Friday, August 03, 2007

MLS and community 2.0 brain dump

I've been toying around with this idea for a week or so. I posted it at Big Soccer and got a bit of a response, but not really what I was looking for.

I've found threads of it here, here and here. But, I think I nailed it down tonight when I was mowing the lawn:

What is the most defining difference between professional sports in the United States and in the rest of the world?

It isn't that most of the world plays soccer, while we play baseball and football. It isn't that most of the world plays in relegation/promotion leagues while we play in closed leagues.

The defining difference is the connection to the fan and the community around the team.

In Ireland, the Cork City FC management gets together regularly with the team's fan club. I'm not talking about a spokesperson or a giant stuffed Orca, but a real deal meeting between the chairman and manager of the soccer team and their fans. In the middle of the season.

This face to face relationship does have a parallel in American sports, but it only happens in so-called amateur ranks where college and high school coaches face their supporters in public and less than public forums. But, our professional organizations are often times distant from fans. Most coaches, manager and owners answer to their fans through the mediation of the media, sometimes.

In terms of ownership, fans have their hands in teams oversees in a manner that is not only largely unknown in the United States, but not even allowed. Cambridge United and FC United of Manchester (founded after American Malcom Glazer bought the original Manchester United) are only two of many directly fan owned teams.

The very idea of a Supporters Trust, which raises money specifically for a professional sports organization, to keep it afloat and competitive would be foreign in America. If the Mariners were going bankrupt, they would be sold and moved to Tampa Bay before a group of fans got together to raise money for them. The very concept of public funds for stadiums is a political battle that few politicians want to fight.

Even though many point to the Green Bay Packers as the best example of a fan owned team in North America, outside a handful of minor league baseball teams and Canadian football teams, the phenomena is largely unknown. In baseball its not allowed for corporations (fans would organize as a corporation) to own teams and non-profits can't own teams in any leagues.

The one league that does allow corporate ownership, the NBA, has a few teams that actually sell stock. But, vast fan ownership of that stock and some sort of community building up from that ownership? I haven't seen it.

So, this post is a spill over of thoughts I've had regarding what Major League Soccer should do differently. Screw Beckham, he's great to get people to glance at soccer again, but to really get people connected to the sport, you have to get them connected in a way that no other league in the United States does.

So, know that I have this down, I'll write some more later.

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