Foreign Owners In Sports

Getting worked up over a foreigner buying a sports team is a little like listening to Quebec commentators on the radio babble about too many English words and stores (international branding rights be damn!) in a shopping mall.

It all comes down to one thing: Xenophobia.

Pure and simple. No if, but, or and about it.


It's always interesting to see reactions in the media and among fans whenever a foreign consortium or new owner buys a local team. It happens often enough but do they ever get used to it?

Back in the 1990s, American businessman George Gillette bought the iconic Montreal Canadiens in a province high on its 'chez nous' outlook. It caused a bit of a "why the Americans?' navel-gazing blah blah but hey, it's not like Canadian investors were llining up. In fact, Gillette bought the franchise dirt cheap, built it up and sold it a for huge profit. When it went up for sale at a premium that's when the sleepy headed Canadian business community fought to get it and shouted, "We'll take it!"

*Face palm* here.

In England, Russians, Arabs and Americans (Tom Hicks and the aforementioned Gillette bought one of the world's great clubs Liverpool)  flocked to buy EPL soccer clubs with varying degrees of reactions. I guess it's an acquired taste getting used to people speaking in foreign tongue buying up your assets. Remember the Great Japanese Scare of the 1990s. They were buying up everything in the USA! We were all going to speak Japanian! So it seemed. Then someone went out and got all perspective on us and reminded that Japanese holdings of total American assets accounted for something like 2% - if that, if my memory serves me correct.

The Italians too are starting to get a taste of what it's like when an American (Thomas Di Benedetto) scooped up AS Roma and its rabid fan base. Roma is one of those giant teams on the cusp of European greatness...mind you, since the 1980s. The reaction says a lot about the prevailing mindset, no?

Contrast this with the general "whatever" greeting from Yanks when Russian businessman Mikail Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets. Granted, the fact it was the Nets might have had something to do with it. I mean, it's not like he bought the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, Bulls or even 76ers. Still. I read and listened to a lot of American media outlets and it the reaction was nowhere near the nationalistic levels we see here in Quebec or Europe. Some even liked his brash talk. Promising a championship? Di Benedetto faced a backlash for daring to speak confidently and looking to improve Roma. In Italia, non si fa!

Americans understand it's just business. One foreign dude doesn't mean 29 other dudes from the former republics will clamor to buy up NBA teams. Indoor soccer teams maybe but not the major sports.

Americans do a lot buying and selling and they know it's part of the deal to get bought out and sold.

I understand the attachment of certain soccer teams to the locals and cultural landscape of a town in Europe makes it especially delicate, but it's not like North America is void of such scenarios. One need only look at teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Knicks, Green Bay Packers, Boston Celtics, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Chicago Bears to know this to be true.

One can only hope those doing the buying understand the cultural brands they are buying.

For Montrealers, it turned out great as Gillette was clearly dedicated to maintaining the fabled and famed  historical legacy of the Habs. I'm sure there are many like him waiting to do the same elsewhere.

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