How to create a fan

The quest for the World Cup has come to an end. Germany took home the title after working their way up through the ranks, win by win. In the end they took out Argentina in a 1–0 contest that left billions of people around the world glued to their television sets.

Incidentally, this column doesn’t have the first thing to do with soccer. So read on with confidence. If you’re into aviation, this one’s for you.

While sitting amidst my usual weekday coffee crew and discussing the events of the weekend, the topic of the World Cup came up. Most of my friends had watched at least some of the action.

One of those curious viewers who took time away from baseball, NASCAR, and the other offerings on ESPN over the weekend was my friend Joel. He’s the senior member of our coffee klatch. Now in his early 80s, Joel has seen a few things. As a teenager he flirted with Hollywood stars who came to central Florida to shoot in the subtropical lushness of his native Florida. He made his living in the hardware business. With experience as a salesman and a store manager, Joel has amassed a wealth of knowledge borne of years in the wholesale and retail side of the business. The man has a head full of entertaining stories and fascinating memories.

My friend has regaled those gathered around the table many times with his recollections of life in small town, Florida in the 1940s. It was here he first saw men pair off into teams, establish a playing field with goals at either end, and battle each other to get a ball into the goal. He’d never seen this game before. He’d also never heard their language. They called the game fusball, which the English-speaking world calls football, and Americans continue to refer to it as soccer.

My buddy Joel first saw soccer played only a few blocks from the spot where we drink coffee and chat each morning. The time was World War II. The players were German POWs. The memory of such a peculiar game being played in such an unlikely place during unprecedented times remains locked in Joel’s memory even today,  70 years later.

In all those years, Joel has never personally played soccer. It’s just not his thing. I will remind you however, Joel watched the World Cup this year. Admittedly, he didn’t watch a lot of it and he still doesn’t really understand the game very well. But he can appreciate that it has fans all over the world. He recognizes the skill it takes to play the game well. The economics of those crowds assembling in purpose built facilities that host games throughout the year do not escape him. He has become something of an enthusiast, a spectator, and an admirer of the game.

Consider the story so far. A young man is exposed to an odd game, with unintelligible rules, played by foreign language speakers who are literally at war with his country. And yet over the course of his life he finds respect and admiration for the game and the people who play it.

Transfer that story to an aviation and aerospace realm and see if you can’t find a way to feel hopeful about our future.

Aviation is even more widespread than the game of soccer (football, fusball). Aviation operations are conducted in English on a world-wide basis. Aviation is not at war with those who come out to watch aircraft and aviators through the fence, or as we fly overhead. Not in the United States, anyway. Not in most of the world.

Those POWs simply showed my friend Joel an aspect of human endeavor that he could relate to. They had fun. Under less than ideal circumstances they found a way to entertain themselves, and they welcomed spectators — not that they had much of a choice in the matter. They just did what they did and enjoyed themselves in the process.

Fun is contagious. Even if we don’t understand why an activity is fun, we can see the participants are enjoying themselves. That recognition makes us want to try the activity ourselves. Maybe we get the chance and maybe we don’t. But we become intrigued and through that interest we become supportive to some degree. Perhaps we become full-fledged participants. Then again, maybe all we ever do is sit in the stands and cheer on others who are directly involved. Either way, the game grows, the players benefit, and the world keeps turning.

It is a happy coincidence that AirVenture is right around the corner. I see some parallel opportunities for our industry – if we choose to accept them and leverage them to our advantage.

Let’s face it y’all. We can whine and cry about our lot in life, or we can celebrate what’s fun and life-affirming about aviation in our lives. Regardless of the challenges, none of the issues I’ve faced come anywhere close to being a POW in a foreign country during wartime. If they could find a silver lining to their situation and make the best of it, maybe we could find a way to make a big frosty glass of lip smacking good lemonade out of the few little lemons we’ve got to deal with.

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