Football Fever

GWSB students travel to South Africa to explore the ins and outs of the 2010 World Cup.

July 01, 2010

By Julia Parmley

Beginning on June 11, more than 30 teams from around the world descended upon South Africa to compete for the ultimate prize in soccer: the 2010 World Cup. Millions of fans are filling the stands and tuning in on television to follow international competition, including 15 GW School of Business graduate students, who are learning exactly what it takes to pull off a worldwide sporting event.

Under the guidance of Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sports management, the class is meeting with event executives and corporate sponsors to examine the social and economic impact of the World Cup for a three-credit course titled “Impacts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.” The students are also tasked with collecting 50 surveys each from English-speaking spectators to track consumer behavior, motivation and spending.

Lisa Jourdan says she immediately got into the soccer spirit upon exiting her plane in Johannesburg. “We saw jerseys from around the world and heard songs for different teams,” she says.

But nowhere is spirit stronger than at the matches themselves. Several of the students said they were struck by the energy and excitement at the stadiums as well as the hospitality of the locals.

“The atmosphere at the games is bonkers,” says Ben Schwartz. “Attending the U.S. vs. Slovenia match was the highlight of the trip. We showed up in force with American flags waving and vuvuzelas (plastic blowing horns) blaring.”

“There was so much national pride and love for our country,” says Erica Juliano. “The stadium concessions were cheap! A beer costs about $2 and the only options for food were hotdogs and potato chips. The South Africans were all cheering for the United States which made our experience that much more fun.”

Ms. Jourdan, who attended several matches including the U.S. vs. England game in the town of Rustenburg, says the energy and the colorful costumes worn by fans made the experience “surreal.” “There seems to be nothing better than the pride felt when your country’s team stands shoulder to shoulder while the National Anthem plays and thousands of supporters cheer,” she says. “I walked with fellow Americans from the parking lot to the stadium and encountered support from local South Africans for the U.S. team.”

Distributing surveys also gave students an opportunity to interact with other spectators. “At the Port Elizabeth airport I met a young American who has been to every World Cup since he was born and who intends to go to every World Cup in the future,” says Claire Fuster. “I also met locals visiting different cities for matches and plenty of British fans. Sometimes the language gap can be difficult, but everyone has been very friendly and patient.”

Mr. Schwartz says the meetings with sponsors, including Sony and Coca-Cola, and FIFA executives have been “quite informative.” “The sponsors have laid out their objectives and agendas for us,” he says. “We have been able to ask questions regarding our research in both corporate social responsibility and the future event objectives in South Africa beyond the World Cup.”

“I took part in a promotional video shot by Adidas pointing out how the two countries use different terminology to say the same thing: ‘We say soccer; you say football!’ etc.,” says Ms. Jourdan. “It was done to the tune of ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” but ends in “Let’s Kick the Whole Thing Off.” It was a good time and will be seen on social networks.”

But the course is not all work— students also visited historical sites throughout the country and even caught some local wildlife.

“Our days were jam packed with safaris, game drives, city tours and educational and leisure activities,” says Mr. Schwartz. “While some travelers had been concerned with crime, I have never felt unsafe. Overall the country is beautiful with a wealth of culture and tradition.”

“We have gone on four game drives and seen lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants and many more!” says Ms. Juliano. “We have also experienced a Zulu cultural village and some were even able to do tree swinging.”

“South Africa is a lot more Western than I anticipated—there have been so many times that I have had to remind myself that I am in Africa,” she added. “My impression of the country is completely different than the one with which I came.”

The 15 students in the sports marketing class aren’t the only Colonials who made the trip to South Africa for the World Cup. Through Grassroot Project, a program that educates children ages 10 to 14 about HIV and AIDS, and Teamup 2010, GW student-athletes brought a group of D.C. middle school students to Johannesburg.

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