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杉浦大介「NY摩天楼通信」 : 第175回 進化を続けるアメリカサッカー
投稿日時: 2010-07-02 12:03:00

 もうアメリカを、「サッカー不毛の地」などと呼ぶべきではないのだろう。
 今回の南アフリカW杯に際し、アメリカ国内の盛り上がりは実際にかなり凄いものがあった。特にアメリカ代表のゲーム中は、ニューヨーク市内の多くのスポーツバーが超満員。MLBのヤンキースやメッツ戦の現場などでも、記者や選手が自身の仕事をそっちのけ(?)でサッカーの結果ばかりを気にしていたほど。
(写真:「スポーツ・イラストレイテッド」誌も今年はサッカーを特集する機会が多かった)

 もちろん、その人気沸騰の背後には、アメリカ代表がドラマチックな形で決勝トーナメント進出を果たしたことが大きな要因として挙げられるのだろう。母国の代表チームが勝ち進めば、どこの国も沸き返るものではある。だが今回のアメリカに関しては、勝っている間だけのにわか騒ぎにも見えなかった。
 試合中継を担当する「ESPN」は今年の年明け直後からハイセンスなテレビCMを流し、最大手の「スポーツ・イラストレイテッド」誌も数度に渡って特集記事を掲載。その目論見通り、オリンピックと並ぶ世界最高峰のスポーツイベントであるW杯をアメリカ中が満喫しているように思える。

 すでに10年以上をニューヨークで過ごしてきた筆者にとって、アメリカで迎えるW杯はこれが3度目。しかし8年前は、いや4年前でさえも、こんな風ではなかった。当時はヨーロッパや南米からの移民たちこそ、それぞれのコミュニティで熱狂してはいたが、大方のアメリカ人はそれを無視し、たけなわのMLBに集中していた。そんなアメリカに、この4年の間にいったい何が起こったのか。この国の中で、いつの間にサッカーはこれだけ定着したのだろうか。
(写真:米国内の多くのスポーツバーがサッカー中継に力を入れた/KOTARO OHASHI)

「やはりメジャーリーグ・サッカー(MLS)の地位が向上してきたのが大きいと思います。日本の状況と同じで、過去にはアメリカ人は外国のサッカーを観るしかなかった。しかし1996年に誕生したMLSが確固たる立場を築き始めたことで、アメリカ人もより身近な形でサッカーを楽しめるようになったのです」
 元MLSの職員で、現在はスポーツマネージメント会社「Lead Off Sports Marketing」のGMを務める中村武彦氏はそう語る。

 もちろん現在のMLSは世界的な知名度は低く、米国内でもまだMLBやNFLに並ぶほどの人気を誇っているわけではない。ただMLSはこれまで決して功を焦らず、一過性のブレイクなど狙わず、リーグ主導により長期的に利益を確保する基盤作りを進めてきた。
 具体的には、まず見かけの派手さを追求するのではなく、スタジアム建設、フロントの人材の手配、優秀な営業マンの確保などの方に資金を費やし、足場を固めた。世界的な有名選手を根こそぎ獲得するような安易な方法ではなく、何よりも「サッカービジネスの土台」を充実させる方法を選んだのだ。

 結果として、現時点でMLSには「良いオーナー、正しい市場分析、適切なスタジアム」という3原則に叶った16クラブが存立。在籍した世界的なスーパースターはデビッド・ベッカム(LAギャラクシー)ぐらいでも、それぞれのクラブは地域に着実に根付きつつある。
 何より、リーグが大事にしてきた「専用スタジアム」を持つクラブは、すでに8つ。加えてこの不況のご時世に、さらに4つの新スタジアムが全米各地で建設されている。この事実こそが、MLSの方向性の正しさを証明していると言ってよい。
(写真:元MLS職員の中村氏もアメリカサッカーの将来性に自信をみせる/Lead Off Sports Marketing)

 今年で15年目を迎えたMLSの努力が実り、サッカーは少しずつだが確実にアメリカの中に浸透していった。そして2010年の夏、アメリカにとっても良好なタイミングで、サッカー界はW杯という大イベントを迎えた。
 アメリカ国民は大きな期待を持ってこの大会を見つめ、ランドン・ドノバン、ティム・ハワードら代表の主力たちはそこでも鮮烈なインパクトを残すことに成功。グループリーグの最終戦(対アルジェリア)では、ロスタイムに決勝ゴールを決めるという劇的な形で決勝トーナメント進出を果たした。そしてその翌日、「ニューヨーク・デイリーニューズ」紙にはこんな見出しが躍った。

<サッカーが「私たちのゲーム」になった瞬間>
 快進撃は、続く決勝トーナメント1回戦で終わった。それでも母国のヒーローたちの勇姿は、多くの国民の脳裏に焼きついたはず。そして新たにサッカーの魅力に気づいた決して少なくない数のアメリカ人は、母国代表の敗退後も依然として南アフリカW杯に熱い関心を寄せている。
(写真:サッカーが「私たちのゲーム」になった瞬間と伝えるNY地元紙)

 今後、サッカーが本当に「アメリカ人のゲーム」になっていくのかどうかは分からない。ただ、好循環は確実に生まれ始めている。この流れが続いたとすれば、今から4年後、アメリカのサッカーはどんな位置にいて、そして次のW杯はどれほどの盛り上がりを見せるのか?
 大げさに騒ぎ立てるのは、まだ早すぎるのだろう。だが、このムーブメントをマークしておいて、決して損はないように思えるのも事実である。


杉浦大介(すぎうら だいすけ)プロフィール
1975年生、東京都出身。大学卒業と同時に渡米し、フリーライターに。体当たりの取材と「優しくわかりやすい文章」がモットー。現在はニューヨーク在住で、MLB、NBA、ボクシング等を題材に執筆活動中。

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