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Feb 24, 2020

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This Is Uncomfortable
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Is competitive cheerleading a monopoly?

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Jan 31, 2020
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Netflix's new hit docuseries "Cheer." Courtesy of Netflix

Is competitive cheerleading a monopoly?

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Jan 31, 2020
Netflix's new hit docuseries "Cheer." Courtesy of Netflix
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The Netflix docuseries “Cheer” follows the competitive cheer team from Navarro College in Texas (spoilers for the final episode of the show ahead). And while it’s ostensibly about the team’s 2019 season, for one episode, it’s also briefly about the business behind competitive cheerleading, a business that is dominated by apparel company Varsity Brands.

When the team leaves for its final competition at Daytona Beach, Florida, Varsity Brands, which owns and operates the event, tells the “Cheer” film team that they can’t record it. (Since the series’ release, Varsity uploaded Navarro’s performance to YouTube, and it is now publicly available). While the crew was able to find a workaround, their exclusion shows how tightly Varsity controls access to its competitions.

“The way [Varsity Brands has] control over cheerleading in the U.S. is that they own and control basically all of the competitions,” said Matt Stoller in an interview with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal. Stoller is the author of “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy,” and wrote about Varsity for his newsletter, Big.

“It’s like John D. Rockefeller, but with more glitter,” Stoller said.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

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