Soccer (Football) is one of the most popular and watched sport in the world. The 2014 World Cup Final reached around 1 billion viewers. Soccer is being played for over 100 years. It originated in England in 1863. Soccer with its popularity has become a really marketable sport. Similarly, numerous corporations invest enormous capital into soccer advertisements. In this blog, I will discuss the relationship between soccer and masculinity portrayed by the Nike advertisement and its impact on our society.
Nike: Take It To The Next Level
Nike’s brilliant advertisement, Take It To The Next Level, takes us through an incredible journey of a rising soccer star, who goes through the ranks to play for one of the top flight soccer club in English football. The whole video is shot in a first-person point of view. Showcasing the viewers, a glimpse into the life of a soccer player. The product in the advertisement is not one product but the lifestyle attached to Nike products and Nike football. This advertisement sells the lifestyle of a strong masculine soccer player through its products that can be achieved by buying the Nike merchandise (Marx, 2005).
“its symbols, images, stereotypes, collective identities and memories as part of their overall branding strategy” (Jackson, 2013)
Jackson (2013) argues a strong relationship between sport and masculinity, in this case soccer, and advertisements play an important role in constructing a stereotypical, masculine protagonist. Advertisement also create a form of culture that connects brands with consumers (Jackson, 2013). Furthermore, Jackson (2003) states that masculinity does not exist but it something that marketed, bought and sold.
The Nike advertisement uses a male protagonist through which we see the life of a soccer player. We as viewers become the soccer player, the athlete, the man, the protagonist. The advertisement sells us the idea of an ideal male soccer player and what it takes to become one. To become a “successful” masculine soccer player, one must train, work hard on the field and in the gym to gain physical presence on the pitch; even at the cost of his own health (throwing up at 1:02 mark and 1:47 mark). Soccer, for the protagonist in the advertisement, is a platform to showcase his physical aggression, courage, commitment, and sacrifice (Jackson, 2013) as any other sport; To become stronger, faster, and better at soccer. If one obtains those traits, that will him win games and score goals, that will lead him on the path to “success”.
Success in the advertisement shown by using various elements. The protagonist is shown in an extravagant house, driving loud expensive cars, and dating multiple women. To be masculine is to have a nice house. To be masculine is to have a nice expensive car with a huge engine. To be masculine is to have multiple women. Women are only shown as a trophy for the male protagonist. The more the games he wins, the more success he enjoys. The advertisement also shows that the biggest achievement one can accomplish is to represent your nation.
The protagonist is a tall male, who is mostly looking down at other actors, it gives him power over other actors; Similarly, he becomes more desirable for the viewers as well (Goldman, 1992). The male protagonist in the advertisement shows various characteristics of a hegemonic male who becomes strong, quick, tall, strong, successful and authoritative or “a man in power” (Feasey, 2009). And to be “man” is to be masculine, when male athletes plays or performs underwhelming, they are labeled as girls.
Sports and Masculinity
Idea of masculinity starts very early in life of a man. It starts when they are little boys going outside to play in the playgrounds, where they practice becoming real “men”. The real man is the stereotypical man the kids see in the advertisements. They go to fields, spend hours practicing, trying to imitate their professional heroes and athletes (Bunn, Wyke, Gray, Maclean, & Hunt 2016). The athletes they see on T.V. along with other media platforms have a big impact on a young child’s life. They look at them and want to be like them. It makes a huge difference what these advertisements are portraying what real men are.
In playgrounds, the boys live out the “ideals of fitness, strength, competition, power and domination’ and so begin the process of inculcating practices associated with dominant masculinities” (Bunn, Wyke, Gray, Maclean, & Hunt 2016)
Sports have important meaning, similar to art and literature, sports play an important role in “maintaining identities” (Jackson, 2013). It also promotes a sense of national pride as the whole country gets together during world cup to support their nation. Men’s relationship with sports is strong, men get a chance to witness other men performing masculine activities in an arena, which approves and resonates with their maleness (Jackson, 2013).
What is Manly
“dominant male roles encourage men to embrace risky habits (e.g. excessive drinking or smoking), and poor self-care (e.g. lack of sleep, poor diet, denying stress)” (Bunn, Wyke, Gray, Maclean, & Hunt 2016)
A man is more masculine or manly if he does not take good care of himself, takes risks, involve in dangerous activities. The ideology of masculinity promotes the ides of self-neglect and, toughness and ruggedness (Bunn, Wyke, Gray, Maclean, & Hunt 2016). Munsch and Gruys (2018) as researchers found that some men participating in their research felt the need to exercise power over women and other men (Munsch & Gruys, 2018). The ideology of showing power over other men and women still remains a part of a contemporary male.
Soccer with other sports is celebrated as a man’s world (Jackson, 2013) because its historical connections with military and nationhood. The soccer athletes are perceived as warriors by their beloved fans, of whom many adopt and emulate their personas of a warrior (Bairner, 1999). They indulge in violent acts where they get into fight with fans of opposing teams. To be masculine is to be violent (Bairner, 1999). It is shaping how football fans travel, most of the English fans are too scared to visit Russia for the FIFA World Cup 2018.
Absence of Female Athletes
The absence of female athletes is a concern. With half of the population being not included in majority of soccer advertisements. It makes them invisible and sometimes discourages them from taking part in soccer and other form of sports. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was one of the most watched soccer game in American history (C hyperlink). Despite being the most watched soccer game in American history, it barely gained $17 million in advertisement revenue, compared to $529 million ESPN managed in sponsorship revenue in 2014 for FIFA World Cup.
“a soccer dad called in to testify how wonderful soccer was for his daughters, how it taught them competitiveness, team- work, and a strong sense of themselves” (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003)
We should be working to promote soccer for both boys and girls. Sports teaches them important lessons about life, it teaches them how to perform better under stress, promotes healthy competition, team-work, strong work ethic, healthy lifestyle, the list goes on.
However, Jackson (2003) argues that
“within the context of contemporary gender relations, we might consider sport to be one of the last frontiers of masculinity” (Jackson, 2013)
but we can change the narrative.
“Today, women nationwide are participating in classes like kickboxing, spinning, rock-climbing, and boxing, relegating to the cultural dustbin mythologies of the “weaker” sex and assumptions of female incompetence” (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003)
Athleticism for women has become a tool for activism. Women are changing the narrative and their label of weaker sex by engaging in all spectrum of sports. Ranging from boxing to rock-climbing, soccer to golf, basketball to swimming. We should all work towards making a happy society where everyone is treated as equal and toxic stereotypes are not promoted.
Questions to ask?
- How are men represented in contemporary advertisement?
- Why are female athletes’ invisible in sport media industry?
- How can change the masculine stereotypes associated with male athletes?
Bairner, A. (1999). Soccer, Masculinity, and Violence in Northern Ireland. Men and Masculinities, 1(3), 284-301.
Bunn, C., Wyke, S., Gray, C., Maclean, A., & Hunt, K. (2016). ‘Coz football is what we all have’: Masculinities, practice, performance and effervescence in a gender-sensitised weight-loss and healthy living programme for men. Sociology of Health & Illness, 38(5), 812-28.
Feasey, R. 2009. “Spray more, get more: masculinity, television advertising and the Lynx effect.” Journal Of Gender Studies 18, no. 4: 357-368.
Goldman, R. (1992) “Commodity Feminism” Reading Ads Socially (New York: Routledge) 130-154.
Goldman, R. (1992). Advertisement and the production of commodity signs and subjectivity.
Heywood, L., & Dworkin, S. L. (2003). Built to win: The female athlete as cultural icon (Vol. 5). U of Minnesota Press.
Marx, K. (2005) Commodity and money. First German edition.
Munsch, C., & Gruys, K. (2018). What Threatens, Defines: Tracing the Symbolic Boundaries of Contemporary Masculinity. Sex Roles, 1-18.
Steven Jackson (2014) Globalization, corporate nationalism and masculinity in Canada: sport, Molson beer advertising and consumer citizenship, Sport in Society, 17:7, 901-916, DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2013.806039