US soccer teams turn to religion to boost crowds
Sunday 04 June 2006
Yet, these are the chants increasingly being heard at sporting events in the United States as professional teams are climbing aboard the latest marketing tool designed to put backsides on seats - and nourish a few souls along the way.
Faith Nights are testament to the church-going traditions that remain strong in the US, especially in the so-called Bible Belt states of the South. Fans who attend have a double priority: cheer for their team and cheer for the Lord while they are at it.
Consider a recent home game of the Steeldogs, an indoor soccer team in Birmingham, Alabama. For the warm-up, players wore jerseys with books of the Old Testament and verse numbers printed on their backs. A Christian rock band played before kick-off and vendors sold bobble-head dolls in the likeness of Moses and Noah.
Most important for the team, the arena was about 15 per cent more full than normal. Giving individual game nights a religious theme taps into Birmingham's huge Christian community.
Churches, with their email lists and pulpit exhortations, are proving to be more effective than regular advertising at swelling ticket sales.
State and church remain separated in America, and the sudden blurring of the line between sport and religion does not sit comfortably with everyone. The Steeldogs agreed that the Bible-themed jerseys would be jettisoned during play, after the league they belong to threatened to fine them $25,000 (£13,000).
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