I realize that all week Bill has probably been posting page after page of Cynthia McKinney propaganda, and apparently there's some sort of election going on at Starbucks today.
But also in the paper today, an MLS owner dove nuts-first into the political waters. Joe Roth, boss of Revolution Studios (click here for a good laugh - how did "Master of Disguise" make a profit?), gave his two cents about the link between soccer and Barack Obama.
Would you like a money quote?
Interestingly, if MLS owners got together and chatted about politics, Roth would find himself fairly unpopular. Phillip Anschutz would be notoriously right-wing - except he himself does not crave the spotlight, to say the least. Clark Hunt has given money to various Republican candidates, but considering his grandfather had JFK killed*, that's downright bleeding-heart liberal in comparison. Robert and Jonathan Kraft seem bipartisan in their giving; Kroenke in Colorado, despite being Phil's buddy, doesn't seem to have donated to anyone. Even Roth's partner in Sounders, Drew Carey, is a famous libertarian in the Penn & Teller mold. (Most of this is from opensecrets.org, by the way.)
What's fascinating about Roth's quote is that it's from a marketing perspective - it isn't simply about making a team that represents a political or cultural point of view, and marketing to those who share that view (viz., Catalan independence, Catholic civil rights, sticking it to those damn Croats). The globe is littered with examples of sports teams representing a greater (or lesser) cause, but this is pretty much unheard of in modern American sports.**
This isn't what Roth is assuming. He believes that young liberals are inherently more likely to support a soccer team, simply because they are young liberals. It isn't that soccer is a fun sport with passion and athleticism and constant action - it's that you, American soccer fan, are open to new ideas in general.
Well, Roth's bailiwick is Seattle, so the Sounder mascot wasn't going to be a tobacco-chewing boll weevil waving the Confederate flag, anyway. You have to wonder, though, whether this sort of thinking will play into, say, expansion cities. The current candidates are a blue city in a fairly blue state, three blue cities in pretty damn red states, and three cities who probably don't even get Rush Limbaugh in the morning.
I believe Roth was more or less onto something, but culturally rather than politically. Basically, if you're going to go to the trouble and aggravation of being an American sports fan, you're pretty much going to have an individualist streak. Most of the people you and I know that have been following the sport here for any length of time are probably as defiantly crazy in their political views as they are in their sporting views. Maybe there are guys who travel six or seven hours to cheer on guys who couldn't get arrested in a Hell's Angels meth lab, then go home and write letters to the editor about the importance of street lighting near the elementary school...but I somehow doubt it.
It's also a sign that the appeal to the families who brought their kids to AYSO games for years has taken another setback. This would be news to Anschutz, whose teams have routinely presented an annual "Faith and Family Night" during the season.*** It would also probably be news to Real Salt Lake fans, unless Checketts has gathered a majority of the liberal population in the entire state of Utah as supporters. On the other hand, Roth's theory would explain why Dallas attendance has been so blowful, but I still think that the original 1996 teams tend to link blowfulness on the field with blowfulness at the gate more than the Galaxy would lead you to believe. But yeah, the most loyal fans of MLS teams have not been suburban families. However silly Roth's theory may sound, it's a lot more believeable than thinking parents who send their kids to AYSO Day Care will plunk down for MLS season tickets. I like Roth's approach to marketing more than, for want of a better word, failure.
Yet, there are a couple of flaws in the theory, and those flaws will get worse rather than better. First, the US National Team markets itself as representing our nation. The US Marine Corps sponsors Nats games for a reason. This isn't to say the sort of person Roth is aiming for is anti-American - every Obama supporter would be deeply insulted at the implication. And, ironically, this approach also takes the focus away from what a neat game soccer is, and onto cultural factors outside the field. But it isn't as if the USSF is focusing on sophisticated urban liberals to the exclusion of other markets. And the US National Team continues to grow in popularity, despite how godawful the team is (at least, if you read BigSoccer).
Which is another issue...as MLS and its teams become more popular, by definition it will become less cutting-edge and more traditional. In fact, it's "tradition" that sports franchises long for...and with it, the kind of diehard fans that buy into traditional things. the Northeast may be the most liberal part of the United States, but...okay, you know what, maybe your average Red Sox fan does believe in evolution, and maybe your average New York Giants fan does realize that Jesus didn't speak English. I'm just saying you'd never ever realize it from actually talking to one.****
*Slander for comedy purposes. "H.L. Hunt JFK" only turns up 24,900 hits on Google, which by conspiracy theory standards is pretty pathetic.
**There was an article somewhere, probably also in the LA Times, where even freaking NASCAR drivers like Jeff Gordon were shy about their political contributions. The only exceptions I can think of are (1) all those American flags that you see on uniforms these days, which really isn't supposed to be an exclusionary gesture, or (2) the remaining Indian mascots, which are simply insensitive - the Cleveland Indians logo and the Washington Racist Nicknames are completely disgusting, but it's tough to say that those organizations actively advocate that American Indians be deprived of civil rights. Even when you would think there would be a propaganda aspect, it's entirely possible to watch Liberty University, Oral Roberts or Brigham Young play basketball and football without religion or politics crossing your mind, except in passing, and by now Touchdown Jesus is no more or less spiritual than Uga the Bulldog.
***Look, don't let the inclusive name fool you, the "Faith" is conservative Christian at these events. On the bright side, the Christian rock bands at the Home Depot Center are easily ignored once inside the stadium proper, and anyway, a truly exclusionary Christian wouldn't do business with a Scientology fellow traveller like David Beckham.
****I kid Northeastern fans of mainstream sports. Because I hate them.