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Wherein I quibble with a New Yorker piece and the New York pro soccer condition

Sep 25, 2012, 5:15 PM EDT

Red Bull Arena

Results can be painfully predictable when general market publications dip into MLS waters.

Too often the works are penned by some learned and snobby soccer authority – European or South American, take your pick – who will swear their old schoolboy team could run an MLS club off the field.

They frequently approach these pieces with such a jaundiced eye toward MLS, such a narrow understanding of the growth process attached to pro soccer pursuits here, that all credibility has disintegrated by the first 100 words. And we turn the page.

So I dug in when, by the first 100 words, I could see that a short New Yorker piece sprang from the keyboard of someone who appeared to have a comprehensive domestic soccer background.

In a quick blogging fly-by on the Big Apple’s professional soccer scene, writer Reeves Wiedeman attempts to ascertain why the Red Bulls aren’t ringing the bell on record attendance, nor generally kicking grass and dominating the local soccer talk.

Wiedeman seems fairly familiar with the subject – but some of his conclusions are quibble-worthy. And fairly skinny. I know it’s a blog entry and not a 5,000-word composition. Still, show me a simple explanation to a complex matter and I’ll show you an explanation that falls somewhere been plain wrong and terribly incomplete.

Here’s the quibble list:

First, I just hate the hell out of the headline (“Why don’t New Yorkers watch soccer?”). That has nothing to do with the theme to the piece, but it does speak to one of the media clichés I have spent a professional lifetime beating back: that watching or liking soccer is the same as watching or liking Major League Soccer. Because if you tell me that New Yorkers don’t like soccer, I’ll wonder if you have been to New York. Plenty of natives or newcomers there love them some soccer – they just aren’t necessarily enamored (nor even familiar) with the MLS brand.

Speaking of media-driven clichés: the story says “ … many of the teams with high attendance are in cities with large Hispanic populations.”

Yes. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Toronto and Philadelphia have a Latino populace – but more than any other U.S. or Canadian cities?

Los Angeles? Yes. But if the point is that percentage of Latino population has a direct correlation with MLS attendance … allow me introduce you to Chivas USA.

Latinos and immigrants driving MLS attendance is a myth. While we’re at it, let’s just drag out the old media saw about how soccer moms and families drive professional soccer attendance in buzzing markets. Because that’s every bit as inaccurate.

How about this one: “In general, larger M.L.S. markets do less well in attracting spectators.”

That’s just not true. Not even generally. Top U.S. cities by population: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.

If we talk about attendance in MLS, the L.A. Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union are every bit as problematic as the sunniest, finest September day. Chicago doesn’t exactly kill it, but the Fire does reasonably well.

Wiedeman is hardly off base on everything. Logistical challenges in New York are a sure impediment, whether real or imagined.

And to ask the question of whether  “ …New York [is] ready for, or deserving of, a second franchise?”  Well, get in line on that one. Plenty of fans in Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, St. Louis, Orlando, San Diego, San Antonio, Las Vegas and lordy knows where else are with you there, sir.

Mostly, I quibble with this:

You cannot discuss the MetroStars / Red Bulls condition without addressing years of fan abuse. Abuse in terms of how the organization took fan interest for granted, how they improperly marketed the team and how they threw garbage at their supporters in terms of the product on the field.

And that has zero to do with chances for success or failure of a second team in New York.

  1. Richard Farley - Sep 25, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    “… a short New Yorker piece …”

    So 6,000 words?

  2. bobinkc - Sep 25, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Have you considered asking Wiedeman where in the world (or in the galaxy) he managed to come up with some of the garbage he spouted in that piece? After reading the whole thing, I question whether he even did a high flyover.

    Sure, as you say, Kansas City has a fairly large Latino population. But most of them were aced out of attending futbol games when Livestrong opened on a pricing basis. When SKC played at Community America Baseball Stadium (a real pit for soccer, kind of looks like where San Jose has been forced to play), half the crowd or more was Hispanic.

    No matter how poor a family was, it seemed like they could as least scrape up the money for grass seats, bleacher seats, or corner seats from somewhere. Now that Livestrong is open, you hardly every see a Hispanic face in the place. There are several that figure prominently in what is shown on the scoreboard screen, but there are darned few. The corporate seats soak up most of the west side and both ends are for the Cauldron and South Cauldron. Our season tickets are on the east side where most of the riff-raff season ticket holders sit just upfield from the corner that is reserved for the visitors’ traveling clubs. Again, very few Hispanics. Standing room is sold around the north end of the concourse, but very few Hispanics there.

    Hispanics have largely been taken out of the picture at Livestrong because the ticket prices went up when the stadium opened. The only time you see a mass Hispanic attendance is for special games like the Mexican national game early this year. Our son bought tickets and was just about the only gringo face out there (came home absolutely soaked with beer from all the flying cups when great plays happened).

    Nope, I’m like you: I really question whether he has even seen a soccer game on tv, let alone in person.

  3. chiphaynes1962 - Sep 25, 2012 at 8:22 PM

    If they had hindsight, they could embrace the model of seattle, portland, vancouver, and embraced the suporters culture and re-launched the cosmos as the first franchise. I reallybelieve mls is finally getting it right. Growth is more organic, and approaching critical mass. A second franchise in NY would be good. But st Louis, Orlando, San Diego would be also be good.

    • Steve Davis - Sep 25, 2012 at 8:47 PM

      Exactly. The organic growth model was clearly the MLS Marketing 2.0. Looking to fill gate through Latino marketing and traditional marketing and PR efforts geared toward the suburban family is MLS marketing 1.0 and became passé in most markets about the time TFC started filling up BMO field using the new way.

    • bobinkc - Sep 26, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      I would love to see a team in St Louis. Another Governor’s Cup in the making!

  4. quizguy66 - Sep 25, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    I’m from New Jersey, I would gladly support a team that represented me.


  5. wesbadia - Sep 26, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    I’ve been writing about the MLS format and expansion as I get time. The third part of my series spoke about how MLS is getting it right now with organic growth, and that this country is ripe for expansion. I’m planning on finishing up the core series soon with a conclusion, but if you’d like to check out the other articles, go here:

  6. pmacd82 - Sep 26, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    First of all, averaging 17,000 fans isn’t the end of the world, let’s be clear about that. The problem this season with NYs attendance has been the extraordinarily poor scheduling. The team has had surprisingly few Saturday games. As for the “fan abuse,” I’ve been a fan of the team since they moved to Harrison and my complaints are few and far between. My gameday experience has been so good that this season I became a season ticket holder. I’m not a bells and whistles guy, just give me a good product on the field and some wins, and I’ll be there to cheer on the Red Bulls. People need to get over the errs of the past.

    • bobinkc - Sep 26, 2012 at 5:57 PM

      You need to go check out my reasoning on why people go to games. Your attitude fits right in there with the reasoning I detail for KC not supporting losing teams.

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