MLS Doubles Down on a Bad Bet

In last night’s MLS Talk podcast, the crew discussed the news broken by Don Garber that MLS was helping Chivas stabilize their geographic situation by seeking a permanent soccer-specific stadium in downtown Los Angles.  Speaking with Abraham Madkour of Sports Business Daily last week, the commissioner used the beleaguered West Coast franchise as an example of the future of the league in terms of infrastructure (h/t The Goat Parade for transcribing):

We’ve got a handful of clubs that we want to put league resources behind, ticket sales help, marketing and other support, particularly the reconfiguration of the ownership group in Los Angeles, with Chivas. We think there is an opportunity to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles. That’s a team we want to see rise up and create more excitement in the local market.

The comments come at a time when San Jose broke ground (in record setting fashion) on their new soccer-specific stadium and finally there seems to be a little bit of momentum towards new stadiums in DC and New England, the final two holdouts of the football-field-rental era of MLS.  And while Chivas is housed at a stadium built for soccer, its situation is hardly any better than those other teams.  Sharing facilities with the more popular LA Galaxy, the Goats at times seem almost a lower league team that can only use the field when allowed by the owners.  Such sharing arrangements are not uncommon in LA (look at the Clippers and Lakers) but the fact is that the lack of a definitive home, as well as a long-term plan for the franchise overall, has seemingly doomed this once promising franchise to irrelevance.  They enter the 2013 offseason with more questions than answers, a year after looking like they could make a run at the playoffs.

However, Garber’s comments are troubling on a number of different levels.  To say the league office is involved in its management of its franchises is an understatement; in terms of total control Garber is arguably the most powerful commissioner of the five major U.S. sports leagues (who else can change the playoff qualification rules midway through the season without nary a protest).  But their attention towards league management has been incredibly misguided.  While Chivas is a franchise worth saving, fans of original franchises should be aggrieved by the amount of attention the league gives to new (Chivas) and non-existent (second New York team) franchises.  While we do not know all that is going on behind the scenes, the public comments or lack thereof are telling.  Consider the following teams that would love league resources put behind its management:

  • Columbus, who has a great history and fans, but struggles to keep up with major cities like New York and LA in a much smaller market
  • New England, who seem stuck in the early 2000s in terms of stadium and team management due to their Gillette Stadium lease
  • DC who needs a stadium but seemingly only gets the league office to threaten the city

This also brings up another point I have made before, and that is the overall brand of Chivas and the league’s insistence that it is tied to Los Angeles.  While I understand the league’s idea to grab hold of the soccer support from the city of Los Angeles, in a league where so many other cities can support and want to support a top flight soccer team it makes no sense to continue to spend finite resources to secure a second-status team in the same city as one of the league’s premier franchises.  Since the Goats are really a companion team to another league’s franchise, moving them does not strip them of their identity.  In reality, placing them in a city like Las Vegas, San Antonio, or even Phoenix allows them to retain that tie to their more famous brethren.  Before sinking even more limited resources into a tenuous situation, Don Garber and the league office should think more about Chivas USA and what is best for it before only thinking about what is best for a single market.

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