Despite having grown up fifteen minutes away from the Columbus Crew soccer stadium, I’ve never once been to a game. A few of my friends at OU are big soccer fans, but the few minutes here and there of games they stream online that I’ve managed to catch are the extent of my experience with this particular sport. So yesterday evening, when our whole study abroad group hopped on a tram to the Leipzig stadium to go and watch the local fußball (as they call it here) team play, I had no idea what to expect.
One thing that immediately struck me upon entering the stadium was an almost complete lack of corporate sponsorship. Advertisements for only three companies were prominently displayed: Adidas, Audi, and Red Bull (which owns the team and the stadium). Not only were there only a few companies that had purchased ad space in the stadium, but the ads were relegated to the area below the seats that surrounded the field. This stood out to me especially when I thought about sporting events I’ve attended back in the US, where advertisements and sponsorship bombard spectators from every corner.
The game itself ended up being a ton of fun – not only did RB Leipzig defeat visiting Sportfreunde Lotte with a total score of 2-0, but the energy in that stadium was something else. There’s something completely thrilling about being surrounded by 30,000 soccer fans, all dressed up and waving flags and chanting things in German that you can’t understand. It was so easy to feed off of their energy, even for someone like me who has never been to a soccer game before. And unlike many American sporting events I’ve observed, the stadium stayed packed the whole time – there was no mass exodus during halftime or in the last few minutes of the game. The RB Leipzig fans stayed there until the victory was secure, chanting and cheering and waving their flags with a never-ending supply of energy until the very last second of the game.
Sports culture in this part of the world has a lot in common with what I’ve observed back in the States, but there are still a wide variety of differences – the biggest being the fact that other than soccer, there doesn’t seem to be any other professional sports leagues anywhere around here. But that doesn’t mean the Germans don’t put their hearts and souls into rooting for their favorite teams – the fan bases for European soccer teams could possibly rival those of the NFL in the United States. Just this past weekend, when Bayern Munich defeated Dortmund in the Champions League game, the mood here in Germany almost felt like Super Bowl Sunday back home. Bars were packed, stores were virtually empty. And by the end of the evening, I wouldn’t doubt that there wasn’t a soul here who didn’t know the final result of the game.
We – Americans and Germans – certainly seem to go crazy over different sports. To an American, the word “football” is associated with a very specific sport, while to a German, that same word is their English term for the game we know as soccer. American football means hardly anything to them, while soccer to us Americans definitely isn’t as big of a deal as it is here. Still, the culture of sports fandemonium is universal, and people of all different nations root for their team in much the same way. It’s things like this that have made me realize that maybe we aren’t so different after all.