BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – When it comes to soccer, not everyone is in the game – not even in the land of soccer.
Just nine of the country’s 26 states are represented by a team in the First Division of the Brazilian Championship, the country’s top soccer league.
And the majority of the elite Brazilian soccer clubs are concentrated in only two regions of the country, as 17 of the league’s 20 teams – 85% – are based in cities in the south and southeast of the country.
Rounding out the First Division are two teams from the northeast Bahia’s Bahia and Ceará’s Ceará and one playing out of the Midwest – Goiás’s Atlético. Northern Brazil doesn’t have a team playing in either the First or Second Division.
The concentration of teams from southern and southeastern Brazil mirrors the country’s economic landscape.
The states with the largest share in gross domestic product (GDP) have the highest rates of participation in Brazil’s national soccer league.
The southeast region currently fields 55% of the clubs in the First Division, and it accounts for 56% of the GDP, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
São Paulo, the most important state in the national economy, accounting for 33.1% of the GDP, has all four of its principal clubs competing at the top level: Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos and São Paulo.
Rio de Janeiro’s 11.3% share of the GDP also is reflected in its participation in the Brazilian Championship. The state is home to national champion Fluminense, as well as the First Division contenders Botafogo, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama.
The state of Minas Gerais, an important mining region that accounts for 9.3% of the GDP, also has a strong presence in the competition. América Mineiro was promoted to the First Division in 2010, joining Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro in the top league.
Another powerhouse in terms of both economic output and performance on the field is the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. The state accounts for 6.6% of the GDP and has two of the nation’s most successful teams: Internacional, which won the most recent Copa Libertadores – the most prestigious club competition in South American soccer – and Grêmio.
The economic power of the clubs
Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos, São Paulo, Fluminense, Botafogo, Flamengo, América Mineiro, Atlético Mineiro, Cruzeiro, Internacional and Grêmio are the heavyweights in the Brazilian Championship.
Together, they hold the largest share of the broadcast rights for games and receive the biggest investments from sponsors.
“There are a greater number of fans in the South and the Southeast, and their average per capita income is higher,” says Patricia Couto, a sports marketing consultant. “This represents a greater potential for consumption on their part, which makes it a more attractive investment opportunity for sponsors. It becomes part of a virtuous circle for these clubs. They go on to win the important competitions and thereby increase the value of the brand association.”
The money the teams earn from the sale of their TV broadcast rights provides revenue to sign top players.
In 2009, the Globo television network paid R$300 million (US$176.8 million) for the right to broadcast the Brazilian Championship on its broadcast television channel.
Corinthians, Flamengo, Palmeiras, São Paulo and Vasco each earned R$21 million (US$12.3 million), Santos received R$18 million (US$10.6 million) and Atlético Minero, Cruzeiro, Internacional, Grêmio, Botafogo and Fluminense were each allocated R$15 million (US$8.8 million).
The remaining teams split the rest of the money according to rules established by the “Clube dos 13” (group of 13), a committee formed in the 1980s and composed of the principal Brazilian soccer clubs. The payment each team receives is based on how long it has been in the First Division.
Is the First Division excluding the northern region?
The northern region is the only area of the country without a team in the First Division.
But the strongest evidence that the home of the Amazon rainforest doesn’t exist on the Brazilian soccer map is that it doesn’t even have a team competing in the Second Division.
The northern region is represented in the Third Division, where it has four representatives. Two are from the state of Pará – Paysandu and Águia de Marabá – another, Araguaína, is from the state of Tocantins, and Rio Branco is from the state of Acre.
The last time the region had a team in the First Division was in 2005, but Paysandu was subsequently relegated to the Second Division because of its poor play. Known as the Papão da Curuzu (Bogeyman of Curuzu) to its fans, the team made it to the Libertadores Cup in 2001, when it defeated Argentine power Boca Juniors.
A soccer exodus
The absence of northern teams on the national stage also can be attributed to the migration of the region’s young talent to the Brazilian south and southeast.
One example is 21 year-old Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso.
Ganso was born in Ananindeua, in the metropolitan area of Belém, the capital city of Pará. He began playing for Tuna Luso, a traditional local squad with Portuguese origins, and went on to play for Paysandu. In 2005, when he was 16, Santos paid R$900,000 (US$530,300) to Paysandu to sign Ganso.
“It was my chance to grow as an athlete,” said Ganso, who wore a T-shirt featuring the Pará state flag under his Santos jersey during the team’s victory at the Brazil Cup finals in August 2010. “Being in a major metropolitan area, such as São Paulo, and playing for Santos definitely helps my career. But I always remember Pará.”
The change was good for Ganso, who was named MVP of the Brazil Cup competition.
Ganso also was drafted by Mano Menezes, the coach of the Brazilian national team, for the team’s match against the United States in August. He was assigned a starting position and played well. But a subsequent injury to his left knee is expected to sideline him until February.
Ganso has scored 23 goals in 96 matches for Santos. He also has played seven matches for the Brazilian under-20 national team, scoring once.
Dominance not limited to the soccer fields
The athletic success of teams based in the south and southeast is not limited to the soccer field.
Both the men’s and women’s Brazilian volleyball leagues are composed entirely of teams from the two regions.
Among the 15 male squads, 11 are from the southeast and four are from the south. In the case of the 12 female squads, 10 are from the southeast and the other two from the south.
In the Brazilian national basketball league (NBB), the situation is similar. Of its 15 teams, 13 are based in the southeast, with one each in the south and midwest.
“The companies in the southeast and the south have a tradition of sports sponsorship,” Couto says. “That happens on a much smaller scale in the other regions and it’s reflected in the leagues.”