Soccer-Brazilian fans seduced by glamour of Europe

SAO PAULO, March 26 Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:28pm GMT

SAO PAULO, March 26 (Reuters) - Mario Soares, who lives in soccer-mad Brazil and speaks little English, runs a Facebook page devoted to the fortunes of Nottingham Forest.

With the help of automatic translation programs, the 20-year-old Brazilian journalism student spends countless hours reporting on the modest English championship (second tier) club.

"My friends thought it was weird at first but when I explained the club's history to them they came round a bit," Soares said. "They all follow one Brazilian team and other teams in foreign leagues."

Turned off by the corruption and mismanagement endemic in their domestic game and with European soccer available on demand via TV, the internet and video games, many Brazilians are taking a greater interest in foreign football.

"Little by little, the big European clubs are silently 'invading' the hearts and minds of Brazilian football lovers, especially the young, who are seduced by competitions that are much more attractive than those we are used to seeing in Brazil," said Fernando Ferreira, the director of sports consultancy firm Pluri.

"The phenomenon of Brazilians supporting one team in Brazil and another abroad is more and more common."

The trend is occurring all over the world but it is especially striking in Brazil, the home of Pele, Zico and Ronaldo and the only country to win the World Cup five times.

Brazilians already have their own highly competitive league and their country is known throughout the world for producing great players and strong teams.

So why do Brazilians care about what happens on a wet Wednesday in Stoke?

BETTER PRODUCT

Some of the answer resides in Brazil's economic boom over the past decade.

More than 30 million people have been lifted from poverty into the consuming classes. As a result of that and improved, cheaper technology, the number of households with cable TV has more than tripled to 16.5 million since 2007.

Brazilian cable TV broadcasts as many as nine English games a day over the weekend and several more from Italy, Spain, Russia and elsewhere.

The matches feature the best footballers in the world playing at their peak and Brazilians, accustomed to half-empty stadiums, enjoy and envy the spectacle of grounds filled with fans who chant and sing for 90 minutes.

While Brazil is now the seventh biggest economy in the world, it is also exorbitantly expensive. It costs more for a family of four to buy tickets to see one top-flight game than it does to purchase a cable TV package featuring two dozen Premier League matches.

They can watch those games in the comfort of their own homes. In Brazil, fans must sit in run-down stadiums, with dilapidated facilities, basic yet overpriced food and drink, and under constant threat from fans and police alike.

More than 50 fans have been killed in or around football grounds since the turn of the century, according to studies and news reports.

There is the question of inconvenient kick-off times, designed not for supporters, but for TV companies to fill in time between soap operas and the nightly news.

"Authorities show a lack of respect for fans, scheduling (midweek) games to start at 10 p.m., making people return home in the middle of the night," said Max dos Santos, the 18-year old who founded and runs BritFoot, a website dedicated to British soccer.

Dos Santos supports Manchester United but Brazilians' thirst for foreign football embraces less glamorous teams too.

In addition to Soares's Nottingham Forest page, there are other Facebook and Twitter forums for Brazilians who follow West Ham United, Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Wigan Athletic.

Clubs and businesses have spotted the trend.

The sale of foreign jerseys increased 50 percent in the last year alone, according to Netshoes, one of Brazil's biggest online sports retailers, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and now Paris Saint-Germain, home to Brazilian youngster Lucas, among the biggest sellers.

The firm has expanded the number of club shirts in stock by 20 percent because of rising demand, said Marcel Castro, the company's head of football marketing.

Clubs, too, are taking steps to connect with a fan base that is young, knowledgeable and potentially lucrative.

Liverpool recently added a twitter account in Portuguese and are preparing a Facebook page also.

Although other British clubs have concentrated on the Far East, Liverpool officials believe more will soon be looking to South America.

"This is an emerging market but not for football," said Paul Rogers, Liverpool's head of international digital development.

"What we have seen is that where we have engaged fans we have seen more traffic to the website and the online store. In Brazil's case it is early to say but ultimately we believe that the more fans that follow the club (via social media), the stronger the bond and you'd expect that to lead to a better commercial situation." (Editing by Brian Winter and Ed Osmond)

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