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Bastian Schweinsteiger’s decision to move on from a brief stay at Manchester United in favor of the American side Chicago Fire fueled much debate and discussion about the state of American soccer. The move was impactful to countless people worldwide. The former German National Team captain had won nearly everything he could win in German soccer with Bayern Munich – Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal title, a UEFA Champions League title, a FIFA Club World Cup title, and a UEFA Super Cup title in addition to a World Cup victory with the German National team in 2014.
Schweinsteiger moved to Manchester United in 2015 to potentially expand his list of accomplishments with English titles. He had joined Bayern Munich’s organization as a youth player in 1998, and had not moved clubs until joining the English side. The contract signed with Manchester United would last three years, and the deal was estimated to be worth £7.2 annually, an amount similar to his paycheck with Bayern Munich (Edwards). Schweinsteiger’s career with Manchester United ended in the spring of 2017, before the end of his contract. Injury and age had led to a lack of playing time, and a change in managers from Louis van Gaal to Jose Mourinho helped demote Schweinsteiger to training with the Under 23 team (Shode). He then joined the MLS side Chicago Fire, reportedly without exercising his contractual right to require Manchester United to pay his full three year paycheck in full (Gaughan).
The German joined a struggling Chicago Fire to much fanfare. The Fire finished the 2015 and 2016 seasons in last place, the first and only MLS team to end two consecutive seasons at the bottom of the table. Poor performance led to poor attendance at home games – the Fire averaged 15,602 home attendance, the second lowest in the league (Campbell). Chicago had clear room to grow and hoped a one-year $4.5 million deal with an international star could help.
Due to the internationality of soccer, Schweinsteiger’s move to American soccer affected countless people worldwide. The fans, both spectators and viewers, were incredibly impacted. His following is massive worldwide thanks to many titles and years at Bayern Munich, and that following grew with his move to Manchester. With over four million Twitter followers, the German has more followers than the entire Chicago Bears football team combined (Campbell). For American soccer fans, the move was an incredible opportunity to see an international star. Chicago Fire reported selling over 150 new season tickets following Schweinsteiger’s arrival, and even fans of other teams had the opportunity to see the legend in action against their own team (Campbell). Another benefit to American fans is a more convenient time slot to watch the sport. Timezones often prove difficult for fans of international teams, often forcing fans to significantly alter sleep schedules to watch games. With Schweinsteiger’s move to America, games are played during the American system of sports television, helping sports fans catch the games.
Although American spectators and viewers benefit from the move, international fans suffer. The sport’s international status allows fans to live anywhere in the world and still watch games, but moving to the MLS, a league often critiqued for lower skill, limits the ability to watch for many fans. As the move benefits American time zones, it hinders the ability to watch worldwide. As a German, Schweinsteiger’s greatest following exists in Europe. Even with all the support and excitement from American fans, Schweinsteiger loses spectators and viewers worldwide.
New organizations also stood to benefit from Schweinsteiger’s MLS move. The club reported 2.5 billion impressions on all media generated about the move, including content from local and national news organizations. This is incredibly beneficial to the organizations, who rely on selling papers and generating views and impressions to stay afloat. The boost of American readers and even international fans trying to stay up to date on the German’s successes helped news organizations and content creators boost revenues.
Advertisers stood to benefit from the deal as well. Soccer is not the most advertiser friendly sport due to its continuous play, so advertisers often find new ways to reach the soccer audience. A major way this is done is by sponsoring team uniforms. Every Chicago jersey, from those worn by players to those bought by fans, bears the name Valspar, a paint company. By attaching the name Schweinsteiger to the back, Valspar certainly benefitted from more advertising as fans of the Fire and of the German rushed to buy and wear new Chicago jerseys.
The city of Chicago potentially saw positives from Schweinsteiger’s arrival. Soccer’s growth in America is quite small, with a lot of room for improvement. By being the home of an international star, Chicago takes a competitive edge over other soccer cities. This may help boost the city’s economy, although Chicago is already a bustling city. By growing the team and the league, Chicago can potentially hope to push for hosting bids of major soccer events.
Worldwide media benefitted from the decision to move to MLS in the same way as local and national news organizations. Manchester was abuzz following the announcement, as was much of the soccer world. Fans turn to any source of media they can find to get their fix. The internationality of the sport also helps spread media – soccer is understood and celebrated in every language.
As previously mentioned, the Chicago Fire had a lot to gain with Schweinsteiger’s introduction. The team hoped to turn around poor team performance and poor game attendance. The league also likely wanted the star’s help to boost viewership to help drive up advertisers.
The main stakeholder is Bastian Schweinsteiger. His decision to move from Bayern Munich for Manchester United was an emotional decision after playing much of his career with the club. His exclusion from the United squad left him eager to find a club that would actually play him. Through it all, Schweinsteiger was motivated by the paychecks and the love of the game. Due to his age, the star is nearing the end of his career, and moving teams can be risky. If Schweinsteiger failed to perform in Chicago, his career is essentially over without the possibility of retiring from a hefty paycheck. Furthermore, Schweinsteiger had to make the decision to move across the ocean and ask his wife to join him. His wife is retired tennis star Ana Ivanovic. Schweinsteiger’s decision would have to be made with her in mind, as well as his paycheck and an awareness of the remaining length of his career.
These stakeholders are very interconnected. Viewers and spectators spend their money on tickets and merchandise to benefit the club and advertisers. Fans sat in front of televisions or watching games and content online drive views and impressions for news organizations, media, and advertisers. The city of Chicago and the MLS look to Schweinsteiger to help boost soccer’s popularity in Chicago and in the country. Even other teams could benefit as fans from across the country make journeys to various stadiums in hopes of catching a good view of Schweinsteiger. The move potentially served to benefit many.
Due to his age, I do not believe Schweinsteiger’s move to Chicago will serve any lasting benefit to any of the involved parties. MLS has a reputation of being a retirement league – David Beckham and Stephen Gerrard played with the LA Galaxy before retiring, and Frank Lampard ended his career with New York City FC. Bastian Schweinsteiger is likely following this pattern. While soccer in America is growing, I do not think that one player’s stardom can transform a league, especially without having played in the league and established a presence within the American sports scene. The positive effects of Schweinsteiger’s Chicago career to all stakeholders will be short term, with the exception of the player himself who will likely be able to retire comfortably from the sport.
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