Net neutrality might seem like it doesn’t really have an impact on the world of soccer, but the proposed changes to allow ISPs to regulate which content gets to subscribers could profoundly change how the game is experienced in the United States.
One of the soccer websites I frequent has at the bottom of the page the point that "Soccer is the Sport of the Internet in America." This is true for a variety of factors around the game from broadcasters to media outlets, and eliminating net neutrality will profoundly impact those groups and more. From streaming games, to gif highlights, social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, along with independent and more corporate soccer media outlets, a free and open internet has allowed soccer to flourish over the last decade in the United States.
Indeed, it would be impossible to imagine the boost in popularity the sport has enjoyed, without pointing to the ways that the internet has made that possible. On a very basic level, eliminating net neutrality could have impacts on cord cutters who use streaming services to watch soccer matches and reduce their ability to do so. Being able to watch teams like Club America, Ajax, Dortmund, Boca Juniors, or the Perth Glory Women has helped grow and maintain interest in the sport and reducing access to streaming matches may have negative results for growing the sport in the U.S. Moreover, ending net neutrality will have further impacts than that on the sport and beyond.
One of the keystone aspects of soccer culture in the U.S. is that it has grassroots support unique to the sporting landscape in this country. Outside of college sports, fans of the other popular American sports don’t have the same kind of relationship with the game that soccer supporters do. This is plainly seen in groups that form to support teams near and far, local and global. The creative energy that is poured into creating the culture around the sport is immense, authentic, and unique. It is also bound together and organized in no small part thanks to those creators and supporters having access to a free and open internet.
Eliminating net neutrality will have further negative impacts on society beyond the world of soccer. It will reduce the power of minority, LGBT, and other marginalized groups to organize for social justice and have their voices heard in a media landscape that has silenced, ignored, and misrepresented them for generations. Within the world of soccer, movements like #SaveTheCrew, #EqualPlayForEqualPay, and #SunilOut gained traction and grew thanks to online engagement and a free and open internet.
For small businesses, including independent soccer websites for example, the open internet is critical for finding new audiences and ensuring that their content is freely available. Repealing net neutrality will give large, wealthy corporations greater power to distribute information that affects how the public perceives them and perhaps the politicians they donate to. Furthermore, the proposed changes would continue the trend of privileging free speech, monetizing it, and tying it to wealth in the same way that Supreme Court cases have done for election fundraising.
A week from today five people will decide the fate of the internet in the United States, five. If you want to keep the internet open and preserve the freedoms that it enables, share your thoughts. Follow one of these suggestions to get your opinion to those who will make this choice for you or file with the FCC directly: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express. Use proceeding number 17-108 to comment on net neutrality, for example simply saying: “I support net neutrality and Title 2 oversight of ISPs.” (Note the link might not work on mobile.) The FCC will decide whether or not the internet will be fundamentally changed on December 14th, so get your comment in and make your voice heard.