In the last 15-20 minutes of the 12/15 Men in Blazers pod, Rog and Davo have some good and critical words to say about soccer in the U.S. and the MLS, especially about the franchise model of the MLS vs. clubs.
Here’s Rog after visiting Columbus, OH and speaking to the fans who are disappointed about the prospect of losing their MLS team in a move to Austin, TX:
…they’re caught up in the middle of city politics, which they feel is the root cause of their nightmare, compounded by desperate ownership moves and the league’s ultimate sense of the teams as franchises, is what you [Davo] always talk about it, rather than clubs, which are rooted in community. Franchises can be moved and yanked around at will. I don’t think anyone in MLS fully appreciates the panic that Columbus situation is causing, not just for fans in Columbus, but for fans in all teams across the league. Relocation is really permanent relegation. It makes teams sleep with the fishes. And I look at the scarlet letter, worn still in English football, MK Dons, Google them if you don’t know who they are.
I think you raise an interesting point….There’s something about football, there’s something about all sports, which is about authenticity and the franchise based system, the sort of central league system — [Rog:] Which works in NBA and NFL, [Davo:] And also works Major League Baseball, but those based on a long and massive history of those sports in this country. And so, there is a sense you are watching the NBA, when you’re watching the Cleveland Caveliers, you know, something which has grown through decades and decades and decades of this sports. There is also something about the NBA and the NFL which is very much about the urban makeup of America. About the diversity, about the culture and it reflects that…
I don’t think soccer has got to that place yet. But, what I think is starting to happen organically, which is why I’m so excited about what’s happening in other leagues and other cities [non MLS], it feels like there is an authentic soccer culture which is growing up.
And, I’m not saying that doesn’t exist around many of the MLS franchises, around many of the MLS supporters groups, around many of the MLS teams, but it can sometimes feel a little manufactured — [this says a lot here here –>] — I can just feel Alexi [Lalas, friend of the program and often accused Homer to the MLS] listening to this podcast and saying, ‘you’re not a fan…you are either with us or against us’…I am so with MLS…but I do think what they have at league headquarters, Lord Garber and his friends have to acknowledge that there is a desire among soccer fans, not only to not see what happened in Columbus, but to feel something authentic happening in American soccer culture. That is something Major League Soccer has to address and think about is what they are doing is somehow taking that away.
I think some folks would be surprised to hear this criticism from the Men in Blazers, because they are sometimes criticized for being soft on the system since some of their livelihood is depends on it.
I was surprised.
I think it was on point.
I would add on to their comparisons to NFL, MLB and NBA. Those sports and leagues do not have serious international competition. They are American sports that have not caught on in the rest of the world and there’s no international competitions, like the World Cup, that overshadows the importance of the championships of these leagues.
For example, the Super Bowl is the biggest (Am.) football event in the world. It is contested only by American teams. And we call the winners “World Champs,” which I’ve heard many children snicker at because even they recognize that’s a stretch since Am. football isn’t played elsewhere.
If other U.S. pro leagues had international competitions that overshadowed the importance of the domestic league and the U.S. teams had poor showings in those competitions, you can bet that these same types of discussions would take place for those sports.
Another factor that I believe detracts from the authenticity and community grass roots support in the U.S., that Davo gets at, is that sports clubs are structured different here than they are in the other countries.
In the U.S., youth sports are integrated with schools. Elsewhere, sports club provide the sport experience from ages 5 to 65 outside of schools.
I believe that contributes to the authenticity the clubs have in other parts of the world when compared to the pay-for-play club model that co-exists with high school and collegiate sports in the U.S.
Imagine joining sports club at age 5 and growing up with the club’s senior team — the equivalent of the high school or local college team here. That means from age 5, you are coached by members of the senior team, you practice beside them and you go watch them play on the weekends.
This goes back to the observations I made in this post as a missing ingredient in US soccer culture. Our school-based sports programs fragment that experience for young athletes.
It also subjects soccer to the rule-making of governing bodies that don’t have soccer as a priority — like the NCAA and NAIA which oversees all college sports at affiliated schools. So, you get things like short seasons that fit in with the rest of the sports programs schedules and soccer used as a sport to fulfill Title IX requirements.