Friday, October 9, 2009

What is MLS? It's Ours

Reading through the submissions these past two weeks, stories of waiting for years for a club to arrive in your hometown a decade too late, seeing your club switch stadiums only for the supporter culture to die off, wondering what Don Garber has up his sleeve regarding the league's growth in the next five to ten to twenty years; you get the impression that, ultimately, the future of MLS is out of our control. We're mere supporters; the investors and MLS front office hold all the cards.

As has been written elsewhere, what is the soft-cap debate among bloggers other than a simulation of upcoming collective bargaining among the league and team owners? Who are we to clamour for more money for better players, less arbitrary team expansion, better marketing? It's out of the control of ticket-buying fans, like it is in the rest of the world.

This morning I woke up and read Tom Dunmore's open letter to the Chicago Fire ownership. Tom is heavily involved with the Fire front office, and like many of us in MLS, he is deeply committed to the well-being of his club. Many of us here in Toronto take for granted the way that MLSE, specifically by way of Paul Beirne, have co-operated with fans since opening day. The notion of fighting front office on key issues of importance to the team seems distant now, but this could change in a heartbeat (need I mention the Argos?). Dunmore is fighting the sort of fight MLS club supporters may find themselves involved with as the years progress.

And this is a fight worth fighting, because MLS is at a point in its life cycle where the invested supporters have more power than they might realize. Section 8 is the heart of the Chicago home support. As Tom points out, you rip that heart out and you end up with FC Dallas. No, this isn't Europe, no, thirty thousand supporters aren't going to show up no matter what front office decides to do to the team. So supporters do have more leverage to change things for the better than in other comparable leagues.

Of course, it is theoretically possible to build a soccer club in a city without dedicated supporters, with decisions made over and above the people who buy season tickets, and yield a modest profit, but what would be the point? What is the point exactly of MLS, or any sporting enterprise for that matter, if it's stocked with dead clubs with fly-by-night fans? I think we all know there are far, far easier ways to make money than build soccer teams in America. Why get involved if you don't give a shit about bringing in dedicated supporters who love the sport through and through?

It's for that reason I believe while we might not always agree on what sort of league we want in North America, acquiescing in the status quo merely because it happens to be in the hands of private interests is a cop out. What is MLS? It's the Red Patch Boys, it's Section 8, and yes, it's the Nordecke, (feel free to tell Mark McCullers to fuck off for me). And it's the moms and pops and kids league too. Major League Soccer may frustrate the hell out of us, growing at a snail's pace, slow to take advantage of a strong North American soccer-loving base, making very bad decisions about investment and finance, perpetually shaking in its boots lest it resemble dear old granddad NASL too much.

But it's ours, if not in the dollars and cents department, then certainly in heart and soul. And yes, we do have a say in its future.

Thanks to you too for having your say over the past couple of weeks. This conversation will go on and on I'm sure, so expect to see it crop up again round these parts...

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