Yesterday there was a powerful, emotional article by Alicia Rodriquez for the Goat Parade, the SB Nation blog for Chivas USA.
It covered the common themes that go into the grief of losing or possibly losing a pro sports team. As a Browns fan, I definitely understand the frustration and heartache with losing a team.
That wasn’t the part of the article that struck me, though. It’s the idea of “deserving” an MLS team. We use that term a lot, but should we? And what does it mean when we say “deserving”? Who is deserving?
What does “deserving” mean?
When fans of soccer in the US speak of “deserving” an MLS team, they are usually talking about a fanbase deserving an MLS team. Does the fanbase have the size and support necessary to support an MLS team?
However, this idea of deserving being based on fanbase size is too limiting. The recent of history of MLS and lower level soccer is filled with examples of fanbases who appeared to not deserve MLS teams who started showing up once there was an MLS team, like Seattle or Real Salt Lake. Or a team like Sporting Kansas City who 5 years ago looked as good as dead rebranding and getting a gorgeous stadium and suddenly selling out game after game.
Alicia Rodriquez is like a number of us following soccer in the US who deserve a team that matches our passion and commitment. When you have that, you see successes like RSL, Sporting KC, Seattle or Portland.
Is it a question of fairness?
I suspect for many fans, the reason there is a feeling that it isn’t fair for a city like LA to have two teams is that major sections of the country do not have one. Nor does it seem fair for teams with incredibly strong support in the lower divisions to see a team struggle to draw 4,000 to games.
But is it fair for fans, no matter how small that fanbase might be, to lose their team? Fans in most cities in the US can understand the frustration being felt by those fans as they see that their team isn’t valued by the league or by other teams.
A new definition for “deserve”?
Ultimately “deserving” is an opinion, a qualitative rather than quantitative description. Still, there might be some a way in which we can speak of how much a city “deserves” an expansion team.
It’s important to remember, if a city had to score well on every single one of these metrics, we wouldn’t have teams like Real Salt Lake or the Portland Timbers. There is one non-negotiable, and that is money.
- Money Is there an owner lined up who has the pockets to first purchase a franchise and then fund the team as it will likely run in the red for the first few seasons, at least. Are there sponsors who will support the team?
- Population Is there a big enough population in the area to support the team?
- Passion Is there a passionate fanbase of soccer fans in the area. We’ve seen time and time again that soccer supporters groups can help convince ownership groups to move to or expand to a city.
- Stadium Is there a reasonable location for a new stadium, or a place that the team can play? Without a stadium, teams often will struggle to draw sizeable crowds.
- Location Does the location of the city in the US provide something valuable to MLS? Is it nearby other teams that it could provide a rivalry with? Or is it in an area of the country without MLS right now?
For Chivas USA, the club scores low on too many of these metrics, for now. While they do have a passionate fanbase, they are few in number and the uncertainty is costing them fans by the day. The fanbase is deserving of a quality club to support, but it’s difficult to say that they are deserving of an MLS club.
The biggest issues facing the club are the lack of a home stadium and lack of an owner with money. These are not reasons to give up on Los Angeles. Minnesota is a perfect example of the potential rewards for a league staying a media market and waiting to find the right owner. Just two years back the league-owned Minnesota Stars were the Chivas USA of the NASL. At the eleventh hour, Bill McGuire purchased the team, rebranded them Minnesota United FC, and invested in the future.
Chivas USA could be a Sporting KC kind of turn around, but letting them go on hiatus for a season would be a terrible decision on the part of MLS, as it will disconnect that core fanbase that currently supports the team. MLS may need these fans when Chivas is rebranded and restarted. But with a hiatus, Chivas 2.0 would essentially be a brand new team, and who’s to blame old Chivas fans for not feeling welcomed back?
For Minnesota fans, we wouldn’t mind Chivas folding and moving, because that would give another spot to the markets that are currently vying for the final MLS expansion spot by 2020. But is that fair to do to Chivas USA fans after we’ve experienced being “the team that nobody wanted” and see it turn around to be one of the most successful lower division clubs?
How Does Minnesota fare on the “Deserving Metrics”?
Minnesota has two competing ownership groups that have made their desires of owning an MLS franchise in Minnesota known, the Vikings and the current Minnesota United FC ownership group.
In both cases, there is the population in Minnesota to support an MLS franchise, as Minnesota is around the 15th largest media market in the US. The two ownership groups have plenty of money to purchase an expansion franchise. And location is great for MLS, who have focused heavily on the two coasts, but have few teams in the midwest.
For the Vikings, they bring with them a stadium located near downtown Minneapolis that the team could grow into. While many fans would hate to see a Minnesota soccer team play indoors, there are strong weather and political reasons to see this stadium be a strong positive in any bid for an MLS team.
Minnesota United FC lack the stadium, currently playing in the northern suburbs at a converted track and field stadium, but it many people’s eyes they more than make up for it in the passion of their fans and the front office. The Vikings bid currently lacks that passion, as no local soccer fan group has come out to say they are behind a Vikings bid.
Minnesota has two strong bids, and do well on the metrics of “deserving” an MLS team. Time will tell if the league feels they are the best candidate for one of the remaining spots. In the meantime, fans will keep arguing whether LA, Sacramento, San Antonio, Indianapolis or Las Vegas are “deserving”. Until then, we’ll just have to argue our points on the message boards.
So, do you think Minnesota is deserving of an MLS team? Does Chivas USA not deserve an MLS team? Any other locations deserving of an MLS team?