After my last post Dave Laidig from Footiebusiness and I got into a discussion going a bit deeper into the the relationship between MLS and local/club football culture (with particular reference to the Cascadia MLS clubs). The full thread is here.
I spent a while on one of my responses so I figured I’d post the best of it here to expand on what I was trying to get at in the first “smaller rulers” post:
So, my question is: As a supporter or fan of the professional game, do we approach this debate from a viewpoint of the “league” needing to be successful/sustainable, or; do we approach it from the viewpoint of building sustainable clubs/teams that raise the level of Division 1 soccer organically? Do we look at it from the top down, or from the bottom up?
It’s my sense that these two approaches produce a different set of priorities depending on which one you adopt. That’s where the Cascadia debate comes into play for me. At a business level, there’s a unique symbiotic relationship between supporters and the individual teams which MLS (which includes Por/Sea/Van ownership) took a dump on by making the trademark play. Legally, I haven’t seen a single analysis in MLS’s favor (at least based on U.S. TM law). And yet, the Cascadia supporters were criticized for not being sensitive enough to the “league’s” interests (not by you Dave, but by several others).
There’s no doubt the Cascadia teams have benefited by joining MLS. But so have the other MLS teams! Like the teams with the fans, the teams have a symbiotic relationship with one another. Financially, Por/Sea/Van are all pulling their weight and subsidizing the teams that have been in MLS for longer.
MLS’s single entity set up is effectively a formalization of hyper-structured symbiotic relationships between teams. Clubs give up a significant amount of control as part of the bargain to join up with other teams within the DI sanctioned entity. The coaches, players, fans and team staff are all effected by this bargain and the agreements under which MLS operates.
The nature of these relationships has changed over time. The Designated Player, Home Grown Player, and draft rules have all been implemented or changed from year to year to reflect the owner’s wishes for how they want the relationships to exist. Each time a new team joins or a new ownership group takes over an existing team, the relationships change a little bit.
The clubs are trying to put the best product they can on the field in spite of the league’s rules and regulations, not because of them. This all happens at the club level and coaches and owners get pissed all the time when the rest of MLS refuses to sign off on a personnel move that could help the team put a better product on the field. Remember this: http://www.thestar.com/sports/soccer/mls/article/1278643–toronto-fc-s-hands-tied-by-meddling-mls-kelly
These rules and regulations don’t do a whole lot of good if nobody pays to see the show put on by the teams. Are people going to pay for a ticket or watch on tv because of MLS’s unique set of rules and regulations if the soccer being played doesn’t draw an audience on its own? Are their really folks out there that loooove single entity and the re-entry draft?
I’m not arguing that Seattle or any other current MLS team should ditch MLS if this Cascadia issue isn’t resolved to their liking (who knows, SEA may have been advocating to TM the Cascadia Cup). Rather, I’m advocating for a analytical shift in how we evaluate the relative value of what the “league” actually is and what it contributes vs. what the symbiotic relationship between the clubs and supporters contributes to the overall success and sustainability of Division 1 soccer in the U.S.