Did I ever mention I was a fan of Beitar Jerusalem? I might’ve, on one, two, or seven hundred occasions. I can hardly help it: A soccer team, like our family or our religion or how we feel about parsley, is something most of us don’t get to choose. I’ve loved Beitar through years of truly terrible sportsmanship. I’ve loved it when its fans went full mob. And I’ll have to find a way to love it now that it has a new name: Beitar Trump Jerusalem.
“For 70 years has Jerusalem been awaiting international recognition,” read an official message from the team on Sunday, “until President Donald Trump, in a courageous move, recognized Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. President Trump has shown courage, and true love of the Israeli people and their capital, and these days other countries are following his lead in giving Jerusalem its rightful status. The football club Beitar Jerusalem, one of the most prominent symbols of the city, are happy to honor the President for his love and support with a gesture of our own. The chairmen of the club, the owner Eli Tabib and the executive manager Eli Ohana have decided to add to the club’s title the name of the American President who made history, and from now on will be called Beitar Trump Jerusalem.
We have the greatest love for the President, and it will win! 🇮🇱🖤💛🇺🇸.”
Some cynics in the Israeli press were quick to criticize the decision, noting that the traditionally conservative team may not like its new name so much if the notoriously inconsistent president changes his mind and makes some future move that is less than supportive of Israel. These critics, however, are missing the point: No matter your politics, the Trump naming is just about the most Beitar thing the team could’ve done.
Consider for a moment the state of soccer (or, for that matter, all professional sports) today, where names are big business. Real Madrid, for example, makes $192 million each year from its sponsors names on its players’ jerseys, as well as an upcoming $28 million a year deal with the United Arab Emirates to rename the team’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium after the gulf state. Bayern Munich receives $34 million annually from its jersey partner, Deutsche Telekom, and millions more from Allianz for stadium naming rights. And not one to be outdone, Manchester United signed a seven-year deal with Chevrolet for the princely some of $559 million. Beitar, like every major club, has its sponsors, too, but in renaming itself after Trump, it gave up one of the chief assets of modern day sports enterprises simply to make a passion statement.
Even if you strongly dislike the president, then, and even if you find the renaming foolish, you should still take a moment to marvel at the move. In giving Trump props for free, Beitar’s management signaled that there were things it valued more than cash and hinted that it did not see the world as entirely transactional. It also gave a nod to the early days of Israeli sports, when teams were all affiliated with political parties or movements, which is a considerably more spirited arrangement than allowing the franchise’s identity to be determined by the deepest pocket. So rather than mock Beitar, imagine the possibilities: The New York Scott Stringer Mets or The Los Angeles Eric Garcetti Lakers can’t be very far behind.