The Mixologi Team just finished spending the first two weeks of the World Cup traveling to experience this event ‘in country’. No – we didn’t go to Brazil to watch the games (although that would, admittedly, be awesome). We made our way through four countries in Europe to bring you a few sights, sounds and observations about how Croatia, Italy, Germany and Switzerland celebrate this truly global event.
We know that almost everyone loves the World Cup (…and with Americans finally coming around, we might NOT need to include that ‘almost’ for much longer). While we will be posting some pictures and videos of our experience, we also wanted to give a few observations of the differences (large and small) between the countries on our tour. Here are a few from our first stop – Croatia.
1. They came from far and wide to see this game and they definitely were going to watch closely.
This definitely was the place to be for the game. We were told (and were able to verify with our conversations) that folks came from all over the region to watch the game in the Roman Amphitheater. Although there were not tons of flags, banners and soccer chants going on…there was a palpable level of focus from these fans. Everyone was intently following each pass, tackle and shot of the game. The atmosphere was not what you would call raucous (until Croatia scored their lone goal) but there was no doubt that the Croatian fans understood the game and were going to watch every second intently.
2. In terms of nationalism, they are more ‘new to this’ than ‘true to this’.
Croatia is a relatively new country – only declaring its independence in 1991. Prior to that, Croats were ruled by or (forcibly) aligned with a bunch of other empires and countries. It is pretty evident from our travels that what it means to be a “Croatian” is still a work in progress. We saw plenty of ‘pride’ in Croatia (for what the team has accomplished) but not a clear and strong nationalist streak. It didn’t seem that there was a distinct “Croatian way” to celebrate this event. They were going to show up and cheer their team but they weren’t necessarily going to do it in any way that was unique or distinct.
3. It’s pretty clear that Croatians are just ‘happy to be here’.
Croatia has a good team. In fact, they have only failed to qualify for one World Cup since they became eligible to participate in 1993. They even came in 3rd place back in 1998. That said, Croatian fans had NO expectation that their team could beat (or for that matter, even compete with) Brazil in the first game of this year’s tournament. That pessimism seemed a little unfounded when Croatia jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the game…but it would not last (as they ended up losing 3-1). We were struck by how often Croatian fans commented on just how little of a chance they had to beat this Brazil team. Brazil is a great team (they are currently the odds on favorite to win it all)…but we didn’t get a sense that there was that blind faith and optimism that we often expect in these situations (think: Warriors fans BEFORE Steph Curry).
4. Even when they ‘ball out’ they definitely don’t ‘sell out’.
We were struck by (and appreciative of) just how much corporate capitalism and marketing had NOT infiltrated the fan experience in Croatia. We were lucky enough to watch the game inside Pula’s 2,000+ year old Roman Amphitheater. This was THE most amazing place to watch this game (other than in Brazil). It was packed with more than 8,000 fans and had a backdrop that even the most revered stadiums in the US could never match. It was pretty damn cool…and a marketer’s wet dream. That said, there were no signs, banners or commercials for companies to be seen in the arena (unless you count the branding on the beer cups that we spent a large portion of the night consuming). This would NEVER happen in the US. There is no way that our corporations would have missed a chance to link their products with this type of experience. That Roman Coliseum would have been looking like Times Square if this were back home. It was a welcome change but one that was not missed on us.
5. After the game… It’s the after party.
With little expectation to win, the folks that we ended up partying with were able to put the game behind themselves IMMEDIATELY. The game ended around 11pm locally and we were in the bars and clubs HEAVY for the rest of the night. This was a chance to party and it was not going to be missed. With a bus to catch at 6am, there was really no alternative to pulling a complete ‘all-nighter’. It was a great party and one that we will NOT soon forget.
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