How the NFL became popular in Brazil

. Sep 09, 2019
super bowl nfl popularity in brazil touchdown In 2018, Brazilians came in fifth-place in terms of foreign purchases of Super Bowl tickets, at an average price of USD 4,700

This week, we are looking at the career of wantaway Neymar, who is now sentenced to another six months playing for PSG. Has he blown his chance of being the best in the world? Then, we look at Palmeiras, the reigning national champions and their overly demanding fans. Finally, with the kickoff of the NFL season, we analyze the popularity of the sport in Brazil. Happy reading!

How the NFL became popular in Brazil

Far from having the worldwide popularity of association football, gridiron American football has nevertheless gained ground internationally. And Brazil—a country so associated with “soccer”—has all of a sudden become the third-biggest fanbase for the U.S.’ National Football League (NFL). Only Mexico and the U.S. have more aficionados of the sport than Brazil, according to a study by Global Web Index.

It wasn’t an obvious path, though.

Despite its century-long tradition (the NFL has just kicked off its 100th season this weekend), the first game ever broadcast in Brazil happened in 1969, and it wasn’t live. The sport would be featured on Brazilian TV again only in the late 1980s, and during graveyard hours. ESPN Brazil began featuring big NFL games from 1992—and the league slowly grew as an important regular feature of paid-for-TV. According to ESPN, viewership of Super Bowl LXIII, played on February 3, rose 40 percent from the previous year—and was even broadcast live at 110 movie theaters.

The NFL, however, still doesn’t threaten more traditional sports. Per sports consultant Amir Somoggi, the highly-specific rules act as a barrier.

American football in Brazil

There are at least 130 NFL-inspired teams (mostly amateur, with an average roster made up of 60 players) in Brazil, according to the national confederation of the sport. However, traditional clubs have invested in the sport, bringing players from less-prestigious leagues in the U.S. 

The first nationwide tournament was held in 2009. Created by a former ESPN commentator, the Touchdown Tournament was an eight-team league that, despite its small size, drew some media buzz and investors. Among these investors was Luís Cláudio Lula da Silva, son of former president Lula. The league would die six years later, after a Federal Police raid (investigators thought Mr. Silva used the tournament as a front to launder money). Today, a 32-team spin-off league still exists.

The NFL in Brazil

Since 2007, the NFL has played games abroad—with regular showings in London and now Mexico City. São Paulo could come next, according to Akash Jain, the NFL vice president of international commercial development. The league has scouted stadiums, and if a deal goes through, an NFL regular-season game could be coming to the Arena Corinthians.

Brazil in the NFL

In 100 seasons of NFL football, only one Brazilian player has ever taken a snap. That is placekicker Cairo Santos, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans (after stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He had a good season start, hitting all attempts as his Titans trashed the Cleveland Browns 43-13.

Born in Limeira, a city two hours from São Paulo, he was unfamiliar with NFL football prior to living in Florida as a foreign exchange student. Santos was supposed to stay only one year in the U.S. to learn English, but his kicking skills gave him the possibility to earn a college scholarship, which convinced him to stay. The Brazilian kicker attended Tulane, where he broke several school records and was considered as a member of the Consensus All-American team of 2012.

By Gustavo Ribeiro

Has Neymar blown it?

neymar psg real madrid barcelona
Neymar: off-the-field issues and poor performance

The transfer window has been and gone and Neymar, it appears, will remain a Paris Saint-Germain player at least until the end of the year. After making the front page of Spanish sports dailies an impressive 93 times between June and the beginning of September, neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid were able to come up with a deal good enough for PSG to listen to.

This, however, was to be expected, just two years after joining the French champions for EUR 222 million, imploding the logic of transfer market valuations once and for all. With a contract running until 2022 and PSG’s owners unwilling to make a massive loss on the player, Neymar has become almost unattainable, trapped in a footballing purgatory.

When he left Santos in 2013, Neymar was the most exciting player in world football. Despite being reviled by parts of the European press for his extravagant hairdos and flamboyant playacting, it didn’t take the world long to realize that the young Brazilian was the natural successor to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and that becoming the best player in the world was a matter of time.

But after two years in Paris, the general consensus is that Neymar has blown it. Scandals on and off the field, injuries and eliminations have seen the recent seasons end in disappointment. He hasn’t played in a Champions League semi-final since 2015, when his Barcelona side went on to win the trophy. At PSG, he has yet to make it past the last 16.

The individual accolades have also dried up. After making the three-name shortlist for world player of the year in 2017, he hasn’t since made it into the top ten.

Personal glory has always been crucial for Neymar. His inspiration throughout his career was countryman and fellow Santos youth product Robinho, who famously declared his dream was to win the world player of the year award—not the Champions League, or the World Cup. In his search for individual success, Robinho never did reach the top table, and it’s looking likely Neymar will fall short too. The PSG move came out of a desire to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barcelona. But now, two years later, PSG is Kylian Mbappé’s club.

The remainder of 2019 is a make or break period for Neymar. Despised by sections of the PSG fanbase and deemed as “unnecessary” by many supporters of the national team—who saw Brazil stroll to the Copa America without him in July—he needs a good season.

On Friday night, he gave a reminder of his importance to the Brazil team. Playing in a friendly against Colombia, he overcame the boos of the home crowd in Miami, gave one assist and scored a goal for himself, taking his overall national team tally up to 61—only one goal off equalling Brazil’s second all-time top scorer, Ronaldo. With just 16 more goals for the national team—which is not unreasonable considering he is only 27—Neymar would break Pelé’s scoring record for Brazil.

There may yet be greatness in store for Neymar, but his clock is ticking.

The most demanding fans in Brazil

Brazilian football fans are a fickle bunch at the best of times, but supporters of Palmeiras—one of the most popular sides in São Paulo and reigning national champions—take the biscuit. The fame dates back to the club’s early days in the 1920s, and a musical instrument factory called Corneta which was situated across from Palmeiras’ old Parque Antártica stadium. On their lunch breaks, the factory workers had a habit of watching Palmeiras’ training sessions and criticizing the players, so much so that the club’s entire support became known as the Corneteiros.

Nowadays, the verb cornetar has made it into Brazilian football parlance, meaning “to criticize one’s own players,” an art Palmeiras have perfected over the years.

Last week, Palmeiras sacked legendary coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, around ten months after he took the club to the Brazilian league trophy, and with the team six points off the top of the league with a game in hand.

Though a cold analysis of the numbers shows the firing as being ridiculous, all was not well at the club. Since returning from the Copa America break in July, Palmeiras failed to win a single league match and saw themselves eliminated from the Copa do Brasil and Copa Libertadores, South America’s champions league. 

Palmeiras brought Scolari in precisely to win cups, above all the Libertadores, which the club has been unable to win ever since Big Phil’s first stint at the club in 1999. This time around at Palmeiras, Scolari has been strong in the league, but eliminated from every knockout competition the club has been involved in. Hence his dismissal.

Coming in to replace Scolari is Mano Menezes, the defensive-minded former Brazil coach who has traditionally been more identified with Palmeiras’ bitter rivals, Corinthians.

These non-inspiring elements and Palmeiras’ corneteiro spirit led fans to protest the appointment, calling for the head of club president Mauricio Galliote and director of football Alexandre Mattos.

All is not well behind the scenes at Palmeiras, but that is a story for another day.

Mano Menezes has taken the reins, but is already negotiating his way through a treacherous mountain road. His debut on Saturday night, a 2-1 win away to Goiás in which Palmeiras were 1-0 down before bringing it back level and winning the three points with the game’s last kick, was the best start he could have hoped for.

A resounding win against Goiás would have raised few eyebrows—there is a significant gulf in quality between the two clubs, so the victory in itself was an “obligation.” However, coming from behind to win was something Scolari’s Palmeiras side was never able to do, raising expectations of a more resolute side with mental fortitude.

Palmeiras now have two favorable games at home against struggling sides Fluminense and Cruzeiro. In that time, first and second-placed Flamengo and Santos will face off. With the right combination of results, Palmeiras could be top of the league by the time of next week’s Brazil Sports newsletter.

However, failure to win six points will no doubt see Palmeiras’ cornetas come out in force.

What else you should know

Copa do Brasil. We have our finalists for the 2019 Copa do Brasil, as Athletico face Internacional in a two-legged showdown beginning this Wednesday. Inter were imperious in the semi-final, adding to a 1-0 away win in the first leg against Cruzeiro by crushing them 3-0 at home. The other side of the draw was far more eventful, with Athletico overturning a 2-0 deficit against Grêmio, before bagging their spot in the final in a penalty shootout. The winner of the Copa do Brasil wins a place in the group stage of the 2020 Copa Libertadores.

Série A. Flamengo strolled to another three points, beating Avaí 3-0 away from home and remaining top of the pile. Second-placed Santos were lucky to escape with a point on Sunday, winning a very dubious last-minute penalty and drawing 1-1 at home with Athletico. They have now won only one in their last five league games, yet remain two points off the top. Cruzeiro edge closer to the relegation zone after they were destroyed 4-1 at home by an impressive-looking Grêmio.

Basketball. After a stunning 79-78 win over Greece on Tuesday, completely nullifying the threat of NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brazil fell to a disappointing second-round loss to the Czech Republic in the Basketball World Cup. Brazil play the USA this morning, needing a win in order to progress to the quarterfinals.

Cyborg. Former UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg has signed with rival MMA promotion Bellator. She had fallen out with UFC president Dana White after he refused her a title rematch against fellow Brazilian Amanda Nunes. White made her a free agent, but Cyborg claims she jumped before she was pushed.

Náutico. One of the biggest sides of the Northeast, Náutico have hit tough times. However, there are signs they may be turning the corner, and on Sunday they celebrated promotion from Brazil’s third division in some style, with a penalty shootout win and one of the best pitch invasions you’ll ever see.

Goal of the Week

2-1 down, away from home to Corinthians, in the last minute of the game. You have a corner kick to take. What do you do? Well, if you’re Ceará’s Leandro Carvalho, then the obvious answer is hit an inswinging outside of the foot shot, which outfoxes the goalkeeper and goes straight into the net. An absolutely filthy gol olímpico.  

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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