Why Does MLS Have a Problem Committing?


Why does MLS have a problem committing? It’s happening again, you know what I’m talking about, they say they love us but why will they never make a true commitment? They love to use you when there is something in it for them, but in the end it’s always about MLS. When the TV lights are on and an MLS game starts, it’s always the supporter section that the camera loves to focus on. You can find the cameras focused on groups like the Sons of Ben, Timbers Army, Angel City Brigade and a list that will grow this year with two new teams entering the league that already have the support of The Third Rail and the Iron Lion Firm.

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MLS will market the sport as unlike any other and the supporter section will be the first thing they point too. When looking for investors in teams, it has already been reported that many an investor has been taken to a game in Portland or Kansas City so they can soak in the atmosphere. They witness firsthand the Cauldron and how they have created “Blue Hell” and marvel at the Timbers Army singing the National Anthem as part of the sales pitch. But soon as we start acting like supporters, well then you know what happens; the sanctions come out and you’re treated like a child that is given a timeout.

Last year MLS set record attendance for the 2014 season with an average of 19,151. They were able to do this even though Chivas USA set the record for the lowest attendance by any team with just 7,063 going through the turnstile. A league that was marketed to “soccer moms” in the beginning changed that strategy when they started to see the growth of supporter groups and the atmosphere that they brought to the stadium.

And it works as I have seen firsthand as I took my friend Shamus to the opening of PPL Park to sit with me in the River End. The first words out of his mouth as we were leaving the stadium were “I’ll take every ticket you have this season as that was incredible”. He became a season ticket holder after that one time in the supporter section. But supporters groups have never been seen as a relationship that the league goes all in and embraces.

Last year’s Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy game, which decided the Supporters Shield, drew the largest TV audience ever for a MLS regular season game on NBCs last telecast of the league, with 699,000 tuning in. The Shield is a trophy that is awarded by Supporter Groups to the team that wins the regular season with the most points. If you never heard of it or would like to know about its history, you can click here. But the league has never made a commitment to these groups. It’s a shame because they should be celebrated like this.

Watching the video shows how attending a MLS game is quite different from any other sporting event in the USA. Watching the players at the end and they take a bow towards the supporters is a way of thanking them. I noticed sitting in the River End how the players make their way around the stadium and always finish in the Sons of Ben section. New players to the league point out how the things have changed in MLS and the great support teams are now getting.

Sadly this isn’t the case as we start the 2015 season MLS reverts back to treating Supporter groups like a necessary evil or a child that needs strict discipline. I understand that the groups aren’t always in the right but it should be more of partnership than it is right now. Once again we see how MLS is overreacting with sanctions they issued to the Angel City Brigade this week.

This is all because they threw streamers during the MLS Cup and what they deemed as a year filled with incidents.

Then this was sent out to the supporters of NYCFC by email on rules for the supporter section in Yankee Stadium. Here is a tweet by Grant Wahl.

Is this how you start a relationship with your supporters by emailing them a list of rules right before the season starts? You would think that the team and the supporters group would have a symbiotic relationship with the team. Something that MLS would encourage every team to do.

I’m sorry but I find it hard to side with MLS when they want to punish supporter groups and at the same time market them as part of the game experience. If you need to control the supporters, they should pay cheerleaders like they do in the NFL. It follows the same line of thinking that the NFL use when they fine players for vicious hits; then turn around and use them in a commercial or tape of greatest hits. 

I think it’s time for MLS and Supporters groups to have a way to address their grievances with each other. Supporters already have a council that should become part of the dialogue with the league. MLS should have a group of players and management that interacts with the council; instead of just treating the group as a necessary evil for the team.

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I wonder what would happen if the groups got together and decided that they would protest the sanctions that I consider quite harsh levied against Angel City Brigade. Could you imagine if every supporters group was just sitting and watching the game for the first eight weeks of the season? After coming off a CBA negotiation that who knows how it will turn out, I couldn’t imagine Fox, ESPN and Univision would be thrilled with no atmosphere in the stadium. It wouldn’t be the first time that supporters group have protested on behalf of another group and how they are being treated by their team.

The league has benefited greatly in the last five years from supporter groups. They embraced the idea of the Supporters’ Shield and it has paid off with record ratings for last year’s historic game that matched up the two teams with a chance to win the Shield. They played up the Cascadia Cup, Rocky Mountain Cup and Trillium Cup as part of MLS. Maybe it’s time to have a better relationship with supporters and realize they are a big part of what is fueling the growth of this league now. Sometimes you have to understand, that without the fans, it’s just a bunch of guys hanging out at the park on the weekend playing a game for fun.

Next: Los Angeles Galaxy Sanction Supporters Group