San Diego’s Hotbed of Innovation Also a Hotbed for World Cup Fans
Earlier this week on ESPN radio, the announcers introduced news about the dramatic U.S. victory over Algeria in the World Cup soccer tournament by saying (approximately): And now, for the four or five Americans who are soccer fans…
Ouch. Ironic too, considering that ESPN invested $100 million for the broadcasting rights to the 2010 World Cup tournament now playing in South Africa, and for the 2014 tournament in Brazil. As I recently reported, the World Cup ranks as the biggest sporting event in the world—except in the United States—with a total cumulative audience of 26.3 billion, with a ‘B,’ during the last World Cup in 2006.
Meanwhile, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Nielsen ratings released after the U.S.-Algeria match (which the U.S. won in overtime, 1-0) show that San Diego ranks as the No. 1 U.S. market for the three televised U.S. matches. Roughly double the percentage of homes in San Diego were tuned into the soccer games, compared to the national average. The U.S.-Algeria match was the highest-rated TV show in San Diego County Wednesday, with an 8.9 Nielsen rating (each point represents 10,730 households)—and ranks even higher if you include the 1.7 rating from Spanish-language Univision.
So who are these soccer fans in San Diego who are following the clash of nations in the World Cup? At least 75 were scientists and employees of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, who gathered in the cafeteria at lunchtime Monday to watch England play Algeria. The fateful game ended in a tie that left the overtly British fans harrumphing and the Americans happily applauding (since England’s tie was America’s gain). I also found uh, four or five CEOs from San Diego’s life sciences and technology companies who are avid fans:
—Claudio Canive, founding CEO of Platformic, a website development provider, tells me he’s a lifelong soccer fan who has played since he was a kid. He even played soccer for his fraternity while attending San Diego State University and in an adult league. “I’m following Spain, but obviously our hearts are with the U.S. as well,” Canive says. “It will be interesting to see what happens if the U.S. plays Spain.” Canive says his wife Leyla also is a fan, and they held a World Cup party at their house Wednesday for the U.S.-Algeria game. “We all went bananas when Landon Donovan scored in overtime the other day,” Canive says. “That never-say-die U.S. attitude is great to watch.”
—Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica, which is genetically engineering microbes to produce industrial chemicals that otherwise are made from fossil fuels in petrochemical plants, responded to my query by e-mail from South Africa: “Just left the Spain-Honduras game (game #3 of 9). Fantastic scene here in SA.” When I asked Schilling why he’s a fan, he answered: “My father is 100 percent German and my mother 100 percent French, so I have always been cheering those two countries on, and then over time I have also become a U.S. fan. With European parents I grew up playing soccer rather than baseball or football and still play a few times a week now… I went to Germany four years ago for the World Cup and have now made it my goal to attend the World Cup every four years.”
—Gioia Messinger, founding CEO of Avaak, which specializes in Web-based video technology, tells me, “I am a fan because I grew up in Latin America [Bolivia] so soccer is in my blood. I am predicting Brazil or Argentina as the ultimate winner.” With the 2006 World Cup finalists France and Italy both knocked out in first-round competition, she adds, “You could argue that this is the best World Cup ever for Latin American teams.” Messinger, who was attending the Red Herring North American 100 conference at the Hotel del Coronado, says all of the TVs in the hotel were tuned to the U.S.-Algeria match Wednesday, and “the whole room erupted” at the conference when the U.S. scored. (Gioia, who made a presentation about Avaak at the conference, says her company also scored when Avaak was named as one of the “Red Herring 100” for North America.)
—Michael Zeller, the CEO and co-founder of Zementis, a startup that specializes in software analytics, tells me by e-mail that he is following Germany’s World Cup matches. “Our avid fans in the office are watching the games during every lunch break.” When I asked why he’s a fan, Zeller replied, “I am German-born and grew up there; came to the U.S. for graduate school. So, I grew up watching soccer, playing soccer, same as kids here in the U.S. watch & play football or baseball.”
—Drew Senyei, managing director of Enterprise Partners Venture Capital (and a San Diego Xconomist), tells me: “I spent 10 years watching our kids play and really got a feel for the strategy and artistic flow of the game. Obviously cheering for USA. In many ways [this] sport is a religion that the whole world believes in, no matter where you are, and can bridge the cultural divides. Argentina’s coach, Diego Maradona, is very colorful and quirky, and the way he coaches shows the love of the game. He used to be one of the best players and now he is coaching Lionel Messi, who is considered the best player in the world. They show a lot emotion that the crowd picks up on. It would be great if the U.S. won—not only because of the pride—but since the whole world would have to call it “soccer” and not “football,” at least according to Jon Stewart.”
With the tournament now winnowed to 16 teams, the U.S. returns to the pitch Saturday against Ghana in what soccer fans refer to as “the knockout round,”which might be dubbed something like “the Sweet 16” if you’re the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s men’s basketball tournament. (And if you’re among “the four or five” World Cup fans in the U.S. who also is a member of San Diego’s innovation community, feel free to explain why you’re a fan and who you’re cheering in the comment section below.)