed beer purity law of 1516.
That was bad enough. Worse, in Germany, Budweiser's not even Budweiser. Attorneys for Anheuser-Busch have struggled mightily in courts all over the world to convince judges that a beer from Missouri is worthier of the title "Budweiser" than a beer from Bud weis, which is the German name for the Czech town of Budejovice. But the German judges, perhaps because they understand German, ruled that the name "Budweiser" describes beer from Budweis, not St. Louis.
Tactics like that left Bud with a bad taste among Germans. Then when the Germans learned that they wouldn't be able to drink German beer at soccer games in Germany, they went nuts. One Bavarian politician cited what he termed an "obligation to not poison World Cup visitors with bad American beer." A group of beer lovers set up a Web site (www.budout.org) at which Germans spewed insults at Budweiser. One beer-loving American offered this comment: "I'd like to personally apologize to the world for Anheuser Busch making a weak beer with no flavor."
The low point came when fans of the Dutch team literally lost their pants to Anheuser-Busch. It seems that the brewers of Bavaria, a quite drinkable beer from Hol land, had outfitted a thousand or so fans with orange pants with fake lion tails, orange being the national color and the lion the national symbol.
When the fans showed up at the stadium, the organizers confiscated the pants, which carried the Bavaria logo. So the Dutch fans watched the game in their underwear, thereby ensuring yet another round of bad headlines for Bud. Typical was the sentiment of Irish journalist Ian O'Doherty:
"FIFA didn't like the idea of the logo of a local brew appearing in a stadium sponsored by Budweiser -- surely the most insipid, tasteless beer known to man."
Actually, there are a couple of American beers even worse than Bud. But if you rank beers on any sort of index that compares quality to price, Bud has to be at the bottom. Even in the United States, many European beers can be had at a lower price than Bud, including Bavaria.
In Europe, Bud sells at premium prices. And the Europeans gladly pay, says Dave Hoffman, who runs the Climax Brewery in Roselle Park.
"When I went to London, I was appalled," said Hoffman. "Half the people at the bar were drinking Bud, Coors or Miller."
European tastes are being Americanized, he said. The young people there now demand the same bland, flavorless beers that Americans drink -- excepting, of course, those Americans who favor microbrews like Dave makes.
Why? Dave blames another American export: advertising.
"People are brainwashed into thinking Bud is the king of beers," he said.
That must explain it. I confess I don't understand Bud's success. I would no more buy a case of Bud than I'd buy a ticket to a soccer game.
But that's progress, I guess. The Europeans send us a sport in which nothing happens. We send them a beer with no flavor.
Ain't globalization grand?
Paul Mulshine is a Star-Ledger columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Original article here.